Chances are that if you ask an afficionado of heaviness to name a modern, “cool” band who aren’t just metal but “METAL!”, he or she’ll name Massachusetts mob, Killswitch Engage.
Two previous albums of hardy, heady riffage are only partly the reason for this. Guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz has become a mainstay on the heavy metal circuit, doing tongue-in-cheek “how to be old skool metal” columns in magazines and, more importantly, becoming a sought-after producer after twiddling the knobs on such monolithic slabs of noise as Norma Jean‘s Bless The Martyr And Kiss The Child.
These factors doubtless help turn attention away from the fact that The End Of Heartache is actually Killswitch’s first album with a new singer – the rather wonderfully named Howard Jones (can you imagine if the lead singer of Slayer was called Nik Kershaw?!).
No-one need have worried, however, because Jones is a fine vocalist, as far removed from his ’80s floppy-haired musical namesake as you can imagine, and The End Of Heartache is a fine album.
The first couple of tracks should be all you need to understand why Killswitch Engage are “METAL!” There’s a bulging vein of old skool running through the body of these songs, with A Bid Farewell’s Iron Maiden-styled dual guitars and some absolutely hammering ’80s thrash bass-pedalling during Take This Oath.
But don’t think this lot are some sad, blue jeans and white trainers brigade who’ve merely been delving into the musical recycle bin. Not only is the production and mixing as crisp, sleek and heavy as we’ve come to expect from Adam D and ubiquitous partner Andy Sneap, but there are plenty of traits to raise this above the ordinary.
Jones is equally at home doing death metal screams or melodic, emotive choruses (fast becoming a de rigeur requirement in metal / hardcore circles it seems), while this is one band who understand the currency of big, bold guitar riffs and aren’t profligate with it either. This is seen to best effect in the title track, a grandly anthemic but oh so heavy statement of intent where the staccato riffs, the chorus and Jones’ vocal are all simply huge.
There’s even room for a couple of cool acoustic interludes to split the album into three parts. Methinks they should have made these pieces longer if only to accentuate the feeling of calm after one musical storm has quelled and another is about to begin. Maybe next time.
In the main, The End Of Heartache is not subtle, but it is big and occasionally clever, particularly in the lyrics which seem to speak of spiritual matters (“What would I give to behold the smile, the face of love / You’ve never left me / The rising sun will always speak your name”).
I listened to this album while builders next door to my office hammered, drilled, banged and generally made a heck of a lot of noise. The heavy sound of builders’ metal versus the heavy “METAL!” of Killswitch Engage? No contest, bud, no contest.