Killswitch Engage – Disarm the Descent (between rock and a heavy place)

Killswitch Engage comes off of a nearly 4 year hiatus with a bang, bringing back ex-vocalist Jesse Leach from their debut album Alive or Just Breathing. It is pretty rare for a vocalist to leave a band and then come back, so needless to say this album has been very hyped up in the metal community. Due to this and the fact that this is the band that truly got me into metal, I feel obligated to make them the feature in my first ever full-album review!

I too was quite excited for this release. Even though I have moved on from melodic-metalcore KSE has a special place in my heart. First I will talk about the instrumentals. Very straightforward melodic-metal sound, this means it alternates between low chugs and higher moving melodic lines. The rhythms they use are as they always have, 16th note division with syncopation using extended note values. This album definitely chugs, Adam D. knows the winning formula for writing guitar work in his style. It will at least get you tapping your foot or bobbing your head with the steady beat. The drums are also very true to their style, alternating between bass drum pedals and snare while keeping quarter notes on the cymbals, using the last beat of every phrase for fills. They don’t stand out, which drums shouldn’t; they just help add to the constant beat the guitars are laying down.

This is the first song of the album. It takes no time to let you know exactly what the entire album is going to sound like. It also lets you know what one of the recurring themes is going to be from song to song: inner struggle. KSE has been singing about this since 2003, and it is good to see them go back to their roots. After the end of the heartache they fell into a love/loss breakup trend that needed to stop. At least they are singing ABOUT something, regardless of your opinion on the vocal style. The vocals have taken a turn against my personal preference, but for them I feel in the right direction.  KSE has a pretty big audience for a metal band. They even managed to slip a few of their bigger hits onto alternative or “hard rock” stations in the past. People who hear about them who are not fans of metal will instantly be attracted to how smooth Jesse’s voice is on this album. They use some harmonizing and verse/chorus/verse/chorus structure that most people are comfortable listening to.

Then there are these tracks that appeal to the heavier crowd, they have semi-breakdowns to head bang/mosh to at shows, and a guitar solo to make the fans feel like they are a talented and valid band. I don’t mean that to be snarky, I like that they try to appeal to the “br00tl” crowd,  but I think KSE will grow as a group if they stick to their style and let their fan base happen naturally. Besides, there is nothing you can do to please the “br00tl” crowd except be named Cannibal Corpse or Pig Destroyer.

I have said some good things about this album, and I mean them, but now it is time to get down to business. This is the kind of album that I listen to one time and never again. I enjoyed it, a little, but it was SO derivative and predictable that I feel like I absorbed the whole thing on the first listen. Not one track stood out to me, not one lyrical line made me think. All the tracks start off hard with “heavy” chugging guitar lines, then eventually get to the chorus where Jesse sings in a clean melodic style. I’m not against clean “real” singing in metal, I’m not against screaming the whole time either

what I AM against, is stuff like at 2:50. I don’t mean the singing/screaming combo, sometimes this is very effective, but listen to what he is saying. He is not angry at all, he doubling the vocals because it sounds cool.  This goes across the board. In my opinion, if you are going to scream, THEN SCREAM! Don’t do it to try and please metal heads (because again, you can’t), scream because you mean it. I want to hear the pure emotion coming straight out of the inside of your body, not half-assed yelling. The clean parts of the album are the best parts because you can FEEL what he is saying, he uses the harmony and melody to make the words stand out. It is beautiful at point, and there is nothing wrong with that. Do what you do best, play off your strengths, don’t force it.

There was a point in the album, where I had totally not realized that one song had ended and another had started. Not because of a good transition, because it literally sounds exactly the same. This is why none of the songs are memorable. The song writing is a proven formula, but they don’t do enough to add to it or change it to make it stand out. Ok that must be the chorus so here comes another verse of exactly the same length, followed by a chorus again. Then it is going into a bridge followed by another chorus. I made an entire post about this bad habit artists have of creating music without any creativity being involved at all. KSE knows how to sell albums; they do NOT know how to make different ones.

In conclusion, this is my favorite album that I have forgotten about completely so far this year. I love how incredibly bland it was. KSE has put out another smash hit that will outsell any other metal band this quarter, possibly this year. The hard rock fans will flock to it and revel in the glory of the clean vocals while still feeling like they are hardcore because it has some elements of metal in it too. There is nothing wrong with it; it is probably the best release of its sub-genre since Temper Temper. To me and most other metal heads, it will gather dust inside our ‘downloads’ folder on our hard drives and never be heard again.

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