Friday, April 26, 2013

Killswitch Engage - Disarm the Descent

The same problems as All That Remains, but far, far less shitty

Something right off the bat: I know fuck all about Killswitch.  I never listened to them when they were at their peak because back then I'd react to a metalcore breakdown the same way I'd react to a hydroflouric spongebath administered by Kathy Bates.  I guess I know the "Holy Diver" cover, and I know that it's much better than many metal fans seem to give it credit for ("Oh golly they added a breakdown!  Dio was rolling in his grave three years before he even died!"  Shut up, covers are always more interesting when the covering band adds their own flavor to it, and Howard Jones is a fine vocalist and the rest of the band did a commendable job and paid the song no disrespect by simply having the gall to love it enough to want to perform it, untwist your panties), but that's it.  I can't name a single song and I can only name one or two albums.  So believe me when I say I'm coming into this with a fresh perspective.  I have no preference between Jesse Leach and Howard Jones because I barely know what either man sounds like, so this much lauded reunion doesn't mean a damn thing to me.  I'm coming into this with my only prior knowledge being that the band plays metalcore and that the guitarist is apparently a big deal as a producer, that's it.

And with that fresh perspective in mind, my final thought is "eh, it's okay".  You see, when it comes to modern mainstream metalcore, it's going to be hard to top As I Lay Dying's fourth-time's-a-charm An Ocean Between Us, and so using that album as a measuring stick, I'd have to say Disarm the Descent is pretty enjoyable when it's on, but really lacks staying power and is absolutely plagued with short term deja-vu issues.  I can't tell most of these songs apart after half a dozen spins, and many songs share similar riffs and vocal melodies ("New Awakening" and "In Due Time" share very similar main riffs, for example).  These riffs are almost all pretty decent high tempo melodeath riffs that the metalcore genre has certainly made their bread and butter over the years, and while they lack any sort of immediate creativity, they are pleasant and do their job pretty well.  I can definitely see a circle pit breaking out during the intro of "The Call" or just any moment really.  Disarm the Descent certainly keeps the pace up and the songs short throughout its duration, and I can certainly appreciate that since it at the very least keeps the album from dragging.  The songs may all be kinda samey but at least they don't just drone on and refuse to end.  The sole exception being the ballad "Always", which, unsurprisingly, is terrible.  I dunno guys, trying to shove all this emotion into a track with that goofy voice just kinda backfires, especially when the instrumental portion is dreadfully boring.

And with that I should probably bring up the vocals.  The harsh hardcore screams are pretty good, nothing particularly noteworthy and they're pretty inconsequential, but good nonetheless.  Where my issue lies is with the clean vocals.  Now, As I Lay Dying sports some of the most hilariously wimpy cleans in the history of heavy music, and they always struck me as the sound of some poor shlub who got picked on in high school ineffectually lashing out in his diary, so Killswitch here has at least managed to avoid that pratfall by having these at least sound like they're coming from a grown man.  My qualm with them is the fact that it sounds like they're trying so hard to be emotional that they just come off as hilariously phony.  He sounds like an amateur theater enthusiast trying to put on a fake accent.  Every time they surface they just project way more than they need to and end up sounding so incredibly forced and dorky.  They're kind of reminiscent of Shadows Fall, just... goofier.  I can't help but imagine him in a high school auditorium, hanging out of a cardboard window, shaking his fist to the other actors while he sings "REEEELEEEASE YOAH!  INUHBIIISHUuUuUNS".  It's so damn funny to me, seriously.

The album also has a strange dichotomy in where the first half is more melodic and obviously meant to be radio singles ("In Due Time", "The Turning Point", and "Beyond the Flames" are the most obvious to me), whereas the second half blurs together yet somehow manages to be more memorable.  Tracks like "The Call" and "All that We Have" most definitely stick in my memory more than something like "A Tribute to the Fallen".  It's kind of strange, because even though the album is front loaded with obvious radiobait and the back half is slightly more adventurous in the sense that the riffs get slightly heavier on average, the sense of melody is suffocatingly prevalent the entire time.  This music is the metal equivalent of the logical opposite of something like Portal.  It's about as consonant and poppy as you can get while still being undeniably based in some form of metal (in this case, the ever popular style of metalcore that vigorously molests the melodeath scene). 

And frankly, that's not for everybody.  The pop sensibility works to the band's advantage when they go for full on catchy melodies, but the songs with blast beasts and easily windmillable riffs tend to stand out the most simply because they sound like the band is having more fun with them.  That's really important in this case because the album on the whole feels somewhat rushed.  The songs give the impression that not a whole lot of time was put into any of them, with most of them being paint-by-numbers templates of how metalcore songs are supposed to be written.  Most of them are pretty formulaic and all but two of them fall within the same thirty second window in length.  It's just... kinda there.  That's why the album as a whole sort of fails, it isn't bad, it does what it sets out to do, but it isn't very memorable and doesn't feel like the band put their all into writing and recording it.  This feels like a rushed product, and that's disappointing for a band that's supposedly making their thunderous return with their original vocalist.  So in the end you can pretty much just burn through this once or twice and shelf it.  It's got some good tunes, I think "In Due Time" is definitely a good choice for a single, but again, in terms of mega popular melodic metalcore, you can do much better than this.

RATING - 61%

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