Since arriving on the scene at the turn of the 21st Century, Massachusetts metalcore outfit Killswitch Engage have possessed a startling amount of ferocious confidence. On last year’s Disarm The Descent, their sixth LP, the band sounds even bolder than usual. Notably, the record welcomes back original vocalist Jesse Leach, who took over from Howard Jones in early 2012. Although Leach had been absent from the band for ten years, his return allowed Killswitch to turn over a new leaf.
“If you ask those guys, I’m sure if you even ask Howard, three or four years ago the band was not in a good place,” Leach says. “The energy wasn’t there, the vibes weren’t there. The last record they put out, nobody’s really stoked on it.” Indeed, the title of the new album – Disarm The Descent – is not merely alliterative, it’s a mission statement.
“It’s something that me and the bass player Mike [D’Antonio] talked about,” Leach says. “This sort of redemption – falling down and hitting rock bottom and just pulling yourself up to find redemption. That’s kind of what the whole record’s about.”
Leach left Killswitch not long after the release of the metalcore paradigm, Alive Or Just Breathing, in 2002. The rest of the band pushed forward, quickly recruiting Jones and releasing three further albums (The End Of Heartache in 2004, As Daylight Dies in 2006 and Killswitch Engage in 2009) before medical complications prompted Jones’ departure. While some fans certainly rejoiced upon Leach’s return, plenty of listeners would have only been acquainted with the Jones-era version of the band.
“When we were writing the record,” says Leach, “I tried to really focus on the task at hand and block out all the white noise of expectations or criticisms. I tried to focus on just putting out the best record I can without reading too much on outside influence and not making too much about being anywhere near the type of singer that Howard is. [I wanted] to put out a good record for the sake of putting a good record out. Once that was said and done there was definitely a part of me that was wondering what the reaction would be.”
Given Alive Or Just Breathing was the last batch of songs this group had worked on together, perhaps they looked back on the record for guidance. “I think it’s impossible to make another Alive Or Just Breathing,”says Leach.“That album captured such a different time. Hopefully that’s what we did with this record; captured a moment in time.”
When Leach left Killswitch Engage, it wasn’t because he’d grown tired of the music or run into creative hostility with the other members. Rather, he could no longer cope with the touring lifestyle and thus resolved he wasn’t suited to a career in music. However, he didn’t stay away from the scene for too long. In the intervening years he recorded and toured with Seemless, The Empire Shall Fall and Times Of Grace (which also features Killswitch guitarist/producer Adam Dutkiewicz). Still, music never became his chief vocation.
“Prior to joining the band, I was working a regular job behind a bar, which I’ve always done – I work regular jobs, I’m a regular working-class guy,” Leach says. Given his past grievances, rejoining a full-time touring band was probably a daunting prospect. But Leach has learned to acknowledge the privileged nature of the gig.
“[First Disarm single] ‘In Due Time’ especially, it’s about my experience. [This is] almost like a second chance. All the struggle that I’ve gone through, all the pain and suffering that I put myself through, it all reveals itself.”
What’s more, Leach believes his revitalised outlook rubbed off on the other band members and inspired genuine positivity during the Disarm The Descent recording sessions.
“It was a pretty fun family atmosphere for all of us. Coming back into the band after being away for so long, and just being genuine friends on the basis of all that, it was exciting for us. It was a new lease on life for those guys and a total change of life for me.”
The record’s gutsy vitality clearly represents everyone’s in-studio enthusiasm. Leach also draws attention to Dutkiewicz’s integral role in the overall creative direction.
“He’s the guy that I need in the chair when I work; listening to what I have to say and helping me along here and there, correcting me or helping me refurbish or refine certain things. He’s sort of my creative/musical partner. He’s a soul brother of mine for sure.”
Killswitch Engage come back to Australia this week, which is the second time they’ve been here since Leach’s reinstatement but the first time armed with Disarm The Descent. If anyone’s worried that Leach’s former distaste for touring could besmirch his onstage attitude, well, they can rest easy.
“I come out and I’m non-stop,” he boasts. “I run around like crazy. Between me and Adam it’s like an aerobics program out there. It’s definitely tough but I love it. I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s become a part of me. It’s not something I see that I’m going to stop doing anytime soon.”
Disarm The Descent out now through Roadrunner