Killswitch Engage didn’t invent metalcore, but they certainly were most responsible for popularising it. The Boston, Massachusetts outfit’s career can be divided up into three broad eras. Their first two albums, Killswitch Engage and Alive Or Barely Breathing, featured vocalist Jesse Leach. After his departure, singer Howard Jones stepped in for a successful decade-long run before being replaced by the returning Leach. This revolving door approach hasn’t altered Killswitch’s stature as one of metalcore’s leading lights – three of their albums have reached the US Top 10. But how do those records rank in order of greatness? Read on to find out.
9. Killswitch Engage (2009)
The band’s last album with vocalist Howard Jones, and the only real stinker in their entire back catalogue. While the melodic, radio-friendly side of KSE’s sound was crucial to their success, the second self-titled album of their career leaned way too far in that direction – they forgot to add the riffs and the aggression that worked so brilliantly as a counterpoint to those soaring melodies. No revisionist opinion here, this is pretty bad.
8. Incarnate (2016)
It would be unfair to deny that Incarnate has its moments – first single Strength Of The Mind is an absolute world beater – and frontman Jesse Leach deserves great credit for using his lyrics to confront his demons on the record. In terms of positives though, that’s pretty much about it. Songs like Cut Me Loose plod along with no real fire, and the more melodic songs like the partially acoustic Quiet Distress try to soar but fall flat. Not awful, but, next to the rest of their back catalogue, not anywhere near good enough.
7. Atonement (2019)
It’s an improvement on their Incarnate, but last year's Atonement is still far from KSE at their very best. Howard Jones rejoined the band for a song – the admittedly massive The Signal Fire – but it’s actually The Crownless King, featuring Testament frontman Chuck Billy that wins the battle of the guest spot. The main problem is the dip Atonement takes after those songs – I Am Broken Too is an uncharacteristically sappy ballad that we could really do without. Better, but still not quite there.
6. Killswitch Engage (2000)
Back when metalcore was an underground movement that few had heard of and Adam Dutkiewicz was still a drummer, Killswitch Engage released their debut album to little fanfare. It’s aged well: the likes of Soilborn, with its blastbeats, snotty punk aggression and death metal riffs, still stand up. It lacks the massive melodic choruses that would help the band break into the mainstream, but if you long for the glory years of underground metalcore then Killswitch Engage delivers.
5. As Daylight Dies (2006)
It’s best known for My Curse and the cover of Dio’s Holy Diver tacked belatedly on the end, but there’s way more to As Daylight Dies. This Is Absolution is one of their great under-rated songs, The Arms Of Sorrow repeats the trick they pulled on The End Of Heartache with similarly stunning results, and For You has a riff that Dimebag Darrell would be proud of. The album drops off a little during its second half, but As Daylight Dies still holds it own with anything KSE have done.
4. Times Of Grace – The Hymn Of A Broken Man (2011)
It’s not strictly a KSE album, but a) it’s a killer record and b) it paved the way for what happened next. Conceived in 2007 by Adam D while he was laid up in hospital following back surgery, it found the guitarist collaborating with former bandmates Jesse Leach. Finally released in 2011, it showcased the growth of Jesse as a vocalist and a more personal lyrical bent from Adam, as heard on the beautiful The Forgotten One. Less than 18 months later, Jesse was a member of Killswitch Engage once more.
3. Disarm The Descent (2013)
When Howard Jones left the band at the end of 2012, there were rumblings that it could have been the end for Killswitch Engage. Instead, they brought Jesse Leach back into the lineup and released Disarm The Descent. From the second that The Hell In Me comes tearing at you like a feral rottweiler, it was clear they had pulled it out of the bag. Songs like the skyscraper huge Always and the call to the pit of In Due Time are established as essential Killswitch Engage anthems, and Disarm The Descent is an undoubted fan favourite. One of the great comebacks.
2. Alive Or Just Breathing (2002)
The album that established Killswitch Engage as one of the most exciting metal acts on the planet, and was partially responsible for hastening the demise of nu-metal. Alive Or Just Breathing is an absolutely monstrous set of songs. The riff that opens Numbered Days, the rhythmic battering of Life To The Lifeless and, of course, the generation defining anthem My Last Serenade are pretty much as good as metalcore has ever got. It may only have been their second record, but Alive Or Just Breathing set a benchmark that pretty much any other band would struggle to replicate for the rest of their career. But amazingly, Killswitch Engage themselves would top it next time around.
1. The End Of Heartache (2004)
The success of Alive Or Just Breathing was tempered by the departure of Jesse Leach, and no one really could have expected Killswitch Engage to better what they already had. Yet the fact that they got bigger and, arguably, topped their previous effort is a staggering achievement. The introduction of former Blood Has Been Shed frontman Howard Jones brought greater levels of melody to the band, and, crucially, a more romanticised set of lyrical influences that opened Killswitch up to an entirely new set of fans.
As their profile soared, they became staples of MTV2 and were tipped as future festival headliners, with songs like A Bid Farewell, the anthemic, sombre stomp of the title track and the absolutely wonderful thrash meets rock meets two-step of The Rose Of Sharyn no one can say it wasn’t fully deserved. It’s by the slimmest of margins, but The End Of Heartache edges it as best Killswitch Engage album.
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