Review Summary: A decent to good album if you're a fan of Jesse Leach "singing" poorly. Otherwise, new listeners and Killswitch veterans alike should beware.
Last winter I discovered a band called Killswitch Engage, mostly through a song called "My Curse" which was featured on the new guitar hero of the year. I loved the song and soon collected every Killswitch album I could get my hands on.
There was only one I couldn't seem to find, and that was their eponymous debut. However, through the magic of Christmas, I was graced with the CD which I considered a veritable lost treasure.
Oh god, they should've kept it buried.
I knew coming in that the vocals of the album would be performed by Jesse Leach, and at the time was practically ecstatic about it. I loved Alive or Just Breathing above either of their other releases in my possession. "My Last Serenade" was probably my favorite song at the time. But Jesus Christ, I just can't deal with his voice on this album.
It sounds like he's just trying to be harsh for the sake of harshness, growling and cookie monstering through every vocal section he can. At times he puts some death metal singers to shame. And while his clean vocals are decent and at times pleasant, they're far too few and far between for me.
Now, looking back on this after having listened a bit more extensively to all of the Killswitch albums in my collection, and having seen them live this past January, I've come to embrace Howard a lot more than I had previously, and the comparison makes this album look even worse. Now, Jesse's probably a better lyricist, but Howard has a much less abrasive vocal style compared to Jesse. You can tell Howard is singing through most of the choruses and such, while Jesse tends to either talk, or scream-sing, where you can tell his throat is probably still slashed up like a teenager in a Jason movie and he just can't get the sound right.
While the sound of the album is established by Jesse's voice as a lot more harsh than subsequent Killswitch albums, the music isn't entirely bad. However, the majority of it is reliant on heavy, stomping guitars with breakdowns that leave a lot to be desired. The drums are surprisingly good, especially when you consider that Adam D., current guitarist for Killswitch provided percussion on this album. But the skill he offers in this area isn't enough to make up for the lack of his signature guitar work or even the absence of his backing vocals.
The album is further hindered by the fact that three of the nine tracks on the album are available on later Killswitch releases in better quality. (or, in the case of "Irreversal," a better version altogether). "Vide Infra" and "Temple From The Within" are both on Alive or Just Breathing, while "Irreversal" was re-recorded with Howard doing the vocals on the special edition of The End of Heartache.
There are a few gem tracks on this album that you won't find anywhere else in the Killswitch catalog, though. "In The Unblind," "Rusted Embrace," and "One Last Sunset" are the three tracks that keep the album from being a complete and total waste. "In The Unblind" for actually having a catchy guitar sound reminiscent of the later Killswitch Engage sound, "Rusted Embrace," for its interesting tempo changes, which, when coupled with Jesse's clean asides makes a good track, and "One Last Sunset" for being a slow, almost bright, but fitting instrumental outro laced with a cool acoustic overlay. It's this track that definitely tells you that the band will be back.
At first it seems that "Irreversal" is going to be one of these tracks as well. When I hear the quick blast beats Adam can deliver alongside a catchy chorus, I start to bang my head. Couple that with a clean guitar break for intrigue and you'd think you have a winner, right" Nope, Jesse manages to mess it up by immediately screaming "the sacrifice of this body!" and ends it with a screaming vocal break that's just... Incomprehensible and annoying through and through.
"Prelude" is a good enough track, too, but it was later adapted, it seems, to become the entire Alive or Just Breathing album. As a matter of fact, most of the riffs on this album seem to make a reappearance on that album and when they do, they're much better.
The songs on this album, or at least their arrangement, make it feel incredibly long. Long to the point where I'm bored less than halfway through the album. Even the less than two minute long "Prelude" feels long - something which can be attributed to the heavy, dragging sound that's consistent through much of the album.
I guess it was some attempt to make up for all of this or to appeal to hardcore fans that the reissue came packaged with demo versions of "Prelude," "In The Unblind," "Soilborn," and, in case you hadn't heard it enough, "Vide Infra." These demo versions are all just even worse quality versions (as you'd expect) of tracks already on the CD. They are, however, played with a slightly lighter tone and at a slightly slower pace, so if that's your bag, I guess you'll like it. They did nothing for me.
Overall, the few highlights of Killswitch Engage just aren't enough to compensate for the lack of Adam's guitar, Jesse's awful performance, and the repetitive, slow sound of the album. While it does indicate the much more spectacular entity which the band would come to evolve into, it should be noted that this album is NOT that entity. It's simply a bump along the road.