What separates Killswitch Engage from the horde of metalcore bands that have crowded a genre with both talent and surplus? The Massachusetts quintet have been incredibly consistent with their output, even after twice undergoing a vocal transplant that would have seen lesser bands dissolve or at the very least, been disrupted beyond recognition. Now three albums into the convalescence of vocalist Jesse Leach, Killswitch Engage have continued their ascent that sees them push the boundaries of metalcore without becoming burdened by the need to be revolutionary.
Atonement is the sound of a band perfectly comfortable in who they are: relentless metal riffs that blend seamlessly into the soaring choral harmonies. The two tones complement each other like dark turning into light. Atonement is also the signaling that KsE are restless in their quest to find a deeper spirituality (both lyrically and musically) in their music, buoyed by Leach’s lyrical introspection and sublime vocal work. There are few singers and lyricists in this genre that seem to be at a constant searching for understanding with life’s complicated existence than Leach. His intonation, sometimes sounding celestial, adds gravity to the work. In songs like the mid-tempo “I Am Broken Too”, his calls affirming that “he is broken in all the same places as we are too”, is sung with a vulnerability that you can connect with. In “Take Control”, the song’s rapturous start is the preview to it’s melodic refrain and heavier composition, bellowing the call to take control from one’s “wallowing soul”. Its hard rock-esque(!) solo punctuate the song’s (and the band’s) ability to be heavy, but at the same time show some restraint and maturity.
For long-time KsE fans, one song in particular stands out, and that is “The Signal Fire”. The track features former vocalist Howard Jones, who helmed the ship for a decade. The combination of Leach and Jones singing together on a track is a cataclysmic beauty that is as unexpected as it is an incredible turn. “The Signal Fire” itself is a blitzkrieg of a track- amplified chaos of chugga chugga riffs, double bass drumming, and the expected harmonies- accentuated by the dual vocal attack of two of the most affecting singers in the genre’s playbook. But there’s just something about this song- a finality, an answering of any lingering questions of which iteration of the band was/is better. The truth is both Jones and Leach represent the two different chapters of the KsE story- and they both are forever entwined in the band’s lore. Trying to choose between the two is fruitless, and this song proves the two stories can co-exist in harmony.
While some metal bands have a habit of taking themselves too seriously, KsE have never had that problem. With their goofy stage antics and a general looseness, their more carefree attitude to being a band is the great balancing act with the more serious tones of Leach’s lyrical content. The songs hit hard, like the brutality of “The Crownless King” (a great throwback to the guttural sounds of Alive or Just Breathing…) or the anthemic, heavy metal tinged “Us Against The World”, but there’s a relatable, welcoming nature to their music. Certain circles of metal (whether it’s thrash metal, black metal, doom)- all exist for their crowd, and while there is lots to like, much of it never feels welcoming to those who don’t look or act the part. KsE have always felt more like a metal band that people who don’t spend all day listening to metal can like. And it was evident from their groundbreaking work on The End of Heartache and As Daylight Dies onward that their appeal was not constrained by genre norms.
The band’s fearlessness to pursue their own path can be a point of contention for metal purists. “They’re not metal enough”, “too much melody” … but it is their approach that sets them from the pack. Where else can you find metalcore balladry as good as “I Can’t Be The Only One”? It’s as close to being a ballad without it being an actual ballad (it’s not that kind of metal), and it’s probably this writer’s personal pick of the songs here. It’s from songs like these that the band have found a refinement to their music as a whole, and it is this poise in both musicianship and songwriting that elevates them above the overly brooding, the overly serious, sometimes unmalleable tone of the genre’s landscape.
Killswitch Engage’s metal-for-all brand has been at the forefront of metalcore’s constant flirtation with mainstream success. The return of Leach for 2013’s Disarm the Descent meant that the band was in part, writing a new script, but there was always a constant. Whether it was the consistency of Adam Dutkiewicz’s production, Mike D’s bass work, Foley on percussions and the dual attack of Joel and Adam on guitars, it rarely faltered. It may have not always reached the heights you would expect, but it is something that seems to have found a new clarity since Disarm the Descent. There was always a sense of hope that came with their music (even during the Howard Jones era), wisdom to the despair. It is a resonance that is often unmatched in the genre.
They may have been the best metalcore band of the past decade, but with grace, gravitas, and fury, Atonement rings just a little louder, with a little more vitality, signaling that they could well be on their way to becoming metal’s best band, period.
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.