When the news broke that Jesse Leach had returned to the band that he abandoned in a somewhat clumsy manner nearly a decade ago, the response from Killswitch Engage’s loyal fanbase was nothing short of ecstatic. Not that we should ignore the huge contribution made by the resolutely enigmatic Howard Jones over the years, but there was an undeniable sense that this most influential of 21st-century metal bands were now finally going to deal with some important unfinished business while giving themselves a shot at getting back on track creatively.
Neither 2006’s patchy As Daylight Dies nor 2009’s largely forgettable self-titled effort came anywhere near to equalling, let alone surpassing, the irresistible blend of brutish but dextrous metalcore and soaring, emotionally-charged melodies that defined this band’s first two albums for Roadrunner and, until Howard’s departure, it seemed that the KSE fire was destined to fizzle out amid widespread disappointment at era-defining opportunities squandered.
As a result, Disarm The Descent could be regarded as the most important album that the Massachusetts quintet have ever made. If it sucks, you may infer, there may be no more second chances. Fortunately, Disarm The Descent does not suck. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Within seconds of the arrival of The Hell In Me, it is abundantly obvious that Jesse Leach’s return has imbued his old comrades with both a renewed sense of purpose and massively enhanced energy levels. Fast, furious and manifestly heavier than anything Killswitch have recorded before, it is as incisive and commanding an opening track as you will ever hear, as guitars and drums combine in a sublime storm of syncopated precision, veering from unstoppable grooves to merciless blastbeats and back again. And then the chorus kicks in and it’s fucking colossal.
So far, so glorious. But many bands sneakily frontload their albums to mask a lack of top-notch material, so is that the case here? Is it bollocks. The quality exhibited on The Hell In Me is more than matched by every one of the 11 songs that follow, from the blistering Beyond The Flames to the grandiose knockout punch of Time Will Not Remain. As with Alive Or Just Breathing and The End Of Heartache, Disarm The Descent is startling in its consistency and sustained dynamism.
Most importantly, Jesse sounds utterly at home throughout and, significantly, 10 times the singer he was back on Alive Or Just Breathing, If Howard had a flaw it was that you could sense that he was occasionally holding something of himself back and hiding behind subtly opaque sentiments. Jesse, on the other hand, fearlessly rips open his chest to ensure that we can see every beat of his heart; each throat-rending roar and impassioned lyric are delivered with maximum conviction here.
Nostalgia may preclude this album from being revered in quite the same way as the ones that first made us fall in love with this band, but the truth is that Disarm The Descent is a magnificent return to form. Killswitch Engage are still alive, still breathing and very much back in the game.