Review Summary: Lamb of God isn't the only band into ripping themselves off anymore.
I remember hearing Fixation on the Darkness a long, long time ago on the Headbanger's Ball compilation. I was just getting into metal at the time and the song was important in shaping my views on the genre as a whole at the time. I had only one real complaint about the song and that was the singing. I felt that the overblown theatrics didn't fit the song, and still feel to this day that Mr. Jones has some of the worst harsh vocals in the business since he joined KsE. A few months later I bought End of Heartache and fell moderately in love with the band.
Not too long after that I bought Alive or Just Breathing and was blown away by the sheer intensity of the album. Jesse was the driving force behind the band's power, and though it was attempted to emulate that to some extent on End of Heartache, any attempt to make powerful music was thrown to the curb for 2006's As Daylight Dies. Howard's scream became far less gritty and harsh, and his cleans began to border on operatic or power metal wailing, often clashing with the music the band was creating. The rest of the band continued to improve both as songwriters and musicians, but were being held back by a singer with a lot of potential but little ability to give a moving performance.
Now three years later the band have delivered an album that was advertised as progressive and a redefining of the band. And this is partially true. On their second self titled the band have indeed made a stylistic change, but it's the change they should've avoided instead of the one everyone was hoping for.
Gone are the powerful songs completely. No more Just Barely Breathing or Numbered Days. No more End of Heartache or Wasted Sacrifice. Not a single song even comes close to My Curse or Still Beats Your Name, and they weren't particularly great to begin with. What we have instead are eleven tracks of overly produced, poppy, power influenced, mainstream metal. Nothing here is different than what had been on As Daylight Dies, it's just more technical and less inspired.
The album starts on a high note with Never Again. This is the most aggressive track the band has written since Alive or Just Breathing. Everything here is where it should be, the instrumentation is great and for once Howard's vocals do something other than destroy the song. About halfway through he pulls some guttural lows that are simply astounding, but completely unheard from him since he joined KsE. But after this burst of aggression, the band quickly falls into redundancy.
Of the other high notes, Reckoning is another fast paced aggressive song and Save Me is the same formula they repeat from Daylight Dies, just done much, much better. The Return is notable for being the "ballad" of the album. The beginning is reminiscent of Kamelot's work on Ghost Opera, and quickly shifts into End of Heartache (the song, not the whole album) territory. It's catchy and mournful and hints at what the band could do if they reigned Howard in just a little.
The other seven songs on the album are far worse. They all, and I do mean all, follow the same exact patterns. The only thing to compare this to is Lamb of God's work on Wrath, where almost every song was indistinguishable from the rest of the album. The difference between the bands is that Lamb of God was enjoyable to listen to, Killswitch is not this time around.
Every song has the same uplifting guitar melodies and tone. Almost every song on the album is sickeningly sweet and polished. And they all sound the same. some songs have clean interludes, some have solos and some have breakdowns. And you still won't remember which song was which when it's over. The rhythm section holds everything together nicely though, and provides the most interesting portion of the music. And that's about all that can be said for it.
What kills this album is pretty much what killed Daylight Dies, Howard Jones. Listen to the choruses of Starting Over, Light in a Darkened World, and I Would Do Anything. I'll wait. Now if you could tell them apart I congratulate you. Several times during the course of the album I had to check and make sure it hadn't switched to an earlier song, and every time was during a chorus.
The soaring cleans have really undermined what the band set out to do when they formed. Their first self titled and Alive or Just Breathing were both about merging the whole band in every song to make music that was not necessarily technical, but still powerful and memorable. This is noticeable even on End of Heartache, but sometime after that it seems like the band began writing music solely for Howard's voice, giving him plenty of opportunity to exercise his opera lessons. Coupled with a complete lack of any apparent inspiration, Killswitch have almost destroyed what respect they had garnered for their first few albums.
They've definitely proven that they can write a popular, accessible metal album for people who don't listen to metal. But the question should still be asked... Just because you can, should you?