Sometimes, a band needs to shake things up to stimulate themselves and their fans, all the while retaining the signature sonic hallmarks that have defined their sound. For their fifth album, Killswitch Engage, Massachusetts pioneers Killswitch Engage took calculated risks and traversed a different route, going outside their comfort zones. The choice yielded impressive, incredible results. None of the changes, however, make the mighty KsE sound like anyone else but KsE.
"There's different structures, but it's still Killswitch. I tried different topics and delivery, but it's still Killswitch." says vocalist Howard Jones, summing up where KsE is in 2009.
After bursting onto the scene in 2002 with the genre-defining Alive or Just Breathing, notching a Grammy nomination in 2005 for the title track from 2004's Gold-certified The End of Heartache and following up that landmark album with the near-Gold As Daylight Dies and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, KsE adopted a versatile, non-stop touring schedule. The band's road history includes two treks on Ozzfest, stints on Warped Tour and Taste of Chaos and having the rare ability to straddle the line between the metal and alternative scenes by touring with Slayer and Mastodon as easily as My Chemical Romance and Underoath. However, KsE elected not to coast on the wave of prior successes, which saw them become one of the premier, most successful bands to emerge from the so-called New Wave of American metal. The band opted to work with an outside producer for the first time in their career. Brendan O'Brien (AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots) was dispatched with the task, which saw the band record in locales other than their native Massachusetts.
"We take so much care with the music," says bassist Mike D'Antonio. "We thought, 'Let's take things up a notch.' Brendan liked the band and it made sense to collaborate with him." Jones also states, in his trademark self-deprecating humor, "We're an easily identifiable band by our guitar tone, drums, and for better or worse, my voice." Jones challenged himself to explore a broader range of topics and to use his voice in other ways. "You'll hear some things vocally that I've never done," the singer says. Jones also comments, "You can count on anthems and positive lyrics, but hey, there's times when the sun isn't shining so brightly and some songs reflect that."
Guitarist and KsE class clown Adam Dutkiewicz, known for his crazy, hilarious stage antics, who co-produced Killswitch Engage, concurs, saying, "We wanted to redefine who we are a little bit. We did that by taking time to write together instead of showing up and putting parts together. We felt our last record, As Daylight Dies, sounded a little too much like 'us,' if that makes sense. We want to reinvent ourselves while retaining the Killswitch Engage integrity." While so many bands approach Dutkiewicz to produce their records, asking him for that definable "KsE sound," the goofy guitarist is modest about his work, saying, "I guess we're doing something right. We like to sound good on record. Live, there might be some hijinx and too much to drink, but that's the rock show. When we put songs together on record, we want them to sound clean and the best they can be!"
Dutkiewicz maintains that despite the bands change of routine, things were exciting in the camp. "I don't want things to be a ho-hum. I want to be over the top," he says. "We have attained a stature where we can afford to take risks now. That's not to say we will be a polka band or anything, but we can take risks, make good music and make fans happy or we will be out of jobs very quickly."
Quality music is the order of the day on Killswitch Engage. The band also wrote in a much more collaborative way. D'Antonio says, "Everyone pulled together as a team when we were writing and everyone contributed songs, which doesn't always happen on Killswitch records. I'm spreading some of my Southern rock influence into the band. There was a little on the last record but there is more now. It's slow, dirgey, heavy stuff."
Drummer Justin Foley was able to contribute more to the process, saying, "I didn't do any over thinking with my parts. When I did Heartache, I was so new to the band that I was fitting into the band's mold and a lot of my crazy playing style doesn't work with Killswitch, so I had to adopt a new mindset. On Daylight, I may have overthought. This time, I'm so comfortable and know what we are, so the parts were natural this time around."
Joel Stroetzel, the unsung hero of KsE who serves as the quiet force and complement to Dutkiewicz's showmanship, reflects on the band's career, saying, "It's been a strange, long road. We didn't expect it in the beginning. It started as a weekend thing, with us jamming on Saturdays and playing occasional shows at bars, pubs, VFW halls. It turned into more than we expected." For the new album, both guitarists experimented with sounds, tones and effects pedals, according to Stroetzel. "There's some more spacey, ambient stuff in the background, but not in the main parts," he says. "It's heavy and guitar-driven, but it's a lot more textured."
Again, Jones contends that the change of pace was "by no means easy, but I've enjoyed the process. I like the challenge, that's one of the most enjoyable things about being in a band, getting to be creative in a way that a lot people don't get to be in normal, every day jobs." As for the impact KsE have left on the current hard rock scene, Jones and the band are modest, humble even, about their role. Jones says, "It's completely unexpected and in a lot of ways, not that much has changed about the band except we're not in a van anymore. It's still the same lunkheaded guys who get on stage and make fun of each other. Nothing has really changed, except we have a few more people who like us and we're lucky." While the band chalks it up to luck, talent and the crafting of good music that speaks to the fans also factor into the mix with Killswitch Engage and their new self-titled release.