Thursday, 7 April 2016

Killswitch Engage's 'Incarnate' - Album Review

Reunions with old band members can go one of two ways. Either the reunion creates plenty of new sparks, and the band rises to even greater heights than previously; or the reunion fails to live up the hype, and everyone (including the band, maybe) are left disappointed. Luckily for Killswitch Engage the former scenario occurred when they reunited with original frontman Jesse Leach in 2012. Many fans had been calling for his return for years, even as the band continued to grow and strengthen with Howard Jones at the helm, so there were lots of happy fans out there when the announcement came. I was apprehensive, as I had always been a Jones fan. The man has an insane voice, and the band had reached new heights in the ten years he fronted Killswitch Engage. Upon hearing 2013's Disarm the Descent (which I reviewed here), the band's sixth album, and I heard the new Leach, I was instantly sold. I finally understood what the fans had meant about him. His improvement since 2002's Alive or Just Breathing was remarkable, and he showed why he is the singer for Killswitch Engage. The album was in my Top 10 Albums of 2013 list, and Leach's vocal display was a big factor in that accolade. Three years on, and plenty of touring later, Killswitch Engage are back with another album. Incarnate, the band's seventh album, was released last month and has already become a popular release with the fans. Disarm the Descent was written fairly quickly after Leach rejoined the band, and stuck fairly rigidly to the recognisable sound the band had established and honed during the Jones-era. While it is a great album, and probably my favourite from the band, it did not really do anything new (not that every new album has to!). Incarnate, having been written and performed by five people who have now spent more time together, does attempt to mix things up a little here and there. The established Killswitch Engage metalcore sound is still very much present, helped of course by founding member and guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz's stellar production job, there is a feeling throughout that the band had wanted to change things up little. The album has a much heavier feel overall, with more focus on the heavier riffs and the harsher side of Leach's voice. Drummer Justin Foley shines throughout, as the heavier songs bring out the best in his playing. The soaring, emotional choruses that fill the band's back catalogue are still very much a big part of the band's sound (as is melody generally), but they are now just one part of the song, rather than the sole focus. As a result, the album does not instantly hit you like much of the band's previous work. It is the archetypal 'grower' and requires a few listens before all the layers of melody and all the intricacies of the songwriting are revealed.

A build up of distortion opens the album, and the strident spoken word intro of first number Alone I Stand leads into a heavy verse with some of Leach's trademark harsh vocals. The thrashy feel of the piece is accentuated by some deep growled vocals, and Foley's fast footwork. A slower, emotional chorus brings the classic Killswitch Engage sound to the fore, with Dutkiewicz and co-guitarist Joel Stroetzel wave snaking leads around Leach's vocals, and the strong melodies are extremely captivating. The song remains heavy throughout, with even a blast beat used in the second verse. A heavy bridge section is used too, and this riff-based heavy sound is a snapshot of what is to come throughout the album. Hate by Design, one of the album's singles, again opens with some deep growls, but the verse soon mixes clean and harsh vocals to good effect with some excellent bouncy guitar riffs and triplet drumming. This song has quite an old-school metalcore vibe, and has one of the album's best choruses. Leach is a very versatile vocalist, and the ease which he switches between vocal styles is always impressive. This song is very immediate, and will no doubt be a highlight of the band's live sets in the future. There is a good, old-school metal solo too (presumably played by Dutkiewicz) that uses plenty of fluid shredding and sounds a little like something recorded during the NWOBHM period. Cut me Loose with it's slightly discordant opening guitar melody, is a slightly haunting piece that focuses on Leach's clean vocals and the band's stranger side. Lots of clean guitar sounds are used throughout, which often act as a great contrast to the crunchy rhythm guitars that form the song's backbone. It does get heavier later in the song however, with a thrashy riff and some strong harsh vocals from Leach. Strength of the Mind, another single, has been available to listen to online for quite some time. It is another classic-sounding Killswitch Engage song, with heavy verses and a big, soaring chorus with more than a hint of melodrama. There is some excellent riffing throughout, as Dutkiewicz and Stroetzel lock in together with some melodic bursts of lead work. The dynamics throughout are excellent, with bursts of speed mixing well with more mid-paced sections to great effect. It is another very memorable song. Just Let Go has the uplifting feel that the band is known for, and from the clean intro to the slow chorus, the song is full of the band's trademark sounds. The rawer, heavier sound that characterises the album is present however, with some bursts of really fast riffing. This is a song that is continually changing, and not content to follow a basic song structure. As a result, there is a lot of different ideas packed into this song, which makes is very interested to listen to. Opening with a strange bass guitar riff from Mike D'Antonio, Embrace the Journey...Upraised has a big groove metal vibe, with southern-sounding riffs and a good mid-paced feel. There are faster sections too, including a rather extreme (by the band's standards) verse, but the rest of the song has plenty of strong grooves throughout.

Quiet Distress opens with a subtle acoustic guitar pattern, but this does not last long before another machine gun riff comes in. Leach's vocals seamlessly transition between clean and harsh styles in the fast verses; and the strong chorus is another album standout. This one is a real sing-a-long number, and the chorus has a really melodic feel with some excellent vocal harmonies and some growl vocals mixed just into the background. The sound of this song is huge, and a bit of a dark horse on the album. Until the Day is similar too, with a very old-school 1980s riffing style that again raids the NWOBHM sound bank, and a pacey chorus that mixes screams and soaring cleans with ease. This is a very short song (under three minutes in length) but it still manages to pack quite a punch. After a couple of faster songs, the mid-paced crunch of It Falls on Me is a welcome change of pace. In many ways however, this is heavier than most of what has come before on the album, with the raw guitar tone and the simple chugging rhythms providing excellent headbanging material. The song throws a curve ball part-way through however, with a bona fide gentle section with ringing clean guitars and some really touching vocals from Leach that lead into a strange wall-of-guitars section that has something of Anathema's recent sound to it, even if only for a short time. It is sections like this that make this album stand out from what the band have done before. The Great Deceit is another fast number, and the pace barely lets up throughout. Leach, screaming his lungs out throughout, is a man possessed throughout this song. Even his cleans during the fast chorus have serious grit to them, something that you cannot usually say about his clean vocals. While the song is not as strong as some of the others, the pure energy that is gives off makes it an enjoyable. We Carry On is one of the band's extremely earnest slower numbers (a bit like Always from Disarm the Descent) which has an over-the-top vocal performance, and some atmospheric guitar playing that works to make the song stand out. The heavy Ascension is the album's final song, and sticks closely to the band's established formula to make the album close on a familiar feel. It is quite a heavy song, with a big muscular riff, and it ensures the album ends on a pretty strong footing. Leach's chorus delivery has a certain heroic quality to it that makes this song perfect for an album-closer. Overall, Incarnate is another strong album from one of the founders of the metalcore genre. While it is not vastly different from what has come before from them, there are little additions to the band's established sound here and there that ensure this album sounds fresh.

The album was released on 11th March 2016 via Roadrunner Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hate by Design.

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