When original vocalist Jesse Leach returned to front Killswitch Engage in 2012, it began a remarkably fruitful period for the Massachusetts metalcore stalwarts. 2013’s Disarm The Dissent was an outstanding piece of modern, no-frills metal that showed no hint of rust from either Leach or the rest of the band, while a clutch of masterful live performances once again marked them out as one of 21st Century metal’s shining lights. Though despite everything they’ve achieved, new album Incarnate is a sizable step down.
Let’s make something apparent first though – as a metalcore album, Incarnate is fine. As a Killswitch Engage album is where it misses the mark. It feels oddly lacking for a Killswitch album, feeling stripped of most instrumental bite in favour of material that isn’t exactly mid-tempo, but toned down more than it really should be. Cut Me Loose plods along with a strangely wiry guitar line, while the likes of Quiet Distress seem to have swapped out instrumental heft for a more expansive, grandiose feel. And like has already been said, if this was a debut album, all that would be absolutely fine. Except, Killswitch Engage have already done this much better (especially in the Howard Jones era) without having to flit between one and the other.
The thing is though, even a mediocre Killswitch effort is better than the majority of metalcore bands, and most of Incarnate just manages to scrape a pass. Hate By Design at least gets the blood pumping to some degree, and in terms of ground-shattering choruses, you’re pretty much spoiled for choice. And of course, Jesse Leach once again proves he’s one of the best vocalists in the game, especially in his cleans, throbbing with emotion and power on the likes of album highlight It Falls On Me. It’s things like this that make Incarnate so polarising – on one hand, it feels – to a degree – a more diluted version of the Killswitch sound, but the elements that are retained are as strong as ever.
It’s difficult to judge. It’s a fair distance lower than what this band are usually capable of, but for what they’re clearly aiming for, Incarnate never really does anything egregiously awful. For a more widescreen effort than previous, it just about hits the mark, so in that respect it’s hard to complain. Incarnate‘s only proper faults become apparent when it’s placed alongside the rest of the band’s back catalogue; this is an album that feels like a sliver of what Killswitch have made clear they’re capable of when viewed in the context of their timeline, but as its own separate entity, it’s solid enough to enjoy. And of course, the heavier focus on expanse will undoubtedly disappoint long-term fans (especially when tracks like Embrace The Journey…Upraised that do actually up the heaviness feel out of place), but it’s hardly the career ender it could well have been.
So the final verdict on Incarnate – it’s alright. It’s ultimately a slight disappointment by Killswitch Engage standards, but it’s a solid enough album in its own merit, and that’s something that can’t be taken away. And even as what could potentially be this band’s worst album, it still stands a fair distance above the hordes of pretenders snapping at their heels. Let’s just be thankful that it could’ve been a lot worse than it actually is.
For fans of: Bullet For My Valentine, Bury Tomorrow, Trivium
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Incarnate’ by Killswitch Engage is out now on Roadrunner Records.