Killswitch Engage — Atonement
In the 3 years since Killswitch Engage released Incarnate, the band have gone through an extensive touring cycle, members have worked on various side-projects and frontman Jesse Leach underment surgery on his vocal chords. Now, nearing the 2-decade mark of their career, the band drop their eighth studio album; examplars of the metalcore genre, Killswitch Engage have an incredibly strong discography to date and continually showcase mastery of their chosen musical niche. Atonement proves to be another quality addition to the band's catalog, cutting right to the chase after a brief series of clean guitar chords in the opening seconds.
At this point, Killswitch Engage are very much a known quantity; a blend of sick grooves, catchy guitar riffs backed by a tight rhythm section and a blend of harsh screams and powerful clean vocals to match the record's split of brutality and melody. Nineteen years and 7 records later, Adam Dutkiewicz is still churning out engaging, foot-stomping metal and — as with the rest of the band — seems to only be improving with age. In spite of being very much a standard issue set of Killswitch Engage songs, the material on Atonement feels very fresh and motivated; this isn't just a record the band cranked out for something to tour behind, this is some of their best work to date. What it lacks in experimentation, Atonement makes up for in consistency and execution.
Atonement also features a rarity for Killswitch Engage: guest vocalists. In addition to Testament's Chuck Billy lending his voice — and sounding eerily like Lamb Of God's Randy Blythe — to "The Crownless King," the band reunites with Howard Jones on "The Signal Fire." The latter is possibly the best track on the record, although I am somewhat partial to "As Sure As The Sun Will Rise." Regardless, "The Signal Fire" features powerful vocal presence from both Leach and Jones over top of a textbook Killswitch Engage instrumental. You can argue it's formulaic but I would counter that with the fact that this formula happens to be really good.
As is the case with all Killswitch Engage albums, the engineering is top-shelf: the guitars are crushing, the bass is thick and provides a solid rhythm foundation with the drums that are punctual without sounding robotic. Jesse Leach sounds better than ever on the mic, delivering both powerful screams and emotionally affecting clean passages; working with a vocal coach following his surgery seems to have yielded great results. The use of backing screams layered over Leach's vocals adds a nice flourish and lends a bit more variety to the material. This record is all hits with nothing even close to a miss; this is Killswitch Engage at the peak of their creative powers. Atonement won't convert any of their detractors but it's sure to resonate with fans and newcomers alike.
The band's track record isn't completely unblemished — their second self-titled album, released in 2009, was largely forgetable — but it's lacking any outright failures. Atonement has all the aspects of the best that Killswitch Engage has to offer, mixed with the maturity and evolution of musicians who continue to refine their craft. Despite how familiar this material sounds, it doesn't come off as rehashed or redundant — it's just 11 new tracks to bang your head to.
It's 2019 and Killswitch Engage have not lost a step. Quite the opposite, in fact; Atonement is among my favourite metal records of 2019 and makes a very strong case as the band's best work to date. All of the metalcore hallmarks are present in this collection of catchy, hard-grooving melodic metal. The band has been mixing hyper-aggressive metal with melody and a strong capacity for writing ear-catching instrumental and vocal hooks for almost 2 decades and still sound remarkably fresh. This record is an exceptional effort from tenured veterans which I highly recommend giving a listen.
Release date: August 16th, 2019
Record label: Metal Blade Records
Jesse Leach — lead vocals
Adam Dutkiewicz — guitar, backing vocals
Joel Stroetzel — guitar, backing vocals
Mike D'Antonio — bass
Justin Foley — drums
Howard Jones — additional vocals (track 2)
Chuck Billy — additional vocals (track 4)
- The Signal Fire
- Us Against The World
- The Crownless King
- I Am Broken Too
- As Sure As The Sun Will Rise
- Know Your Enemy
- Take Control
- I Can't Be The Only One
- Bite The Hand That Feeds
Published: September 3rd, 2019.