Killswitch Engage – Alive or Just Breathing

Everytime I sit down to write my big “Rock is Dead” article that every journalist feels compelled to write once a year, a band comes along, kicks me in the teeth, and reminds me that rock is very much alive and well. I’d like to thank Killswitch Engage for that kick to the choppers. I’ve listened to this album twice in a row and I’m so excited that I’m dying to call all my friends and tell them about this disc. Unfortunately, it’s 2AM.

With nods toward Slayer, Pro-Pain, and Pantera, Killswitch Engage tears through Alive Or Just Breathing and takes no prisoners. When they’re not heavy, they’re heavy — when they are heavy, they’re heavier.

Killswitch Engage’s songs are built on semi-complex structures, with lots of tempo changes and very interesting and catchy rhythms. They’re no Meshuggah, but the overall sound is a lot more complex than most bands out there today. That’s not meant to make these guys sound like progressive metal, because they’re not — this is straight forward, balls to the wall rock. Punchy kick drums and crunchy palm-muted guitars make no mistake about this band’s intentions – THEY WILL ROCK YOU!

I’m sorry for all the cliches. I don’t quite know what to say, except that I’m pretty pissed off that no one has told me about this band sooner. Anyone who knows me and has heard this band should have said, “Flack, you’ve GOTTA check out Killswitch Engage!” Poop on you for not doing so.

The vocals on Alive Or Just Breathing are mostly gutteral screaming, although they are occasionally backed up by clean vox which just add to the fullness of this band. Guitars are a fairly equal blend of palm muted crunches mixed with open, melodic riffs. The bass is mixed in pretty close to the drums so it’s a bit tough to discern it as a seperate instrument, but that’s how this style of music is normally mixed. In “Self Revolution”, a guitarless moment confirms that the bass is indeed present and just as complex as the rest of the instruments. The drums, a significant ingredient in this style of music, are top notch. Beats stop and start on a dime, go from zero to 60 to zero several times, and often change from a groove to a blast beat seamlessly.

These guys mix it up in an old school Vision Of Disorder type of way. For example, “Self Revolution” begins with a pretty heavy groove. More guitars fall into the mix, more noise comes in, and just when you get the overall feel of the song … suddenly the bottom drops out, and the riff turns into almost an 80’s style thrash riff. The chorus brings in big, airy open guitar chords and some clean vocals, only to quickly morph into a Slayer-esque power crunch guitar assault with (singer) screaming over it. After another clean chorus, we’re back to the original, galloping riff, followed shortly by a double bass kick drum attack near the end of the tune. This all happens within three minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your arms and legs inside the coaster for the duration of the ride.

A few of the songs, “My Last Serenade” and “Just Barely Breathing” for example, begin softly to trick you — but AHA! the trick is on you, for the songs still rock! It just takes them a few moments to get rolling. Many of the songs have that whole “heavy verse/clean chorus” thing going on, but KSE do it better and more seamlessly than most bands are able to (see: Korn, Sevendust, etc). They also don’t do it exclusively like those bands — you might hear some screams in the chorus, or some clean vocals in the versus. I know, they’re just crazy like that.

I don’t know how many more positive things I can say about this CD without sounding like I have some Killswitch cock in my mouth so I’ll stop here. Needless to say, I liked the album. Killswitch Engage is just what I needed to hear after sifting through this pile of crap sitting on my desk and hard drive.

Rock is not dead. I recant.

01. Numbered Days
02. Self Revolution
03. Fixation On The Darkness
04. My Last Serenade
05. Life To Lifeless
06. Just Barely Breathing
07. To The Sons Of Man
08. Temple From The Within
09. The Element Of One
10. Vide Infra
11. Without A Name
12. Rise Inside

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