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Thursday, July 16, 2009

CD Review: Killswitch Engage - Killswitch Engage (2009)

Killswitch Engage - Killswitch Engage (2009)
2009 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Usually a group releasing albums under eponymous titles are thought to either be starting their careers or rebooting them. Using Metallica's officially self-titled album (though commonly referred to by the listening public as The Black Album), let the evidence be swayed in the case of the latter when Metallica made an abrupt change of pace to a commercially-altered rawk sound. On the other side of the coin, Iron Maiden debuted on a self-titled hallmark, launching a career which only became greater by the album.

What do you make of a band, however, which releases not only one eponymously-labeled album over their course, but two? Certainly laziness comes to mind in this case, not that anyone following metal today are likely to call Killswitch Engage lazy. If anything they've been the exact opposite with End of Heartache, Alive Or Just Breathing and As Daylight Dies ranking amongst the energetic metalcore albums of this generation, as well as some of its most popular.

Killswitch Engage (2009) is an album which decidedly bears a refocusing effort. Granted, the Killswitch guys play to their own script which everyone from The Autumn Offering to 36 Crazyfists have climbed aboard for their own songwriting purposes. Producer journeyman and Killswitch axe slinger Adam Dutkiewicz finds the courage within himself to yield the console on his group's latest effort and it's a move paying off serious dividends.

Of course, when your producer happens to be Brendan O'Brien (Aerosmith, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen and Mastodon--particularly the latter's masterpiece Crack the Skye), you can see why Dutkiewicz and company left their considerable reputation in the hands of another mastermind. O'Brien not only brings out the most commercially-pliable resonance Killswitch Engage has exported from themselves, he trims the fat and presents Killswitch as a leaner, scrappier engine of thunder.

Opening this album with the booming thrasher "Never Again" as Killswitch Engage is fond of doing on each album to shake their audience's attention, the choruses are especially rousing with Howard Jones, the mack daddy of metal vocalists pumping his recording mike enthusiastically. Immediately thereafter, Killswitch smartly dangles their hooks with the endearing pop-laced "Starting Over" which still drops the smackdown in its swooning business.

Gone from this album is the thick density which Dutkiewicz has wisely incorporated into Killswitch's sound in the past. However, it feels appropriate O'Brien has found a way to stream the band's individual capacities into singular threads (with drummer Justin Foley coming out the biggest winner) to the point both Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel have personality individually and in partnership, using the meaty "I Would Do Anything" and the chunky "The Forgotten." "The Forgotten" comes off not only as an aching love letter issued by Jones' combination growls and R&B crooning, it also seems like Killswitch Engage's tributory love letter to Metallica (both the early-on and middle eras) with a monster groove on the verses and an abrupt speed metal catapult before the last stanza.

O'Brien effortlessly juggles Killswitch's penchant for blast rhythms and lofting choruses, using "Reckoning" as a prime example where Killswitch unleashes the hounds with dizzying thrash and crushing tempos, all capsizing like a climaxed lover into Jones' waiting pipes on the chorus. Giving their listeners a break on the slow and methodic "The Return" (boasting one of Jones' standout performances) and gradually working the album back into a kinetic enterprise with the melodic "A Light in a Darkened World," Killswitch Engage strategically employ their wares for a genuinely entertaining ride. Brisk and boisterous or slackened and sensuous, this group can field it all, which O'Brien utilizes both on "This Is Goodbye" and the remainder of the album to make Killswitch Engage (2009) sound like an event instead of just another metalcore slab.

Structurally, Killswitch Engage is business as usual, yet there's a decided differential to the point every member has the opportunity to sparkle within O'Brien's stealthier assembly process. If there's a pliable answer why these guys had to forego the lack of a decent album title for a second time in their honored career, at least the sound reflects their decision.

Tighter execution, shorter-run songs, an agreeable shedding of breakdowns and a rare savviness in blending their extremities congruously are all the signs of a winning combination. When they thrash, Killswitch Engage sounds mighty and teetering on the edge of cataclysm. When they scope and dally about for tuneful airs (which some argue is much of the time), they nevertheless sound better than anything schmucking around in AOR. There's a reason this album charted at #6 on Billboard when it hit the streets last week.

Rating: ****

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