There is no shortage of passion, aggression, positivity and gnarly metal tunage.
Jesse Leach—Killswitch Engage’s new/old vocalist—had some trouble dredging up what exactly he wanted to say through his lyrics on Incarnate (his second album since returning to the band). He said he lost sleep, lost himself a bit and delayed the production of the record a smidge to rediscover his voice. The thing about Leach’s lyrics and vocal style is that he doesn’t write to simply finish a song, he doesn’t scream for aggression or sing for a hook and he’s never done anything musically without having a reason to do so. Leach has always championed the purposeful use of his skills and perspective. And while Incarnate isn’t the best Killswitch record, it has no shortage of passion, aggression, positivity and gnarly metal tunage. And, really, those are the things that give the record its legs—even if they are a bit shaky this time around.
On a production level, Incarnate is quite literally flawless. Every note is accounted for (and there are many), each drum hit is thunderous (again, there are many) and every last lyric that Leach managed to put to paper cuts to the soul and packs a gut-punch of inspiration and positivity (even if they are a bit on the nose at times). It’s sonically satisfying from start to finish, and with titles like “Strength of the Mind,” “Embrace the Journey…Upraised,” and “We Carry On,” not only are listeners in for a beautifully rendered, brutal metal treat, they’ll be able to hear every uplifting word Leach fought to pull from his brain.
Having the unfortunate task of following up 2013’s majorly impressive Disarm the Descent, however, has led to Incarnate’s missteps. Killswitch did exactly what they were supposed to do—they refused to attempt to recreate Descent’s successes and tried out some new tricks—and for that they should be commended. Unfortunately, the darker tone, the dirtier melodic bits, the occasional time experiments and track to track quality disparity make Descent a superior record overall. “Hate by Design” is fairly classic Killswitch with its righteous heaviness and massive hooks, but “Cut Me Loose” has a chorus that is pretty out of place with the rest of the song’s chugging darkness because of its uber-hook (which, alone, is really fantastic). And, truthfully, much of Incarnate follows that pattern. One tremendous track followed by one that’s just meh.
Now, “Embrace the Journey…Upraised,” on the other hand, is a destructive success. It’s crushing, grimy and fast enough to blow the skin off a skull as a hurricane would whip a hoodie off a head. If Killswitch had used this track to gauge the quality of the rest of the record, my lordy would there have been a much different result. But that could certainly have backfired as the band may have come away with a product that they would have felt was a bit too safe for what they were attempting. Regardless, “Embrace the Journey” is the true takeaway on Incarnate. With its runtime breaching five and a half minutes, it’s what makes the record as a whole worth listening to.
There are a handful of good songs here; that can’t be contested. And it’s always a positive when a band tries to create something wholly new instead of retreading on old material. The several songs that aren’t up to Killswitch Engage standards aren’t bad songs by any stretch, either. Incarnate is a solid outing. But for the amount of struggles Leach and the band went through getting here, the hope was that the result would be truly astounding. Astonishing Incarnate is not, but it has many points where it dazzles and many more that deserve to be played at maximum volume. This may not be the album we or the band themselves had hoped it would be, but it’s a fine Killswitch record despite its faults.