REVIEW: KILLSWITCH ENGAGE – “Atonement”
Killswitch Engage rips!
Okay, now that the obvious has been stated and out of the way, Killswitch Engage has been among the hardest working and most consistently high value generating metalcore bands of our generation and have pumped out record after record of thrashy-yet-melodic metalcore, most recently in 2016 on Incarnate. Eight studio albums later, can they keep the flames bright?
Killswitch Engage are kings of mid-tempo melodic metalcore and are often compared to genre-mates All That Remains and As I Lay Dying due to their heavy use of poppier song structures and reliance on melodic choruses with clean vocals. Atonement never strays too far from the template of heavy riff/clean chorus structure, and this has served them well so far.
Guitarists Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel are household names in the metalcore world and have a huge repertoire of catchy riffs, heavy breakdowns, and melodic hooks littered all over Atonement. Highlights of more memorable sections include the chugs on album opener Unleashed, southern groove-n-roll main riff on Know Your Enemy, and the bonkers heaviness on Bite the Hand That Feeds and are my personal favorites. Vocalist Jesse Leach is doing his best work on Atonement with his barks, screeches, occasional grunts, and cleans that are among the best in the business. The ballad I am Broken Too is a clear example that Jesse has amazing pipes and can shut up the “Howard (Jones, ex-vocalist) is better” camp once and for all. However, the clean choruses are highly formulaic as the album progresses and the alternating heavy verse/clean chorus arrangements lose their sheen with decreasing dividends. Killswitch would benefit from more progressive elements or song structures.
Personally, I absolutely adored the grudgingly few sections on Atonement where Killswitch Engage pulls out all the stops and goes ballistic or crushingly heavy. The Crownless King opens with a thrashy riff and growl that immediately gets the blood pumping and is unrelenting throughout its runtime. Similarly, album closer Bite the Hand That Feeds has a monstrous breakdown (perhaps the only breakdown on the entire album) which rounds out the album. Why Killswitch Engage doesn’t write more songs in this tempo/mood is completely beyond me! The only weak track on Atonement is Take Control that relies on mid-spaced riffs and a semi-ballad chorus that is largely forgettable. Yet, only one mediocre track is on a record is high praise.
The guitar tones and mix on Atonement is pristine, and to expect anything less from a band of this magnitude in 2019 is foolhardy. The guitar tones are heavy yet suffer slightly from the generic modern metal stereotype that plague so many bands in the same crowded genre. The bass is pronounced and sits well in the mix and isn’t drowned out, even in the sections of low-end chugs. The drums are well spaced, and cymbal hit can be easily differentiated and identified. No complaints here.
My qualms with Atonement are minor quibbles at best, mostly fueled by jaded elitism. High-school me would absolutely jam the heck out of Killswitch Engage and this record would be no different. Yet, in 2019, the genre is stale, the riffs seem familiar, the fans have either grown out of metal overall or have moved on to heavier or more progressive subgenres. To these fans, Atonement has little to offer apart from nostalgic pleas. Granted the heavier arrangements mentioned earlier were fun and bouncy, the album isn’t exactly breaking new ground. I fear for the longevity of Killswitch Engage in a dying genre. I sincerely hope they attempt to break new ground on future records, at risk of alienating “diehard” fans.
Atonement is a solid slab of metalcore; it is beefy, it is thrashy, it has hooks, and it has all the assorted goodies we have always expected from Killswitch Engage. Unfortunately, the audience for the genre is growing up and moving away from the genre. Atonement does not make huge strides in the uphill challenge of keeping their old fans, and the tougher task of garnering new ones!