With albums such as Alive Or Just Breathing and The End Of Heartache, Massachusetts quintet Killswitch Engage have placed themselves at the forefront of a mini musical movement that the press have dubbed the “New Wave Of American Heavy Metal”.
Meanwhile, guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz’s production work for extreme hardcore acts like Norma Jean has also ensured that Killswitch Engage’s name is never far from the heavy music headlines.
As the band embark on another UK tour, which coincides with the re-release of their eponymous debut album, musicOMH caught up with bassist and founder member Mike D’Antonio to discuss old skool metal and life on the road…
When a band loses a vocalist, it can take years for it to re-establish itself, if it is able to at all (think Sepultura). In Killswitch Engage’s case, the opposite is true. Jesse Leach may have been a respected vocalist, but last year’s The End Of Heartache album – featuring Blood Has Been Shed singer Howard Jones – had at least as many people salivating over it as Alive Or Just Breathing had before it. Mike D’Antonio explains how the band took the situation in its collective stride:
“Well, I think everything just happened so fast really. When we released Alive Or Just Breathing we only did one tour with Jesse and then he left. We got Howard within two weeks after that and started playing again immediately. So, I think by the time we were ready to make a new record, we were very accustomed to playing with Howard already. It was a very natural thing.”
“It’s nice to see – I’ve always been a fan of the riffing, old skool metal kinda stuff.” – Killswitch Engage bassist Mike D’Antonio on the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal’s nod to the past.
If this response makes you think that little fazes the Killswitch Engage bassist, then you’d probably be right. For instance, whereas some musicians baulk and rile against labels, D’Antonio doesn’t seem bothered by the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal tag:
“Hey man, whatever people want to call it. We are just doing our thing. We’ve been doing it for a while and it’s definitely cool that people are starting to notice – it’s awesome. There are a lot of other bands from our area too who have been doing it for a long time.”
The “it” in question is a return to the more traditional heavy metal musical values – an emphasis on big, thrash metal riffs, pummelling drums and rhythms, and soaring vocals that can switch from scream to song in an instant. D’Antonio acknowledges that the spirit of the ’80s lives on in Killswitch’s and their peers’ music:
“People are starting to create that thrash metal, old skool sound again. I don’t want to say, ‘Mainstream’, but it’s definitely becoming more popular again. It’s nice to see – I’ve always been a fan of the riffing, old skool metal kinda stuff. I’m a big fan of the old Metallica stuff, including the Black album. Old Testament, Slayer, Megadeth – I kinda grew up with stuff like that. I learnt how to play guitar, playing all those songs.”
This infusion of thrash metal with sleek, modern production and a hardcore vocal edge has seen Killswitch Engage take off around the globe, particularly over here (“the UK has been amazing for us”) and in Germany. However, it is Japan that still holds the most interest from a cultural perspective, as Mike explains:
“Japan is amazing. The fans are very dedicated, very respectful… Usually when you play and then stop between songs, people are going crazy and yelling, but when you play in Japan, it’s a little bit different – they clap and they cheer and then they go quiet because they’re waiting for you to play your next song. So, it’s a different vibe, but it’s cool.”
“I think it would be cool to tour with someone like System Of A Down and play for a new audience.” – Killswitch Engage bassist Mike D’Antonio lines up a dream bill.
Killswitch Engage are well-qualified to comment on the differences in international gigging behaviour, given that they seem to spend most of their lives touring. Mike admits that personal space does become an issue during the months on the road:
“Definitely, man, definitely. I mean everyone in the band is pretty good friends so it takes us a while to get sick of each other but, at the same time, when you are around anybody for that long you get to the point when you need to take a walk on your own, crawl into your bunk and put on your headphones – just to get away from people.”
“The hardest part of touring is what to do between the morning hours and 5pm. It’s a long time when there is nothing going on. It depends. Sometimes you’ll be in a cool area and you can walk around or go shopping or eat at a cool restaurant. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury… It’s all part of the job, I guess.”
So, even being a rock star has its bad points, eh? Mike laughs, acknowledging that as “bad” points in a job go, a bit of boredom before hitting the stage isn’t very bad at all. Still, it’s enough to make him and the rest of the band want to shake things up a little:
“We tour with a lot of metal bands, but I think it would be cool to tour with someone like System Of A Down and play for a new audience.”
System Of A Down and Killswitch Engage touring together? See you down the front…
Killswitch Engage’s self-titled debut album has been rereleased in expanded form by Ferret.