Review Summary: Killswitch puts on the brakes and stops their descent into self-parody.
Killswitch Engage are a polarizing force in modern metal. On one hand, they were instrumental in the rise of the new wave of American heavy metal, the forefathers of the entirety of modern mainstream metal. On the other hand, they are also one of the foundations of metalcore, the oft-hated subgenre of repetitive screaming and breakdowns, with little talent for songwriting. Where the truth about Killswitch rests is somewhere in the middle. They are not trendsetters anymore, nor do they fit the label of metalcore that has spawned a thousand faceless bands. What Killswitch Engage is, now, is a band trying to figure out what their role is supposed to be.
The days of Killswitch being the innovators of the metal world are gone. Their first two albums were revolutionary, bringing the screaming/singing formula to the mainstream and defining the sound of a genre. When they delivered The End Of Heartache, introducing new singer Howard Jones, the band laid the cornerstone for all that is modern mainstream metal. The album was heavier than anything getting airplay, was technical in the right ways, and featured an outstanding vocal performance from the best singer/screamer in the genre. The album, by virtue of it's sheer weight, the epic scope of the melody, and the tight songwriting of the band, became the Bible by which all that followed was judged.
The band themselves found the album impossible to follow, releasing the uninspired As Daylight Dies, repeating the formula with little of the inspiration. Killswitch still sounded like themselves, but had the energy of a cover band, none of the songs coming across with the same air of aggression. Now, Killswitch is back to take their second stab at recapturing the magic. Their second self-titled record is an improvement over As Daylight Dies, but cannot approach their watershed release.
As a cymbal counts off into the introduction of "Never Again", the first riff highlights the problem that the band has. Nothing that they do now, after inspiring so many followers, sounds as fresh as they did when they broke out. The classic Killswitch formula is present, the muscular riffs and pounding rhythms driving the songs under Howard's multi-faceted vocal approach. Nothing is wrong with this approach, but it is too familiar, down to the very details of the guitar tone. This is all stuff that we've heard before.
The band does little to help themselves overcome this apathy, loading the first half of the album with the faster, quirkier songs. "Starting Over" builds the verses on an Iron Maiden styled gallop, turning back to the band's modern approach in the chorus, starting and stopping to break up the proceedings for no reason other than to be different. "Reckoning" is the first single, a short burst of energy that contains all the band's elements, but fails to put them together. "The Forgotten" tries to be different, building from the dramatic pulse of the intro, falling right back into the cliche.
As the record makes its turn to the second half, the band finds their stride. "The Return" is softer, utilizing clean guitars and a wash of fuzz to underscore the sweeping melody Howard spins, as well as the classic guitar harmony that sits back in the mix. "A Light In A Darkened World" has the strongest hook on the album, a tasty slice of razor-edged pop infiltrating the assault. "Take Me Away" has a Malmsteen-esque shredding riff before turning into a hard rock chorus that feels inspired. "I Would Do Anything" is the heaviest song on the album, but remains melodic with another sweeping chorus. "Save Me" and "Lost" are standard-issue Killswitch tracks, but have solid melodies that elevate the songs beyond pastiche.
Killswitch Engage is a short record, the songs coming and going before their can wear out their welcome, a good idea for a band offering more of the same. There is nothing new to be found on the album, the band sticking to their tried and true formula. Unlike their last album, this effort finds them engaged in the songwriting once again, turning out half of a record that could compete with their earlier highlights. Unfortunately, that amounts to twenty minutes of good music, and after three years, that's not enough. A band with the talent to make a great record cannot throw fill their albums with fluff and maintain their status.
Killswitch Engage is a return to form, and a step up, but it isn't quite enough.