NEW ALBUM REVIEW: Atonement (KILLSWITCH ENGAGE)
ALBUM: Atonement // ARTIST: Killswitch Engage
Surviving the conversion from late 90s musical outliers to bona-fide metal behemoths, there's no question that the upcoming eighth studio album 'Atonement' from Massachusetts metalcore pioneers Killswitch Engage is one of the most heavily anticipated albums of 2019. And while 'Atonement' marks a significant sonic turning point for the group, it's a fitting culmination of two decades worth of highs, lows and towering evolution - and their sharpest and most personal outing yet.
Inevitably finding themselves placed on a sonic pedestal for their avant-garde union of blaring thrash, East Coast hardcore and lyrical wizardry, Killswitch Engage effectively shaped the metal world at a significantly volatile moment in heavy music. Springing to life in 1999 at a time when the juggernaut of grunge had given way to a newer and more aggressive wave of heavy metal, Killswitch offered a breath of fresh air to the turn of the century, swiftly finding themselves branded as the founders of metalcore - a label they to this day dubiously accept, even if they don't wholeheartedly agree with it.
Two decades after the world first caught a taste of the might and dynamic combustion that Killswitch bring to their writing and live shows (plus two Grammy nominations, a bunch of #1 albums and sharing stages with some of the biggest acts on the planet), an eighth album from the Massachusetts gents seemed near-impossible, with frontman Jesse Leach requiring vocal cord surgery halfway through the album process coupled with significant writer's block. But true to form, the trials and tribulations only strengthened the Killswitch spirit, and 'Atonement' finds the band at their usual fiery and fervent best - but with a raw and darkly assured level of joy that reveals a band who are in command of their craft, and aren't afraid to challenge expectations.
UNLEASHED (KILLSWITCH ENGAGE)
'Atonement' breaks first with one of its lead singles 'Unleashed', which stoically unleashes a typical Killswitch affair; heavy chugs, grooving beats and Jesse Leach flitting between growls and clean vocals amongst episodic melodics. And while the title would hint at a wild and ferocious outing rather than the slower and steadied reality, the true essence of Leach's writing is reflected in the subtle intensity and raw tones on 'Unleashed', hinting at a complex passionate awakening lurking to the surface as opposed to an all-out sonic free-for-all. It's also here we first catch a glimpse at the measured subtle restraint the Killswitch lads reserve on 'Atonement' to drive their underlying messages - but fear not, there's plenty of thrash ahead to tickle your sonic tastebuds.
'The Signal Fire' barrels out next, wielding heart-stopping beats, some riffing carnage and one of the most hyped features with former Killswitch Engage vocalist (and current Light The Torch frontman) Howard Jones making a guest appearance, solidifying the past and present Killswitch eras in a tight metal anthem. And from the swinging pomp of the arpegio-laden 'Us Against The World' comes another feature, this time mixing the gutteral stylings of Testament frontman Chuck Billy with some boisterous thrashing aggression on 'The Crownless King' that'll bring a smile (and an inevitable head-bang) to your metal soul.
One of the other singles that snuck out ahead of Atonement's release is up next, as 'I Am Broken Too' sincerely showcases the underlying emotional depth and musical diversity that set Killswitch apart from so many of their contemporaries back in the day. Blasting soaring clean vox across a very short and sweet 2 minutes and 40 seconds, 'I Am Broken Too' is an eloquent outing that is simultaneously deeply personal yet startlingly uplifting, with Leach previously elaborating on the track: "I'm proud of [I Am Broken Too] especially. I want to speak to people and I wanna let them know they're not alone"
I AM BROKEN TOO (KILLSWITCH ENGAGE)
The remainder of 'Atonement' continues on in the vein of defiant perseverance and zealous hope, from polished metalcore grit ('As Sure as the Sun Will Rise'), to blasting call-to-arms ('Know Your Enemy' ,'Take Control') and galloping aggression ('Ravenous'), with a revolving-door of genres and elements weaving their way through proceedings from hard rock to hardcore, as well as some good old fashioned metal served on the rocks.
As the album begins to draw to a close, the time feels right for a slightly softer side of Killswitch to peek through, and 'I Can't Be The Only One' comes as close as we'll ever get to a Killswitch Engage love song; balancing blastbeats with beseeching melodic beauty and some sparkling guitar interplay, the track certainly may not appease those who came here to be brainlessly thrashed and bashed, but it offers yet another layer of authenticity to proceedings, building into a fretted, frenzied climax.
Closing track 'Bite the Hand That Feeds' brings back the biting menace and sonic thuggery, returning to the Killswitch territory that many would feel most comfortable in; rasping vocals, off-kilter riffs and cascading beats that'll raise your heart-rate while declaring war on the injustices of the world before slowly showing itself out with some repeated fading riffage, and giving ample time for the preceding album to wash over you.
Ultimately with 'Atonement', Killswitch have engaged their proclivity for crafting hulking melodic metal with a soul, while sharpening their production claws with this darkly polished outing many turbulent years in the making. Here, the band have readily evolved and forged their way into ever-so-slightly new waters - a fact that will either delight or dismay, depending on your ability to embrace a bit of change in your listening repertoire. But there's no denying 'Atonement' is a fiery, hopeful and authentic masterstroke from the Massachusetts quintet that is as infectiously fun as it is a total sonic shredder. Fittingly, the last track 'Bite the Hand That Feeds' lyrically declares: "where do we go from here? // we won't go quietly". And it's perhaps this notion that most accurately closes out 'Atonement': where will Killswitch Engage go from here? All we know is this most certainly is not the end, and they absolutely won't go quietly.
KILLSWITCH ENGAGE'S EIGHTH ALBUM 'ATONEMENT' IS DUE OUT AUGUST 16 VIA SONY MUSIC AUSTRALIA. FOR PRE-ORDER INFO AND MORE, HEAD HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER