Review Summary: Times of Grace delivers what many metalcore bands have been fumbling around for: an album with purpose and detail.
Staying alive is one thing; staying relevant is certainly another.
After producing the metalcore mainstays Alive or Just Breathing
and The End of Heartache
, Killswitch Engage
found itself stumbling around for inspiration. While the band recruited a veteran mainstream rock producer and toyed with power ballads, the self-titled KSE
album ultimately fell flat. Meanwhile, original KSE vocalist Jesse Leach found critical acclaim with his experimental side project The Empire Shall Fall
. During KSE’s hiatus, Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz reunited to actuate some songs Dutkiewicz had written during his recovery from back surgery a few years prior. The descriptions of the ensuing music in press releases and interviews left many people anticipating a continuation of Alive or Just Breathing
. Needless to say, the album looked like it was going to be a recycled travesty of mediocre proportions.
However, Times of Grace sees a progression into the subtler and more emotional side of metalcore’s schizoid beauty/brutality. The Hymn of a Broken Man
, as the title implies, draws on a more introspective tack to yield a work possessing things the last Killswitch album sorely missed: a soul and a purpose. As trite as that may seem, The Hymn
has a unified theme that carries over in the music without coming across as forced or gimmicky. Times of Grace may not have the grindcore elements of Converge, the constant guitar solo onslaught of All That Remains, or the thrashy appeal of Shadows Fall, but it does have an ability to dig deeper into just how far a band can take metalcore’s emotional vivacity.
Album opener “Strength in Numbers” begins and ends in a familiar place with Leach shouting some spoken word verses just as he did in AOJB
’s “Numbered Days” and with Adam doing some single stroke drum rolls and marching effects. The song then breaches into machine gun riffery and speedy double bass. “Where the Spirit Leads Me” finds the two men trading off vocals with some enormous pounding from the rhythm section to push the track forward. Others like “Fight for Life” and “Until the End of Days” sound reminiscently similar to tracks like “My Curse” and “Break the Silence” off of KSE’s As Daylight Dies
. What makes The Hymn
much more noteworthy than other metalcore albums is a meticulous attention to details. For instance, “In the Arms of Mercy,” the instrumental at the middle of the album, starts and ends with the skuzzy noise typically heard on decades-old sound recordings, evoking images of sepia toned photographs from another era. “The Forgotten One” provides a refreshing period on the album by displaying Dutkiewicz and Leach’s versatility in recording an acoustic folk number. Dutkiewicz’s use of guitar effects burgeons on songs like “The End of Eternity,” with cloudbursts of showering notes followed by a dark storm of bottom heavy chords. The lighter guitar tones often appear like blood swirling into the murky waters of the large metal riffs. And to bring The Hymn
full circle, “Fall from Grace” trails off with Leach whispering some spoken word to contrast with his earlier shouts; the opener track’s bombastic entrance gives way to the closer’s humble but triumphant completion.
Technically speaking, the album does not break new ground since it bears all the standard hallmarks of metalcore. With that said, Dutkiewicz does a fine job handling all the duties of a one man band while pushing his own abilities a bit further. Most songs have at least two dropped-C tuned guitars for a rhythm and lead with frequent harmonizing. Occasional solos emphasize some medium-paced harmonies and fret tapping over shredding. His drumming is competent but nothing spectacular; at the very least, Adam’s overdependence on simple double bass chugging establishes a floor for speed, but the blast beats do help some tracks. Those who have listened to other records Dutkiewicz has produced recognize that the bass is often barely audible, but Dutkiewicz changes course by making the bass integral to the album, yet still deferring to the guitars and drums. Violins and strings find their way into a few places. The overall layering of each song gives The Hymn
much more heft than Dutkiewicz’s previous works.
The duo’s approach to the vocals, on the other hand, does stray from the beaten path. At times, it can be hard to tell exactly who the clean singing or guttural screams are actually coming from: Leach or Dutkiewicz. Silent on the KSE
album, Adam belts out some formidable growls to intertwine with Leach’s clean singing and vice versa. Neither one of them has a monopoly on the vocals since they exchange both styles quite often. Thanks to production, Leach does end up sounding as polished as he did on AOJB
. That intangible, redemptive quality to his voice remains the same. Leach’s growls sound hoarse as usual but click with the rough feel of some of the songs. In the end, their voices meld together effortlessly and cohesively.
The lyrics are also not much of an improvement from his previous work and they hit on many of the same themes: the loneliness of depression, finding solace in self, and embracing the future. Dualities like blindness and sight, falling and rising, sin and redemption, denial and acceptance, arrogance and humility, and pain and healing abound just like they do on albums from Aaron Gillespie era-Underoath. As the word "hymn" implies, the thematic elements borrow heavily from spirituality. Though the lyrics are clearly not poetry, they plug into the songs in a way that feels genuine as polish and not pastiche. As is the case, discussions of Leach always prompt comparisons between him and current KSE singer/screamer Howard Jones; though Jones may be a more naturally gifted vocalist, Leach delivers a sincere and honest performance diametrically opposed to Jones’s lackadaisical attempts on KSE
All in all, The Hymn of a Broken Man
sees Jesse Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz rediscovering the creative chemistry that rendered a metalcore staple like Alive or Just Breathing
while driving to a level that captures otherwise abstract feelings. The Hymn
does not push the proverbial envelope too far, but is a more than satisfying album that touches a tender side of the metalcore genre. These musicians stay not only relevant, but vital to the metalcore scene.