Metalcore pioneers and genre kings Killswitch Engage seek to further their undoubted reputation with album number 8, Atonement, the third since original vocalist Jesse Leach rejoined back in 2012. As the band which got this writer into metal in the first place, there are high hopes for the Massachusetts five-piece to hit the ground running on their Metal Blade debut, both from fans and their new label alike.
Atonement (pre-order/save options here) opens with the unmistakable Killswitch Engage character, whereby someone with only a passing knowledge of the band could point out the artist immediately; “Unleashed” and “The Signal Fire” are archetypical tracks the likes of which are found on all of Killswitch’s previous releases. With the latter bringing in KSE alumni and current Light The Torch frontman Howard Jones, there’s a nod back to “Take This Oath” from The End of Heartache (2004) where a similar guest slot was provided to Leach to show there’s no bad blood with members past and present.
Stretching the musical range a little is third track “Us Against The World” which brings in some more technical guitar work underneath the chorus, and forms Atonement’s high water mark. Unfortunately, the immediate follower is “The Crownless King” featuring Chuck Billy, marking a downturn in the album’s quality. The riffs throughout the verse and mid-section sound particularly metal-by-numbers and lack any of the character or uniqueness that’s helped Killswitch Engage build such a long and successful career.
Check out the official audio for “Unleashed” for some of the best Atonement has to offer:
Ballad “I Am Broken Too” has the most heartfelt lyrics, showing Leach’s ability to invoke a unique level of empathy within the metal scene, yet musically (as with “Always” from Disarm The Descent ) the magic of Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz’s solitary and spectacular Times of Grace album (The Hymn of a Broken Man, 2011) has yet to be recaptured and translated to Killswitch Engage’s softer numbers.
Disappointingly, the remainder of the recording seems to be performing a relay between the weak elements within each song – where musically there are standout moments, the lyrics are found to be particularly derivative, and vice versa. “Know Your Enemy” certainly has some excellent musical passages, but when it comes to the content of the lyrics (much centered on the track’s title), it feels like we’ve heard it all before – with album closer “Bite The Hand That Feeds” covering the same ground all over again.
Compared to Killswitch Engage’s previous pieces of work there are places, particularly in the back half, where the album feels to wash over you rather than grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and pounding its message home. Herein lies the biggest problem with Atonement; the album leaves a feeling of indifference; not poor enough to be overly critical of yet not enough standout moments to recommend. Existing Killswitch Engage fans will likely feel the same – it’s enjoyable for those already familiar with the band, but disappointingly sits squarely as the weakest released since Jesse rejoined.
As a huge fan of the band for the last 15 years, this hurt to write.
The video for “I Am Broken Too” brings Leach’s emotive lyrics to life and tugs on the heartstrings:
Atonement Track Listing:
02. The Signal Fire
03. Us Against the World
04. The Crownless King
05. I Am Broken Too
06. As Sure as the Sun Will Rise
07. Know Your Enemy
08. Take Control
10. I Can’t Be the Only One
11. Bite the Hand That Feeds
Run Time: 39:02
Release Date: August 16, 2019
Record Label: Metal Blade Records