It has arrived. Killswitch Engage’s seventh album, Incarnate, is now available. Killswitch Engage is simply the finest band that metalcore music has to offer. The band’s success is a testament to that, with two albums certified gold in the United States – an impressive feat for a band that often uses a bit more screaming than singing. Even those who really don’t like metalcore have a special place for Killswitch. The album was especially challenging for the band to make, but it’s all paid off.
Vocalist Jesse Leach left Killswitch Engage after the release of Alive or Just Breathing in 2002 due to personal health issues that held the band back, and was replaced by Howard Jones. Leach returned to Killswitch Engage following Jones’ departure from the band to work with his own band, Devil You Know.
Incarnate is the second album to be recorded with Leach since his reunion with the band in 2012, and the fourth album he’s recorded with them overall. Leach, who wrote much of the music on the album, admitted that writing the album was especially difficult. According to an interview with Artisan News, he wanted to write lyrics that related to current and relevant topics, namely “social media and the news and all the violence and racism that’s going on in our media these days.” However, he wanted the lyrics to still remain ambiguous in order to provoke more personal interpretations.
Leach also experienced psychological stress throughout the writing process. He lost significant amounts of sleep and would sometimes spend all night writing lyrics. He estimated that he had about 80 pages of lyric ideas when he was done.
Some of the band’s brightest moments came from those sessions. “Alone I Stand,” the first track from the album and fourth song released overall, has ambiguity to its lyrics that make them hard to clearly describe, but you can’t help but feel the lyrics are really deep. To me, it seems like the song’s subject matter is about the last man standing for a certain cause, similar to Demon Hunter’s “The Last One Alive” (2014).
The song starts in silence, but slowly builds on a dissonant guitar chord that slowly becomes much louder. After that, it’s classic Killswitch. And when I say classic, I mean really early. I’m referring to the days before their glory, before Jones brought the band to mainstream attention on The End of Heartache (2004) with his higher screams and a more commonly used clean baritone voice.
Leach’s technique, however, is the opposite. He likes to keep a lot of the band’s pre-Jones style incorporated into what they’re currently doing, as well as somehow make music in a way that appeals to more mainstream metal fans. Unlike Jones’ style, Leach uses more screaming than singing on most of the songs he writes. The singing he does do usually only appears in the choruses of his songs. The screams are deeper and throatier than Jones’, and his clean range is higher in pitch. It’s a standard used for almost all the songs on this album and their previous effort, Disarm the Descent (2013).
“Hate by Design,” the second song released from the album, managed to gather airplay attention and once again chart on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart. This time, it peaked at number 33. Even though it’s not a particularly high spot, it’s still impressive because this is the band’s eighth entry on that chart, and they remain one of the only metalcore bands to consistently reach that chart. They even have more hits on that chart than the mighty Bullet for My Valentine, at least in terms of hits that were truly metalcore. (Bullet has changed their musical direction to be less hardcore, but later went back to their roots, while Killswitch’s changes have been more subtle.)
If Leach’s goal was to make food for thought, he has undoubtedly reached it on this song. It brings one unanswerable, yet still relevant question to mind: Why does everyone have to be such idiots? And when I say idiots, I’m understating my word choice so that I am not vulgar in print. The kind of stuff causes all of the deranged people to shoot up our schools! Hate is designed to be destructive and bring ruin, and it’s still a huge issue.
“We Carry On,” the eleventh track from the album, features a faintly audible symphonic flavor in the background, and showcases Leach’s clean vocals, forging a unique sound that uses screaming alone for only about six seconds of the whole song. The guitars aren’t frenzied and wild, but form a chugging beat that’s atypically slow, even for melodic metalcore. A similar guitar idea is found on the sixth track “Embrace the Journey…Upraised.” The vocals that appear here, however, are more abrasive.
The album is packed with all you would expect from Killswitch Engage. They don’t change much, but it’s not like they really need to. The band can produce metalcore in a way that’s not stereotypical of every other metalcore band – there’s something almost reminiscent of power metal presented in their clean vocals. Almost every metal fan can respect Killswitch Engage in some way. Nobody will want to hit the “Killswitch” on this album.