REVIEW: TIMES OF GRACE – “Songs of Loss and Separation”
Compared to most bands, Times of Grace have an interesting history. Born as the side-project of Killswitch Engage’s enigmatic guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, and then-former Killswitch Engage singer Jesse Leach, their debut album—the well-received The Hymn of a Broken Man—was vastly different from what Killswitch Engage were or could have been. With Leach’s re-inclusion into Killswitch Engage a little over twelve months after the release of the debut album, and a persistent silence for many years after that, Times of Grace fans had thought that the band may have been a one-off showing and had subsequently run its course. Thankfully, that was to be untrue, as armed with ten years’ worth of melancholy and hope, Times of Grace have returned to release their second album Songs of Loss and Separation.
A decade between releases seems like an eternity in this day and age, with most bands striving to reach normality with a two to three-year album cycle. As genres and trends change, a gap like this could mean that a once-popular but inactive band may adapt their sound too much, or be unable to garner the same audience they once could. Luckily this isn’t the case with Times of Grace as the band seems to have embraced their original sound, but progressed and refined it with a maturity gained over the last decade. This becomes instantly apparent the moment the album starts with The Burden of Belief. This slow-paced track eases the listener in with its more emotive ambient rock pacing—a trait which is largely present on the album as a whole—and welcomes the listener to a new era for Times of Grace.
While some elements of the Times of Grace debut have made their way into Killswitch Engage’s last few albums—particularly emphasised in the rock nature of some of their recent ballad tracks—it would be easy for pundits to question what a new Times of Grace album brings to the table. Thankfully, Songs of Loss and Separation distances itself from any linkage with the duos the main project and sticks closely to this more rock-radio formula. Sure, there are still metal bangers in here, with tracks like Rescue very clearly sticking out, but they remain the exception rather than the rule for this record.
That’s not to say that musically the band has restricted itself in constructing its songs to this style alone. Musically, they play around with several different techniques and genres like country, groove, ambience, rock and metal, but with what seems like more of a focus on sound dynamics over hearty riffs to create emotive tracks. I mean sure, you could point out the lead licks on Rescue or the chunky and gritty guitar tone embraced on Medusa as references of Dutkiewicz doing Dutkiewicz things, but by and large, these moments are few and far between with the dynamic song structure and lyrical delivery at the front and centre of each song.
For instance, a song like Mend You maintains a very consistent slower tempo throughout while holding certain moments where the build-ups make you feel like the band might forge forth into heavier territory. This never eventuates throughout the body of the work but explodes into it unexpectedly for the conclusion of the song. Likewise, the dark and ambient nature of Currents holds a very different dynamic to Mend You, but remains equally as engaging, while a track like Cold and its acoustic delivery provokes a happier, more optimistic outlook. It’s these dynamic shifts, both in song and in the album overall, that make it such an enjoyable listen from beginning to end.
One thing that Songs of Loss and Separation cements with certainty is the ability of both Leach and Dukiewitcz as premiere lyricists for this generation. As expected, the lyrics are thought-provoking, while for the most part being emotionally heavy and also uplifting at times, and it makes it difficult not to feel moved during an album playthrough. Maybe this is a factor that is emphasised given our current global situation, but Times of Grace do make it very easy to emotionally invest in these lyrics, and moreover, these songs as a result. When you couple the powerful lyrics with the sonic delivery in which both artists deliver these lines, you really are left with some truly memorable moments on the album through nothing but the word alone, which is a true credit to these songs.
The production quality on the album is superb. The instruments always seem well balanced against the vocals, with each instrument being raised to highlight musical and emotive peaks during tracks while resting neatly below the vocals at all other times. Likewise, the vocal layering for the harmonies is incredibly well balanced, with the heavier delivery of Dutkiewicz often understated beneath the softer and more harmonious delivery of Leach, giving certain sections an edge, but nothing too strong or unpalatable.
From its unbridled emotion in its reflective lyrics to its unquestionable individuality through its dynamic musical sound, Songs of Loss and Separation is an album that deserves your attention. The emotion present in these songs, and the thoughtful way they have been constructed prove that this is nothing more than labour or love for the band members and it’s great to see the resurgence of an act that could quite have easily gone untouched into the future. Although it may have taken a decade to finally put the pieces together for album number two, Times of Grace have returned in a very strong way and proven that the spark still remains for this project after all this time. Hopefully with a renewed spotlight on the band, and the mainstream appeal that these songs carry, it won’t be another decade before we get another follow-up.