Review Summary: Killswitch by numbers.
It’s hard to blame metalcore for just being itself sometimes. I mean it literally gets to a certain point where even the jaded listeners start to forgive the fact that this humble little chug-happy genre hasn’t exactly gone through much of an innovative period. And despite that, there hasn’t been any remarkable changes to metalcore’s formula it still largely carries the same size fandom as its always had. Sweeping generalizations aside, Killswitch Engage especially lives up to the formulaic consistency they’ve always offered. Safe, melodic, head-banging music with rationally based emotive lyrics that simply does the job without too much fuss. Add a few lines of melody, a couple of infectious noodle riffs and some crystal clear production values and you’ve essentially got the foundation of any
Killswitch Engage album. It’s a recipe for success that’s carried the band over the course of the last twenty years. Even with a vocalist “swapsie” that somehow gave the band three musical eras the group’s soundscape didn’t shift too much away from the already working musical formula. Atonement
is too caught up in the Killswitch Engage by numbers approach, making it easily likable and frustratingly similar to listen to.
The album’s lead single (and opening track), “Unleashed” continues where 2016’s Incarnate
left off. Emotive lyrics and bombastic riffs create a state of preserving self-worth for any engaged listener, but it’s nothing new from the KsE camp. With hooks a plenty, Leach proclaims ”Deceive me/Come face to face with the final stand”
and The last of all my tolerance has left this broken man
to which he continues touting his usual warming lines of resilience and inspirations used for inner strength. It’s typical Leach, middle finger raised to a world of life struggles and downfalls. His style is as well practiced as it has ever been (which is also rather impressive considering the not-so-minor throat surgery) but it’s the usual smooth delivery and predictable harsh vocals that has become commonplace within the band’s long-running soundscape that carries listeners from one track’s beginnings to another’s end.
In comparison to Killswitch’s last outing Incarnate
, this year’s effort, Atonement
is more balanced and less anthemic. That’s not to say it’s without energy, but it’s pointedly ‘less’ aggressive than Incarnate
’s more relentless modern metalcore approach. The Testament appointed “The Crownless King” (by use of Chuck Billy) showcases Killswitch’s ability to play well with others and Billy’s thrash-y growl may not be the a-typical KsE combination, but it’s one of the few newer tracks that actually stand out from the rest. Songs like “I Am Broken Too” (which deals with depression and suicide) and “I Can’t Be The Only One” may take a dip into the more melodic minor approach (reliving some candied ballad-esque metalcore) but unfortunately, the music itself is just not that interesting. Despite this, other hits like “Know Your Enemy” and “Ravenous” are high octane, tonal ragers.
The biggest nostalgia trip to be found here is where both of the band’s (current and former) vocalists feature together on the same track (who else remembers a certain Roadrunner United [DVD] concert and a live rendition of “My Last Serenade”?). Howard Jones may have a slow, lack-luster, under-mixed start on “The Signal Fire” but by the track’s latter half he’s forgotten his underwhelming Light The Torch vocal nuances and fallen back into the old Killswitch routine. The man’s screams [for the moment] are back to the highest possible standard to which fans had all their extremities crossed, but doesn’t unfortunately reach any farther than the simple track inclusion.
With all that said it’s easy to forget there’s more than just some aging dudes screaming into a microphone. The prolific string wizard Adam Dutkiewicz handles the production as well as shared guitar duties with Joel Stroetzel, while drummer Justin Foley continues a solid, yet unsung workload holding KsE’s collective rhythmic effort together. If the vocals are to be considered a consistent focal point of the group it’s the instrumental efforts that should be considered more so. Bassist Mike D’Antonio continues to work unhindered, continuing his own level of quiet achievements but doesn’t push into the same range of notice as his bandmates. It’s like cogs in the machine, working fine together with little to no maintenance. Some solo work pops up during “Take Control” and the lead work on “The Crownless King” (as well as some seriously on point riff work) stand out, but just not enough to instantly launch Atonement
into the band’s best studio efforts.
Largely, Killswitch has been enjoying the same safe proverbial pony ride they have been on for the last twenty years with varying degrees of success. They are doing exactly what they’ve always done and honestly, who could blame them? Atonement
is as good as any of Jessie’s second era (2013 -) and occasionally as good as the Howard epoch (minus the second self-titled effort that would mark Howard's last full-length with the band), but fails to deliver to the same tier as Alive Or Just Breathing
, As Daylight Dies
or The End Of Heartache
. Killswitch have become less engaged
of late, but they maintain a safe enjoy-ability. It could also be said that Killswitch Engage are doing nothing to help the genre as a whole shift towards more modern musical innovations… but that’s not the intention either. Instead, Atonement
is everything you would expect from a band on an enjoyable nostalgia-based autopilot.