Killswitch Engage rejuvenated with old friend, forthcoming albumWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After splitting with former singer Howard Jones early in the year, Killswitch Engage is bidding 2012 a fond farewell amid an exciting rebirth and reunion.
Ten years after its first major label release, “Alive or Just Breathing,” a record that has since been praised by numerous musicians and media outlets for its influence on modern metal, Killswitch Engage has reunited with original singer Jesse Leach.
After a summer tour circuit with Leach back in the saddle, the band is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of “Alive or Just Breathing” by performing the album in its entirety for fans across the country, including those in Toledo on Dec. 9 with a performance at Headliners.
“There’s lots of stage dives and crazy mosh pitting going on,” Killswitch Engage bassist Mike D’Antonio said. “It reminds me of being in an old-school, hardcore band from the ’90s. There’s smiles all around from all the band members and we’re just having the best time we’ve had in years, and that’s a lot to say being around for 13 of them.”
For D’Antonio, Leach, drummer Justin Foley and guitarists Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel, the 10-year anniversary tour of “Alive or Just Breathing” is a way for Killswitch Engage to do something special for an album that has meant so much to both fans and the modern metal landscape.
When Roadrunner Records pursued Killswitch Engage in the early 2000s, D’Antonio said the band thought it was a farce for a major label to be interested in their style during an era when nu metal reigned supreme.
“They kept saying that we were kind of their last-ditch effort for metal, and they were just going to go all radio rock,” D’Antonio said of Roadrunner Records. “So we said to ourselves, ‘OK, we’re most likely going to get dropped by this label because who knows why they signed us? Let’s just make a record that we can be super proud of and play for our friends and they can get off on it.’”
Instead of “Alive or Just Breathing” being a one-off with Roadrunner as the guys expected, the album’s popularity propelled Killswitch Engage to the metal forefront.
The Boston-bred metal outfit has been with Roadrunner ever since and is widely regarded as one of the forefathers of what has come to be labeled metalcore. Additionally, New England-area metal colleagues Shadows Fall, All That Remains and Unearth have all enjoyed success.
“It’s very amazing going from the VFW halls with 20 people to playing Download [Festival] with Metallica to 110,000 [people],” D’Antonio said. “It’s mind-blowing. It’s sort of awkward to think about right now, anyway.”
Going separate ways
In January, Killswitch Engage announced via Facebook that it would move forward without Jones. The posting stated that the band members loved Jones and were thankful for his nine-year run with the group, adding that they wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the decision out of respect for everyone involved.
Two days later, a message from Jones was posted to the band’s Facebook page. In it, he cited personal issues — among them being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes that he said went unchecked for years — and his diminished excitement in the forthcoming album and touring cycle as reasons behind his departure. The split seemed amicable on Jones’ end as he, too, stated his love for the band and expressed his gratitude for his bandmates’ support through his personal struggles.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen with the band,” D’Antonio said. “Things were kind of up in the air.”
Without a singer, the door opened for the possible return of Leach. Though he had left Killswitch Engage shortly after the release of “Alive or Just Breathing” in 2002 for personal reasons, Leach remained friends with the band.
Dutkiewicz and Leach teamed up as Times of Grace and released the full-length album “The Hymn of a Broken Man” in 2011, doing subsequent touring which also featured Stroetzel.
“You don’t bounce back from changing singers too many times, so we wanted to make this last choice the final one,” D’Antonio said on searching for Jones’ replacement. “And we wanted to make it the most appropriate one, even though the Internet had already decided before we decided that Jesse was [back] in the band, which is kind of funny.”
While fans thought Leach was the obvious choice to fill the big shoes left by Jones, whose run with Killswitch Engage included two certified gold albums, a certified gold DVD and a Grammy nomination, D’Antonio said Leach didn’t expect to waltz right back into his former role with the band.
“We were holding tryouts in New York and he was like, ‘I want to do [an audition] just like everybody else, and I want to get in there and show you guys what I’ve got,’” D’Antonio said.
D’Antonio said the band had been conducting tryouts that day since 11 a.m., performing the same three songs with a host of different singers without much luck.
“It was very stiff with other people, very, ‘Oh goodness, I don’t know if this guy’s pulling this off, but we’re going to continue with the tryout’ kind of thing,” D’Antonio said.
By the time Leach arrived for his audition that evening, the band was exhausted. All of that changed once he took the mic.
“I think we blasted out, like, 14 tunes in a row, just kept going because it just felt right and it felt awesome,” D’Antonio said. Leach was welcomed back as Killswitch Engage’s singer in February. “So hopefully the fans will know that the pride and the heart is back, and we are stoked to be performing again.”
In Leach, Killswitch Engage has a singer who is equal parts brutal and majestic, one whose visceral lyrics often lend an uplifting message. D’Antonio said that for the band’s sixth album, fans can expect an aggressive record. The follow-up to 2009’s self-titled effort, the new record should be out in early 2013.
“Recording the new record, Jesse really came with all guns a blazing,” D’Antonio said. “So we’re super stoked. [We] just finished all the vocals on that.”
A graphic designer with his own company, DarkicoN, D’Antonio serves as Killswitch Engage’s merchandise and artwork
designer in addition to his bass duties. He said the artwork for the forthcoming record is nearly complete, after a process that involved tinkering with real life photos as well as some pyrotechnics.
“This time around, I also had fire and [was] burning things, which was really fun,” D’Antonio said. “Especially at nighttime when you have lighter fluid and you just burn the crap out of everything you can find. That was pretty rad.”
Prior to the new album’s release, D’Antonio promised a fun night to anyone who catches Killswitch Engage live.
“We really haven’t had this great a time on stage in many, many years,” D’Antonio said. “If you’re a fan of the band and you haven’t seen us in a while, you might want to check it out because you might just have as much fun as we are having, for sure.”
On Dec. 9, Killswitch Engage will headline a show that also features Shadows Fall and Acaro at Headliners, 4500 N. Detroit Ave. Tickets are $20.02 in advance, $25 at the door and available through all Ticketmaster outlets, as well as locally at Culture Clash Records, Ramalama Records and Shakin’ Street Records. Doors are at 6 p.m. and all ages are welcome. For more information, visit innovationconcerts.com.