Jesse Leach's track-by-track to Killswitch Engage's new album

There was no discussion with ‘Incarnate’ that we were going to do this particular style or that particular thing. People just wrote demos, submitted them, and that was what it was. It was a natural progression. We definitely pushed our style a bit and didn’t stick to the formula, but we also made a record that to me still sounds like Killswitch Engage.

It’s more cohesive than any record we’ve done where I’ve done vocals and I think we really hit our stride. Disarm The Descent [2013] was the comeback and we did our world tour and now I think we’re all in a really good place with each other. That goes along with touring together, being friends, and having that energy – I think that’s reflected in the music.

Knowing each other’s styles and where we all come from also allowed us room to grow, stylistically. We all listen to indie rock and punk, and hardcore and metal, and there’s some blues and soul in there as well. It’s all mashed into our style, but I think we just gave ourselves permission to expand that a little bit with this album. But it was an unspoken thing that just happened – chemistry, you know?

So, here’s my track-by-track guide to Incarnate.

Musically, this is a Disarm the Descent song that didn’t make it onto that album. It was actually written a couple of years prior to that, so the song is actually about six or seven years old. It was one of the ones where I didn’t really know what to do with the verses. I was kind of stumped, and we had to finish Disarm so it just got pushed to the side. We thought it would be the perfect song to open up the album because it’s technical and fast, and the chorus is huge. For me, it was a nice way to start the record lyrically as well. It starts off on a note of defiance saying, ‘No matter what you have to say about who you think we should be, this is who we are.’ It’s kind of political and it’s also kind of about us.

‘It’s tearing us apart’ was the tagline of this song for me. It’s one of the hooks I made sure was in there and if you listen during the chorus, you’ll hear it. The song is about all of us. If you pay attention to what’s going on in the world, you’re going to get overwhelmed. I’m affected by it. I allowed myself to be affected by it by paying attention and watching the news, and the terrible stuff they put on. This song was my reaction to that. Musically, what’s important is that some of the riffing in there is derivative of indie rock and punk. It was cool that we were able to slip that style in there. I love the two-stepping in the chorus, too. It has a real hardcore vibe.

My vocal work on this album is the best I’ve ever done. I got my voice in shape from touring and sort of hit my stride, and instead of resting on my laurels, I wanted to take it up a notch. I got comfortable with the higher register of my voice and decided to play with it a little bit. I actually sat down at a piano with my vocal teacher and learned where my range is. I’d shy just from the top note of that range where certain vowel sounds were easier to hit. Knowing your voice and your instrument is important, and I wrote this song very specifically for the top of my range. It’s a really personal song, too. There’s a reason why I reference the word ‘noose’ in the chorus and it refers to a time when I felt suicidal. The song is about looking back on your life, taking stock of where you are and the pain that you’ve experienced. But the song isn’t just about me – it’s a mixed message and ‘noose’ is the key word. The song is pretty dark if you read the lyrics with that in mind.

The line, ‘I’ve seen rock bottom and I’ve smashed my fist against it’ references the dark times, but in a positive way. People have different definitions of what rock bottom is, but this song is about being that desperate that you’re punching inanimate objects because you’re so angry. But it’s totally a motivational song, and again it has two meanings – it’s not just a self-help song. We went back and forth several times between having this or Hate by Design as the first single, but Strength of the Mind just felt like it had a little more teeth to it. It’s more Killswitch as well, whereas Hate by Design is a slight departure; it’s a little more melodic. This song starts off immediately with full-on guttural vocals and I thought that was important when introducing the new material.

**On the surface, this song can definitely be seen as an upbeat, positive song, but it’s written from a very different perspective. That’s the great thing about having poetic license and being ambiguous, because for me this song is kind of sad. I won’t say why, but it comes from a really dark place. The musicality and the riffing in it was what made me write the lyrics. I change the words every time I sing it as well, so there’s a little bit of word play going on with this song. I love it.

Embrace the Journey is actually the name of the instrumental that leads into Upraised, so this track is actually two songs, but we were tricky with that in the sequencing. We did it that way to keep a certain amount of songs because we wanted a Side A and a Side B for people who listen to vinyl. We’re catering to people who listen to vinyl on this record, which is why we spaced the songs in the way that we did. Upraised is one of those really poetic songs for me. There are so many words in the verses too, and the staccato almost death metal delivery was very much inspired by Cannibal Corpse, and Adam working with Corpsegrinder. I wanted that rapid-fire delivery, so Adam and I actually worked together on the placement of the vocals to make sure it sounded exciting. It’s a song I’ve had to rehearse a lot because when we play it live it’s going to be tricky. It’s one of those Killswitch songs – and we did one on Disarm as well – where it starts off very thrashy, then the chorus goes big and slow. It mimics All We Have in that way, and lyrically it’s one of those deep soul searching songs that I can’t really talk about without getting personal, so I’ll leave this one alone.

**I think it’s my responsibility to say that this song is about domestic violence. It’s a very serious issue that doesn’t get enough spotlight. People tend to think that it’s not their business and ignore the problem, but I was living next to a couple and my wife and I would hear this women being beaten, so we had to intervene very carefully and get the authorities involved. When you wake up and can hear someone pleading with their partner not to hurt them, it’s a nauseating and disgusting feeling. Between that and the stories I’ve heard from fans, it seemed like a very important topic to write about. The message in the song is that you can be the victor and not the victim. It’s a heavy song, but I think the message needs to be told.

This is a cock rock song – almost. When I first heard it I thought it sounded super ‘80s, and because of that I actually reference Faithfully by Journey, Iron Maiden’s Wasted Years, and Bob Seger’s On the Road Again in the lyrics. All three of those songs came to mind when I first heard it, so I made it a song about the road. It’s basically about being a touring musician and looking back on life and deciding that you’re going to be a different person to the one you used to be. That’s kind of a reoccurring theme, now that I’m talking about this; I’m having a Eureka moment as I’m saying it. It’s a very reflective album about the duality of people, and who I am now compared to who I used to be. It’s about taking stock of your life, and that’s hugely important. Self-awareness – that’s a good word for it.

This song really sticks out for many reasons, but stylistically I wanted to show a little bit more of my vulnerable side. It’s probably one of the most honest and intense songs I’ve ever written. It’s me sort of realising that I’m not the same person that I used to be. It’s a really slow and atmospheric song as well. It’s sad and melancholic, but I love it. In a spiritual sense, it’s my What’s Going On.

This is my political anthem about my dissatisfaction and anger with the way the world works, and the way the US government works. I don’t subscribe to it and I don’t believe in it. I think the system’s broken, and I don’t want any part of it right now. That might not last, and eventually I might change my tune, but right now I feel like money, corporations and greed run the world and we’re all by-products of their neglect. That’s what this song is about. We’re entering into a new Reagan era in the United States. We need to have someone in office for at least four years who’s going to tip the balance a little bit back towards the people. Whether you want to call them a socialist or whatever, we need a bit of that. We’ve been so run dry by the corporations and banks in our country that we need somebody in there who maybe is a bit radical to give some balance back. But let’s be totally honest. Presidents are just puppets and their strings are pulled by people who we don’t even know. I firmly believe that. The rich people who own everything make the real decisions. The system is broken and I don’t have the answers. But that’s another thing about this record – this is not the only song that I’ll say this on. I’m really conscious of letting people know that I’m a regular person. I’ve got my own problems and I’m not your role model. I’m just a musician, and I’m broken just like you. For me, it’s just about being a humanitarian and trying to be positive and show love. That’s my political movement.

You’ll notice that most of the songs on this record are around the three-minute mark. That’s my style, and it harkens back to punk and hardcore: make your point and get out of there, and don’t bore anybody with all the other stuff. There are plenty of bands out there that are epic and amazing and play six or seven minute songs. Opeth, for example, are one of my favourite bands and I love that they play long songs; they’re proggy and technical and incredible. But we’re not that band. We’re a keep it quick and to the point kind of band. We’re here to write hooks and have fun. But we also gave ourselves permission to have a couple of slow songs on this record, and this is another one of those. There’s a lot of pain in this song, and in that sense it’s another soul song, with the positivity in the message that we carry on. There’s always a way to push and move forward, even when you’re battered and broken, and that’s kind of the general theme here.

This song is a battle cry. It’s one of those songs that I can see musclebound dudes at the gym pumping iron to, or a wrestler walking out to the ring. It’s a real fist pumper song for me. There’s a lot of New York hardcore in there – bands like Madball and Cro-Mags – and I love that. I also love the lyric to finish off the record, ‘Your time will come!’ It almost leaves the record on a hanging note, as if there’s more to come – and there is…

Incarnate will be released on March 11 through Roadrunner. The band play Download this June. For more details, visit the festival’s official site.

Who is the real Jesse Leach?

Killswitch Engage: Incarnate