Review by Greg Maki
The story of Killswitch Engage is remarkable and unique: Record subgenre-defining album (2002’s “Alive or Just Breathing”); replace vocalist after his sudden departure; achieve even greater success, flying the flag of metalcore while peers quietly fade away; replace second vocalist with first vocalist; continue busting out heavy, catchy, impassioned tunes; do it all with little drama and no apparent bad blood between current and former band members.
Best of all, Killswitch is not just still here 20 years after forming in 1999, it remains a powerful force in the world of heavy music, creating some of the best songs of its career on its eighth studio album, “Atonement.”
The record, the third since the return of frontman Jesse Leach and first for Metal Blade Records, contains no surprises for anyone familiar with the band, but that isn’t a bad thing. Killswitch is an act that does what it does so well—and better than virtually anyone else—that it doesn’t need to stray far from the formula to hold the listener’s attention. So the 11 tracks of “Atonement” are packed with thrashy riffing over hardcore-style rhythms, topped with Leach’s dynamic vocal attack featuring hardcore shouts, thrashy screams, death metal growls and clean, soulful tones that have never been stronger.
The band leans hard into the metal part of its metalcore sound throughout “Atonement,” enlisting Testament’s Chuck Billy to trade vocal barbs with Leach on “The Crownless King,” one of the record’s highlights. “The Signal Fire” features a guest sure to get fans even more excited—former frontman Howard Jones, who returns to spit some lethal screams on a pummeling rager of a song. Even “Know Your Enemy,” arguably the most hardcore-esque track of the album, takes time for an instrumental break with guitarists Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel harmonizing a la Iron Maiden. (Maybe they took notes while touring with the venerable act last year.) At the other end of the spectrum, there’s “I Am Broken Too,” the Killswitch equivalent of a power ballad and a heartfelt, “we’re all in this together” anthem.
The whole band sounds re-energized on “Atonement,” its best album since “The End of Heartache” (2004). Simply put, it’s Killswitch being Killswitch, which it has spent the past two decades perfecting.
Metal Blade Records, August 16, 2019