With Jesse Leach’s return to the fold, a kick arse new album and some career-best live shows behind them it seems like an odd time to re-evaluate the Howard Jones era of Killswitch Engage. Or is it? Form of their life they may be in, but would they have reached this position without Jones and his, now ten year old, debut album with the band?
For many people The End Of Heartache is the definitive Killswitch record. Although the hardcore would point to Leach’s original swan song Alive Or Just Breathing for that title, it’s certainly a close-run thing. Arriving in a scene packed to the hilt with the third generation dregs of the nu-metal movement, Alive… offered hope and variety to those that craved a more traditionally metallic approach to their music. It garnered Killswitch a substantial following, but by the time the band rolled into Europe as headliners on the Roadrunner showcase Road Rage, with 36 Crazyfists and Five Pointe O in 2002, Jones had been installed as frontman.
The new line-up, including Jones’ former Blood Has Been Shed bandmate Justin Foley taking the drum stool for the first time, had momentum on their side as they entered the studio to record The End Of Heartache. Nu-metal was all but dead and their brand of Swedish melodic death metal delivered in the vein of a hardcore punk band was starting to get serious mainstream recognition. The nascent metalcore scene was fresh and exciting and they stood at the forefront of it. As I Lay Dying, God Forbid, Shadows Fall and Unearth were all raising eyebrows, but KSE were seen as the ones to blow the roof off.
Which is precisely what they did. For all the raw brutality of Alive… it was clear that Killswitch would need to show plenty more melodic nous and pen some anthems to appeal to a broader selection of music fans. The End Of Heartache was pitched perfectly, the heaviness of the previous album matched by songs like Take This Oath and The Rose Of Sharyn, but Howard’s more accomplished croon lead itself much more comfortably to the title tracks arena rock style slickness. The end result was an album more nuanced, varied and eclectic than anything the metalcore had produced previously.
Released on 11 May, and peaking at number 21 on the Billboard 200, The End Of Heartache proved hugely popular and was considered both a commercial and critical success. Earning rave reviews and going on to sell over 500,000 copies in the US, the band also were nominated for their first Grammy with the album’s title track and made their first Download appearance a year later on the main stage alongside System Of A Down, Slipknot and Slayer.
So while it might feel like there’s no reason to look back, especially now the band are on a serious high, it’s worth reminding yourself why you were so happy to see them back on form – and who helped them climb to the top of the tree in the first place. Cheers Howard, happy birthday The End Of Heartache.