Killswitch Engage have, like many before them, the enviable task of reclaiming the commercial and critical success of a breakthrough album. The album in question of course, is The End of Heartache, which not only cemented this Massachusetts quintet as the premiere metal band on the planet, but gave the genre a new kind of acceptance for those who wanted to blend the aggression of metal with the very unmetal-like topical nature of romance and heartbreak. Buoyed by massive singles “Rose of Sharyn” and “The End of Heartache,” the album proved that metalheads could just be as heartbroken and romantically inclined as your average Mills & Boon novel while justifying melody’s place in modern metal (and proving that not all metal bands need to sound like an indiscernible wall of noise when trying to infuse the loud with the soft). And so with its success, all eyes would turn to them on their follow-up; and two years removed, and with the lineup now firmly in tow, KSE look to, at the very least, emulate the qualities that made The End of Heartache one of the best metal albums of the past decade.
Upon initial listens, As Daylight Dies has done just that- recaptured the energy, intensity, and melodic prowess of its predecessor. Dueling once again the razor sharp guitar work of primary songwriter Joel Stroetzel and guitarist-slash-producing guru Adam Dutkiewicz with the booming voice of Howard Jones, it’s no surprise that one of the album’s strongest aspects is its incredibly crisp production. Audio levels sound balanced, as the shrieks of the guitar, the percussions, and those guttural screams have never emanated so clearly. And it is the depth that the songs seem to have that makes each and every listen as urgent as their first. Something that The End of Heartache only hinted at.
The album’s lead single, “My Curse,” is a tune that perfectly encapsulates the stadium-filling, anthemic nature of Killswitch Engage. Its brutal mix of relentless fury with melody is indeed something to behold … and those choruses … oh the choruses! Every chorus is like an apocalypse- grand in its destruction, but searing with the musical equivalent of what can be called “optimistic beauty.” Case in point (and the album’s finest moment), “This Is Absolution;” a true glorious punch in the face replete with blazing riffs, balanced screaming/singing, a textured blend of high and mid tempo structures, and without doubt, a chorus that can only be described as “epic.” Similarly, songs like “Reject Yourself” and “Still Beats Your Name” adopt the same kind of formula- making the album a far more consistent effort than The End of Heartache. KSE seem to have found their balance in songwriting, the perfect parts that make a well-rounded whole.
However, while As Daylight Dies is by far their most accomplished effort, it is lacking in what The End of Heartache had- one or two songs that explode far into the stratosphere of the genre the way songs like “When Darkness Falls,” “The End of the Heartache” and “Rose of Sharyn” did (save for “This Is Absolution” perhaps). And so while the weakest parts of As Daylight Diesaren’t quite as weak as The End of Heartache, its strongest points aren’t as near either. It’s a trade off in a sense, the band seem to have grown in their ability to write more consistently, but conversely, their songs do not have the same initial impact as some of their previous work did (this is a good thing in a way).
Those who hold The End of Heartache as the band’s undeniable apex will ultimately find some disappointment with As Daylight Dies. It is an inevitable result of widespread success. By no means dismiss this album as a lesser product because beneath the residue left by the incredible shine of The End of Heartache rests an album brimming with the all the qualities one could ever want in a Killswitch record; and is yet another vital release to add to their truly impressive catalogue.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.