Chili con Incarnate.
Incarnate is the seventh studio album from metalcore stalwarts Killswitch Engage and the second since the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach. A short history lesson for those new to the band (or those who never bothered to look into them): Killswitch Engage formed in 1999 in central Massachusetts. The band comprised of popular local acts Overcast, Aftershock, and Nothing Stays Gold. The band’s sound was a blending of metal and hardcore (hence metalcore). While it’s part of the common musical lexicon nowadays, this style was still fairly new in a scene dominated by nu metal and rap metal. In the middle of touring in support of their second album Alive Or Just Breathing, vocalist Jesse Leach left the band via email, citing depression as a main factor.
The band recruited former Blood Has Been Shed vocalist Howard Jones to take over vocal duties, leading to their breakout album The End Of Heartache. The band toured the world many times over, including stints on Ozzfest, Warped Tour, and the Taste Of Chaos. They put out two more albums with Jones, who then left the band due to health issues. In the interim, Leach put out two albums with his band Seemless before reconnecting with Killswitch Engage guitarist Adam D. The duo released one album under the moniker Times Of Grace which was well-received. That collaboration sparked something because Leach returned to the KSE fold 2012 and the band released 2013’s Disarm The Descent.
That all brings us to Incarnate. In a nutshell, if you like what Killswitch Engage has done in the past, you will like Incarnate. If you didn’t like them before, you won’t like them now. Killswitch Engage has always been consistent with their sound. It’s part of what makes them who they are. You know when you’re listening to a Killswitch Engage song. There’re a few heavy parts, catchy hooks, memorable choruses, and maybe a breakdown or two. It is this consistency that has led to their crossover appeal and kept them in the spotlight whereas many of their “New Wave Of American Heavy Metal” counterparts, such as God Forbid and Shadows Fall, have fallen to the wayside. Of course, consistency can lead to complacency, as seen by their weakest release, their second self-titled album.
While all the songs on Incarnate have that distinctive KSE mixture of metal and hardcore, the band does try to break from the constraints of metalcore. Songs like “Reignite” and “Loyalty” are by far the heaviest songs the band has ever written, to the point where an uninitiated listener may not know that it is, in fact, Killswitch Engage. It’s a welcome refresher for a band that has been around almost 20 years.
As with their other releases, Leach’s vocals and lyrics are the band’s high point. While Jones’s vocals were smoother, Leach has an earnestness in his voice. It’s this emotion that has always set Killswitch Engage apart from the rest of their metalcore contemporaries. It strikes a chord within the listener, bringing thoughts and feelings long dormant to the surface.
Each song is an honest confession, reaching out directly to every individual listener. Leach has always worn his heart on his sleeve, openly discussing his issues with depression and mental health. Themes like hope, faith, and love run throughout all of Leach’s work, and while there is never explicit mention of God or Jesus, it’s easy to see where at least some inspiration comes from. With song titles like “Ascension” and “Embrace The Journey…Upraised,” one might easily confuse the band for being a Christian metalcore act. I appreciate Leach’s honesty and his messages of unity and compassion. I also appreciate that his words do not force any particular religious views on to the listeners. One can have faith without a particular deity or lack thereof.
The album is very slick in terms of sound and production. Some fans have referred to Incarnate‘s smoothness as “Killswitch In Grace” referencing Leach and Adam D’s project. While the Times Of Grace album The Hymn Of A Broken Man did occasionally have moments of “it’s so slick I might fall and hurt myself,” Incarnate doesn’t come off as too clean or overproduced. It comes close at times, but doesn’t cross the line. It’s this production, while appealing to a wider audience, that prevents the band from achieving the greatness that was Alive Or Just Breathing. A little more bite to their sound could raise their songs from good to great.
Ultimately, Incarnate is a very good Killswitch Engage album. Fans will love the catchy guitars from Adam D and Joel Stroetzel, consistent bass from Mike D, driving drums from Justin Foley, and emotional vocals from Jesse Leach. It’s an album that will make you feel something as long as you’re willing to give it a chance. Though the style and sound is generally consistent, the band does delve into previously unexplored musical territories with positive results. Could it be a sign of experimentation and exploration to come? One can only hope. Thanks to Killswitch Engage, I have hope. And faith. And love.
Incarnate is available now via Roadrunner Records.