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Killswitch Engage – Atonement (Album Review)

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Forgiveness favors the ambitious.

The U.S. metalcore scene has seen some rough times since the end of the previous decade. Whether it was due to the fatigue that generally follows any scene after it achieves a heavy commercial presence bordering on mainstream territory, or said scene collapsing due to a number of prominent bands folding tent or shifting their lineups, by 2013 America’s partial answer to the Gothenburg melodeath scene was on the ropes and showed little signs of recuperation. Prominent acts such as Chimaira and God Forbid completely imploded, As I Lay Dying went on extended hiatus due to vocalist Tim Lambesis’ incarceration for attempting to solicit the murder of his estranged wife, and arguably the most iconic act of said scene, Killswitch Engage lost their iconic second front man Howard Jones and went into a funk of sorts for a couple albums while trying to reorient their sound with the return of their original singer Jesse Leach.

Be this all as it may, there are some signs of life brewing of late that may lead to more promising results for this NWOAHM offshoot style, and one of the more pronounced ones is Killswitch Engage’s newest offering Atonement. Veering ever closer to that original magic that was showcased in the early days of this band when Leach was at the helm, this is an album that distills most of the minimalist melodic elements that this band drew from In Flames and merged with their own New York Hardcore-influenced arrangement into several easy to digest anthems of intense emotion and infectious hooks. At times things get a bit predictable and most who have any familiarity with this band’s extensive back catalog will find themselves anticipating some of the obvious cadence points and formulaic motives within most of these songs, but the overall picture hasn’t been this fun and animated since Jones exited the fold and the aforementioned metalcore recession began to ensue.

If nothing else, this album proves to be more of a high-impact affair, adding some much needed punch to the instrumentation to compensate for the polarity that exists between Leach’s super-clean melodic chants and his bordering on morose screams. Generally slow-paced, short and by the numbers anthems such as the opener “Unleashed” and more harmonically rich coasters such as “Us Against The World” and “I Am Broken Too” benefit from a more percussive production sound where the thick guitar chugs and flowing melancholy chords meld nice with the neurotic, bordering on Emo-driven lyrics. Meanwhile, more elaborate crushers such as “Know Your Enemy” and “Take Control” have all the punchy goodness of a groove/thrashing nod to Pantera with a more accessible, bordering on pop-like formula to the refrain sections, not to mention drag things out long enough for the technical chops of guitarists Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz to shine.

“Atonement” Album Artwork

Nevertheless, in the eyes of this reviewer, Killswitch has always been at their best when thrashing away at full speed, and this is the area where this album truly delivers the goods. Raging fits of skull-thumping fury such as “The Signal Fire”, “The Crownless King” and “Ravenous” showcase a band that has completely reconnected with their melodic death metal roots and thrown caution and a 2-ton slab of metal to the wind. Naturally these anthems are not bereft of the melodic trappings that go with the territory once the chorus-sections ensue, but it proves to be a welcome respite from what amounts to a fit of sheer anger. However, the absolute coup de grace that seals the deal for this album as a much needed turn towards a more metallic take on things is the closing thrasher “Bite The Hand That Feeds”, which proves to be the most unrelenting riff monster of the bunch and hopefully an indicator of future efforts by this outfit.

Though this isn’t quite a full-blown throwback to the band’s glory days of the early to mid 2000s, it’s about as close as they’ve gotten in the past decade, and definitely a surefire sign that metalcore hasn’t completely fallen by the wayside. The general approach to songwriting at times feels like the band is playing it a tad safe and not fully exploiting the capabilities of their guitarists (though drummer Justin Foley shines from start to finish), yet the strong definitely outweighs the weak on this album. Fans of classic Killswitch will definitely find this a much longed welcome return to form, especially given that former front man Howard Jones makes a guest cameo on the mad thrasher “The Signal Fire”, and likewise some modern thrash metal trustees will be impressed to find Chuck Billy’s massive pipes shoring up Leach’s on “The Crownless King”. This is a solid effort by all members in congress, and definitely something that the metalcore faithful will want to hear. Welcome back guys.

Released by: Metal Blade Records
Released Date: August 16th, 2019
Genre: Metalcore

Musicians:

  • Jesse Leach / Lead vocals
  • Adam Dutkiewicz / Guitar, backing vocals
  • Joel Stroetzel / Guitar, backing vocals
  • Mike D’Antonio / Bass guitar
  • Justin Foley / Drums

Guest musicians:

  • Howard Jones / Additional vocals on “The Signal Fire”
  • Chuck Billy / Additional vocals on “The Crownless King”

“Atonement” Track-listing:

 1. Unleashed
 2. The Signal Fire
 3. Us Against the World
 4. The Crownless King
 5. I Am Broken Too
 6. As Sure as the Sun Will Rise
 7. Know Your Enemy
 8. Take Control
 9. Ravenous
10. I Can’t Be the Only One
11. Bite the Hand That Feeds

7.8 Very good

Following the loss of their iconic front man Howard Jones and a stumble back into the past on their last couple outings, one of New England’s most prestigious proponents of U.S. metalcore finds redemption with a more dynamic studio assault

  • Songwriting 7.5
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 8
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