Jesse Leach holds the odd distinction of replacing the guy who replaced him. Unlike Blaze Bayley and Ripper Owens, though, a huge swath of Killswitch Engage fans embraced the powerful voices and commanding presence of Howard Jones, who fronted the Massachusetts quintet (for whom I believe the classification of “metalcore” is a disservice) for a decade following Leach’s departure in 2002. And while I absolutely adored the 2011 debut from Leach’s side band with Killswitch Engage honcho Adam Dutkiewicz, Leach’s return to his former band a year later rendered Times of Grace unnecessary.
Fortunately, Leach and Adam D seem to disagree, as the pair are set to release a new batch of Times of Grace tunes a good decade after their debut dropped. And apparently, they saved the good shit for themselves, because “Songs of Loss and Separation” is a helluva spankfest. While the twin-guitar harmonies that spiced up the Killswitch albums of antiquity are as absent here as they were on “Atonement,” the strength of the songs, Adam D‘s crushing riffs, and the relentless fire and conviction behind Leach’s lyrics and delivery were overwhelming enough that I didn’t detect the nearly complete absence of the Gothenburg influence until I’d listened to “Songs of Loss and Separation” a good dozen times. It’s that good.
It feels appropriate to intimate a moment I shared with a yoga-pracitsing, self-described “spiritualist” former partner who once remarked that she couldn’t believe someone as kind-hearted as she (erroneously) believed me to be could also be in such love with music as negative and violent as metal. Without hesitation, I reached over to my nightstand, where I’d just happened to have set my CD of “Alive or Just Breathing,” the last of Killswitch Engage’s albums during Leach’s first run with the band. I handed her the insert and asked her to read the lyrics. She did, and she never called my beloved metal “negative” again.
Recounting that moment feels right because Leach’s notoriously uplifting lyrics are as inspirative as ever, providing an exquisite counterbalance to his minacious roar. And the f**ker can sing. Take “Mend You,” a damn near perfect rock song that showcases Leach’s optimism, Dutkiewicz’s uncanny use of texture and harmony, and a downright masterful overlapping of their magesteria into a composition than can move even my blackened heart. I don’t even care that Leach forgot to assign the subjunctive to his hypotheticals, and that’s usually a dealbreaker for this grammar nazi. And I daresay “Mend You” is also radio-friendly. Imagine a more thoughtful Breaking Benjamin, but with balls, and you’re on the right track.
Which isn’t to say that Times of Grace is wimpy emo-metal. Adam D’s riffs on cuts like “Rescue” simply slap, and I defy anyone to listen to “Currents” without referencing Fates Warning’s “Kneel and Obey.” “Far From Heavenless” also draws on Adam D’s proggy tendencies, and it showcases Leach’s considerable narrative skills as he implores his fellow Christians to reject hate. For a guy who draws so much lyrical inspiration from his faith, Leach deserves all the props for never once coming off as pushy or preachy, even on questionably ambiguous cuts like opener “Burden of Belief.”
Times of Grace again toes the prog-metal line on the torrential “Medusa” before the emotional outpouring that is “To Carry the Weight,” which in a just world would be today what “Black Hole Sun” was in summer 1994. The album wraps with the gentle “Cold” and the doleful, seven-minute lament “Forever,” leaving the listener both satisfied and yearning for more.
So what’s the verdict on this pleasant surprise of a sophomore CDalbum? Briefly, I f**king love it. “Songs of Loss and Separation” stays true to the Killswitch tradition of reading like love poems and sounding like f**king metal, and does so with a keen enough pop sensibility to possibly translate well to contemporary country-rock, except, you know, good. Radio program managers would do well to spin the shit out of “Songs of Loss and Separation” because it is a rare beast indeed: radio rock that doesn’t suck.
Released by: Wicked Good Records
Release Date: July 16th, 2021
- Dan Gluszak / Drums
- Adam Dutkiewicz / Guitars, Bass, Drums, Vocals
- Jesse Leach / Vocals
“Songs of Loss and Separation” track-listing:
- The Burden of Belief
- Mend You
- Far From Heavenless
- Bleed Me
- To Carry the Weight
After that last rather disappointing last album from Killswitch Engage, has Times of Grace rendered its parent band unnecessary? I want to say no, but a compelling case can be made.