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Killswitch Engage - Incarnate (Album Review)

Tuesday, 08 March 2016 Written by Alec Chillingworth

If you saw Killswitch Engage at Download in 2012, you’ll know the feeling. Y’know, the one you get when you see something truly special. Not the hyperbolic 'special' that’s used to describe every band and their nana’s home baked casserole, but the kind of special that makes you say: “That was perfect.” With Jesse Leach back in the band, they just had to back it up in the studio.

Luckily, ‘Disarm The Descent’, released in 2013, was a certifiable beast, lifting the band from the complacency they’d found on their final outing with Howard Jones, their 2009 self-titled LP, to nigh on legendary status. Their return saw off young pretenders, the old guard and everyone inbetween. Killswitch Engage were untouchable.

For the first third of the band’s latest full-length, ‘Incarnate’, that is still the case. Alone I Stand is Killswitch’s all-encompassing Subway foot-long: blastbeat meatballs garnished with gang vocals, pinch harmonics and sandwiched in a riffy crust. And it’s served to the customer by Leach himself, who hauls you over the counter and shoves it down your throat as he flits between gurgled screams and a trademark soaring chorus.

Hate By Design is In Due Time’s ugly brother, Cut Me Loose succeeds when it, well, cuts loose and morphs into a right old thrasher and Strength Of The Mind grooves like Pantera dicking about with Meshuggah’s guitar tone. There are the dual harmonies. Mike D'Antonio's bass is surprisingly audible. It's all gravy.

Killswitch have always been a metal band dipping their toes in hardcore – hence the metalcore tag - and that was especially apparent after Leach’s exit post-‘Alive Or Just Breathing’, which had them leave the hardcore hot tub and try out being a 'proper' metal band for a bit. ‘Incarnate’ sees them return to test those waters further, wading out of the paddling pool and into the deep end without any armbands.

Embrace The Journey… Upraised contains verses that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Hatebreed album, with a pure hardcore stomp kicking the speakers into your sternum before nursing you back to health with Leach’s pristine waxing of the chorus. The Great Deceit performs a similar trick, with urgent, anthemic hooks leading into a bludgeoning gang vocal straight from two-step town.

This dichotomy often works in their favour, but it also results in some songs missing the mark. Until The Day I Die is Killswitch by numbers, while Ascension’s frantic refrain shows only glimmers of promise amid the mediocrity. Just Let Go could have, er, just been let go.

Leach’s vocals, at least, are never short of incredible and ‘Incarnate’ is arguably his strongest and most diverse outing with the band. His cleans are more controlled, his screams even dirtier than before and the chant of ‘the screams, the cries!’ on Quiet Distress finds him sounding a bit like Prong’s Tommy Victor.

‘Incarnate’ is not the best Killswitch Engage album. It’s not as immediate as you’re used to and it does suffer when held up against ‘Alive or Just Breathing’, ‘Disarm The Descent’ or even ‘The End of Heartache’. It does occasionally take risks, and they do pay off, but otherwise it plods along at a pedestrian pace, only to be redeemed in part by Leach’s vocal versatility.

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