Review Summary: The End-All, Be-All Of Heartache: Forget a 'career,' this is legacy-making stuff.
A tide of drums thuds rhythmically, an underbelly to the music that sways and swings like a pendulum. Just above it seethes the bass, throbbing sinuously, winding through the beat, draped gently over its angular contours. Sparkling over it, in a wave of fragile, glittering menace, is a crystalline guitar riff. The arrangement that these components form is off-kilter, rolling through an unpredictable pattern, slithering through your senses. Already you are uneasy, anticipating a change, hoping for the ominous instrumental prowl to end. Your skin prickles. Then WHAM! The same riff thunders on a surge of jackhammer guitar and drums, the bass pulsing underneath it all, stomping out the blunt, primal attack. The cymbals crash like waves against the rocks. The silences between blasts of guitars are filled with only the hiss of the brutal percussive storm. And over it all is a man’s twisted howl, tearing through the rhythm like a wolf turned loose.
This is how the assault begins. The End of Heartache inspires this kind of eloquence and more. From the sorrowful tolls of finality that swell over the title track, to the heartbroken despair that recedes into the distant shadows of “Rose of Sharyn,” to the earth-shattering thunderclaps that rend “Take This Oath” in two, to the manic monster that charges across the harsh sonic landscape of “Declaration,” to the epic transition from impassioned desperation into dreamy desolation that spans the space between “World Ablaze” and “And Embers Rise”- these moments of musical poetry are but standouts on a constantly expanding palette. Killswitch Engage have expanded the undeniable promise of Alive or Just Breathing into full-fledged musical maturity. The epic production and performances amplify even the standard into a monument to the band’s ability as technicians and as songwriters. On their major-label debut (this stands just behind Slipknot’s Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses as Roadrunner Records’ magnum opus), the quintet has not only built their own sound, but they have dominated the genre in a blast of tangible sincerity for their art and their fans.
Blind praise aside, the album is not without certain flaws. Most of the tracks hit the same emotional (and musical) chords as those before, and by the time “Breathe Life” comes around, the band has proved that it too has a formula- the one it has is simply way better than anybody else’s. Although the guitar work manages to stay stunning throughout without showing off, the only solo is less technical than most of the riffs and extremely short. The lack of showmanship works to the band’s advantage. Some bands, like Dream Theater, extend their virtuosity endlessly, beating us over the head with their technical genius; Killswitch Engage employs their talents with such focus that you wonder if they really grasp their own strength. Complex technique trades off with exchanges filled with awe-inspiring power; the drums and bass rumble like a stampede underneath the shreds and squeals of the guitars. Truly awesome, in every sense of the word.
At a time where bands either define themselves by the strengths of their vocalist (or simply are their singer), nobody manages to reduce the mystique of the ubiquitous ‘front man’ like Howard Jones. More than filling the shoes of his predecessor, Jesse Leach, Howard cunningly switches pure force with a surprising vocal versatility that might make Serj Tankian give this record a spin (if not Mike Patton). He employs a diverse array of bestial shrieks, screams, howls and roars whenever he isn’t unleashing his great singing voice. Jones seems to pull emotion out of his soul and offer it to the listener. His equally arresting cries and wails recall Layne Staley in their total revelation of the singer. Jones is not just a worthy successor; he towers so firmly above his brethren that you start to wonder if Leach was a worthy predecessor.
Killswitch Engage’s The End of Heartache is a stunning piece of art, showing that metal can deliver with all its power even when people insist on adding labels and qualifiers. Consistently jaw-dropping, massively entertaining, thoroughly mind-blowing- all good descriptions. Something to definitely check out in its entirety.
‘Rose of Sharyn’
‘The End of Heartache’
‘Take This Oath’