Killswitch Engage – ‘Atonement’

By Dave Stewart

If someone asked you to name a metalcore band, the first one you’d name would probably be Killswitch Engage. One of the original pioneers of the genre and still one of its strongest forces, they’ve continued to release corker after corker as they stun audiences all over the globe with their unmistakable brand of heavy and harmonious power. 2019 sees them add yet another chapter to their ever growing story with eighth full length ‘Atonement’ – a record that, unsurprisingly, serves as hard evidence for why they’re regarded as one of the greatest bands that the genre has produced.

Killswitch Engage are one of those bands that are instantly recognisable. You can hear one of their tracks and within a few seconds you know that it’s them. ‘Atonement’ is the perfect embodiment of that. If you’re already a fan of the band you’ll go into your first listen with expectations – hungry for big riffs, even bigger melodies, soaring choruses, blistering solos and the occasional screeching pinched harmonic. You’ll be pleased to know that all of these things are present and are all as good as you could have hoped for, if not better. They haven’t changed their formula at all, but they don’t need to – it works beautifully, and they’re fully aware of that.

There’s a strong balance between heaviness and serenity on show here, which Killswitch have always managed to showcase over the years. There’s wall to wall ragers like ‘Know Your Enemy’, ‘Ravenous’, and the thrashy mammoth ‘Bite The Hand That Feeds’. There’s blissful metalcore ballads like ‘I Am Broken Too’, the Gothenburg influenced ‘Take Control’, and the infectious ‘I Can’t Be The Only One’. There’s a couple of tasty surprises on show too, one of the biggest being ‘The Crownless King’, which features a monstrous guest vocal from Testament legend Chuck Billy.

The brightest star on this record, though, is ‘The Signal Fire’, for lots of reasons. Not only does it boast all the biggest and best traits of the band, from the frantic riffs and thunderous pace, to the blistering solos and soaring chorus, but there’s an enormous nod to their past. The song features a guest vocal spot from former vocalist Howard Jones, now vocalist of Light The Torch, and the song acts as a beacon of brotherhood between them all. As soon as Jones opens his mouth the nostalgia is overwhelming, surging a chill through your entire body that results in instant goosebumps. It’s powerful and beautiful both musically and emotionally, which is something that the entire record also manages to transmit throughout.

It’s worth noting that during the recording process, front man Jesse Leach had to undergo throat surgery that resulted in him having to go through speech, vocal, and scream therapy as part of his recovery. His vocals on the record are not those of an injured man, but of a craftsman displaying a mastery of his tools – it’s as though the injury actually aided his performance on the record rather than hinder it. He has never sounded so intense, his screams now packing more punch than ever before and his melodies ascending to all new heights. The music is incredible, but Leach’s performance deserves a lot of praise.

‘Atonement’ is both vicious and breathtaking in equal measure, both traits participating in a tug of war that eventually ends in a tie. The guitars are crisp and clear, the drums are weighty and relentless and the vocals are both stunning and venomous. There’s nothing unexpected, new or groundbreaking on show here, but there doesn’t need to be. They know their sound inside and out, allowing themselves to be completely engulfed by it and wrestle its tones into song after glorious song. Metalcore is not dead, and Killswitch Engage continue to be one of the biggest contributors to its survival. If you’re yet to become a fan of this band, this is the perfect opportunity to do some atoning of your own.

DAVE STEWART

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