"Disarm the Descent
" is the first album with original Killswitch Engage
singer Jesse Leach
since 2002's "Alive or Just Breathing
." Though it does mark his return to the Massachusetts-based five-piece, it is not his first work with guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz
since leaving the group over a decade ago. Leach sang and co-wrote all the songs on the guitar player's "The Hymn of a Broken Man
," a side project Dutkiewicz
put together under the banner Times of Grace
But the Leach
assault saved all the heaviness for the new KsE
album. It is a stomping ground for blast beats, angry guitars and atavistic vocals. Andy Sneap
has returned to mix "Disarm the Descent
" (Sneap worked on "Alive or Just Breathing
") and the result is a far bigger and brutal sound than the band achieved on the previous Killswitch Engage (2012) album. In fact the aggression was an element Dutkiewicz
felt was missing on that album and he was determined not to make the same mistake twice.
UG: You brought in Howard Benson (Incubus, AC/DC) to produce the last album, "Killswitch Engage." How did you feel about Howard's input?
I actually thought that record was a little bit on the soft side to be honest with you. I felt like it could have benefited from a little more aggression for sure. So I think that's why we ended up making the record we did now.
You thought Howard Benson softened the edges a bit?
Yeah, I think he ended up kinda giving out like more of a singer/songwriter kind of vibe. Which is kind of what he was going for. He and Brendan O'Brien
were in cahoots on that together. We've always been more sort of like just a straight up metal kind of band with a metal mentality. So yeah, it was definitely a bit different for us.
Your guitar sound on "The Reckoning" was pretty big. How would you describe it?
It pretty much just sounds like the guitar and amp we plugged in and played. We don't get too analytical about things like that.
You describe the band as straight up metal but a lot of people call the band metalcore. Do you think about those kinds of titles?
Not at all actually. It's moreso we kinda just do our thing. We never really try to strive to sound like anything specifically. We wanna make sure our personalities come through in what we do. We never really try to change our train of thought. We just wanna do what feels natural every time.
I didn't really wanna play drums anymore. I think playing guitar for me started to become a lot of fun.
You also called your first album Killswitch Engage. Why?
Just being lazy.
Do you apply anything to KsE that you learned at Berklee?
My schooling? No, not necessarily. When I'm writing it's moreso coming from whatever's inside of me and from my brain. I've never really tried to think about it. When you over think something, I think it can kill art. I'm not certain if you'd call our music (laughs).
Did your guitar playing chops and theory come together at Berklee?
Well yeah. That always helps out when you're trying to explain something. Or I guess figure out contrasting parts and stuff like that. It definitely kind of helps out there. Working off a theme when you want to elaborate on it. It really helps out there, yeah.
Were any of the seeds of KsE sewn in "Aftershock?"
No, not necessarily. I think just because the same guy was involved in both projects there are gonna be similarities. You know what I mean? I think that's the case with any kind of band. So if a songwriter moves to another band, there will probably be kind of elements of the other band within it.
You played drums and guitar in "Aftershock" - where did you feel more comfortable?
I would just say, "Jack of all trades and master of none."
That kind of thing.
You played drums initially in the band.
I just think at that point it seemed like a cool idea for me to just start a new band and kinda make some more music. That's all I was really trying to do. At the time I just wanted to make some tunes with Mike
), our bass player and get some tunes rollin'. And yeah, see what happened.
All the tracks were completed for the Killswitch Engage album before you ever found a singer?
Yeah, I think he ended up writing a handful of songs before we got Jesse
Did you know when you heard Jesse Leach sing that he was the right singer for the band?
No, back then it was just moreso like, "Oh, this guy's pretty good. Let's make some music with him"
(laughs). I don't really look at things that hard. If it just feels good you should do it.
"Soilborn" was one of the first KsE songs to come together. Were you looking for a certain sound?
No, not at all. I think it just naturally came out of us at that point. That's always been the way we work - we kinda just write music and then hopefully it comes out good and people like it.
Why did you bring in Andy Sneap (Machine Head, Napalm Death) to mix Alive or Just Breathing?
It was great to work with somebody with the sonic background of the caliber that Andy's known for. He's a powerhouse and great at putting things together and kinda cleaning up the mess. Yeah, we made a big mess. He ended up really bringing it all together and just making the record feel together.
[Andy Sneap] is a powerhouse and great at putting things together and kinda cleaning up the mess.
The End of Heartache was the first album with new singer Howard Jones and drummer Justin Foley. What did that feel like?
I guess it was what it was 'cause we were kind of nervous at first after losing Jesse
. I guess once we went into the studio in my mind I was just thinking, "Oh, we gotta try even harder this time to make sure this record tops what we did with the last record."
Do you think you achieved that?
Uh, I don't know. I guess that's all in the eye of the beholder.
That was also the first album on which you played guitar. Did you feel you could bring more to the music as a guitarist than as a drummer?
I just think it was a natural progression. I didn't really wanna play drums anymore. I think playing guitar for me started to become a lot of fun. A natural progression I guess.
How do you work out guitar parts with Joel Stroetzel?
We keep that pretty easy. It basically ends up being just whoever writes the parts to that song, they end up kind of doing them live. You know what I mean? It's that kind of situation.
Besides producing the band, you've done a lot of outside productions. Do you bring any of those techniques or sounds back into the KsE environment?
Not necessarily. I try to keep every production and record I do and give it its own personality and that kind of thing. If it does creep in then maybe it's an accident.
You covered "Holy Diver" on the "As Daylight Dies" album. Did you ever meet Ronnie Dio?
Very briefly, yeah. Very, very nice guy. Really awesome to meet him.
You actually worked with Jesse Leach for the first time when he returned on your solo project, Times of Grace.
Since "Alive or Just Breathing
Did you know specifically you wanted Jesse to work on "The Hymn of a Broken Man" album?
Yeah, absolutely. That was definitely the guy I had in mind for the project. Just because that was the record where I ended up writing everything by myself. Then when it got the lyrical portion of the record, I just knew I needed some help on it 'cause I'm a terrible lyricist and a terrible singer. It felt natural to get Jesse
involved in that for sure just because of our backgrounds and our friendship over the years.
A terrible singer - really? All your backup vocals on the KsE albums are really good.
Well that's very nice of you. Thank you. Not true.
It would have been very cool if you sang the songs on "The Hymn of a Broken Man."
I don't know about that.
What was that like writing all the music and playing all the instruments on that album?
That was when I ended up hurting myself real bad and had to have emergency surgery. So I was kinda just stuck in a hospital for weeks and I ended up writing a bunch of music in my head to keep my mind off of things and kinda keeping a positive space.
I think Jesse and I have a really good kinship when it comes to singing together.
You brought in different styles like rock, pop, shoegaze and punk?
Sure, I'll listen to anything.
Could this music have been recorded by Killswitch?
Umm, possibly yeah. There's definitely elements like I was saying earlier. It's the same songwriter so there's definitely elements of Killswitch
in that material for sure.
There was a great solo in "Strength in Numbers." What goes through you head when you do a solo?
It's pretty formulated actually. I kinda don't wanna just make it all licks. It's good to have elements of melody and something that makes it a little bit more memorable instead of just, "Well check out my parts."
You know what I mean? Moreso like just kind of a musical interlude instead of, "It's all about the guitar solo. Check it out."
Yeah, that and I'm not really that great of a player anyways. It's moreso just meant to be a break from the vocal onslaught I suppose.
That's a ridiculous thing to say that you're not a good guitar player.
Oh, well you know. I'm just saying jack of all trades and master of none.
You do a fair amount of hammering in your solos. Were you an Eddie Van Halen fan?
Eddie Van Halen
has been one of my guitar heroes since I was a kid. So, yeah, I guess it's not really necessarily a bow to him but maybe he definitely influenced the way I play guitar for sure.
If you had to name some other guitar players you listened to, who comes to mind?
I really liked Angus Young
when I was a kid. Yeah, he was a good guitar player.
Did you listen to any of the classic guitarists like Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page?
Not so much actually. Oh, David Gilmour
Uh yeah, a little bit. Nobody sounds like Jimi Hendrix
. He just does his own thing.
In January 2012, Howard Jones left the band. What were your thoughts about that?
Well definitely at that point it was what it was but we knew we couldn't continue on the way things were going. It ended up making a lot of sense for us to just part ways.
We kinda just write music and then hopefully it comes out good and people like it.
At that point you auditioned new singers?
We just decided to do tryouts to kinda see who was out there and who was available and who would sound good on Howard's and Jesse's material. And yeah, just made sure we checked out every possible avenue.
None of the singers you listened to would have been right for the band?
A lot of the guys did a really good job actually. But of course Jesse
had a leg up because he was originally in the band. That and he did a great job of doing Howard's material.
What were those first shows like with Jesse at the New England Metal and Hardcore Fest?
Uh, it was great and everything felt comfortable. There was nothing strange about it at all. I think Jesse
maybe touring with Times of Grace
kind of led up to the comfort factor. But yeah, it felt natural.
Before starting the "Disarm the Descent" album, Jesse said at a press conference for the Trespass tour back in 2012, "The album is fast and heavy. You're gonna see a return to the roots of where I come from. I'm more of a hardcore punk kid so I'm definitely bringing that back in some of the lyrics." Would you agree with that?
I guess, yeah. I believe so. I think there's all sorts of lyrics and lyrical content on the record. Whether you'd consider it hardcore or punk and then there's other things that are more of a serious nature and not really related to hardcore or punk lyrics. It's all over the board.
You brought Andy Sneap back to work on "Disarm the Descent."
Like I said earlier, he's just good at what he does. It's great to have him come in and kind of clean up the tracks and get another opinion on it and he does that well.
"In Due Time" is the first single and has a bit of harmony guitar at the end of the solo. Where does that come from?
I think I ended up writing the song with that part in it.
Does Joel Stroetzel play the harmony parts on record?
In the studio I did but live we work out the harmony parts.
"In Due Time" and "The New Awakening" are the first two singles from "Disarm the Descent." Was there a reason for choosing those songs?
I think we're just the kind of band like I said before that loves to write songs and get things together and make a record. After we make the material, I think we just kinda release things as they feel natural. We're never really trying to set out to do a task specific I suppose.
"A Tribute to the Fallen" is one of the faster songs on the album. Drummer Justin Foley said there were more blast beats on Disarm the Descent than any record he'd done before. Are these some of the fastest songs you've ever done?
Umm, maybe. I think so. I'm not totally 100 percent sure. I just know we definitely wanted to make a bit more of an aggressive record than the last one we put out with Howard
. Like I was saying before, the other one just felt a little singer/songwriterish for me.
You bagged on your singing earlier but your backup vocals on "A Tribute to the Fallen" and "Always" were very cool.
I think Jesse
and I have a really good kinship when it comes to singing together. I've kind of learned to sing a bit more over the years. I guess it's something I've really come to love and I enjoy it.
Were there other bands doing harmonies that you listened to?
No, not necessarily. I just think I've always liked vocal harmonies and harmony parts and all that. It's something I've always enjoyed, yeah.
Do you think that "Always" is a bit of a throwback to a Times of Grace sound?
Maybe you could think that but I actually didn't even write that song. That was Joel
We never really try to sound like anything specifically. We wanna make sure our personalities come through in what we do.
No big deal.
What sets KsE apart from other metal bands is the ability and willingness to step outside the box with songs like "Always?" There is a notion that something can't be melodic and heavy.
Right. Like I said I think we're a band that has lots of influences and we pull from those. We just do whatever feels natural. Hey, I'm sorry I'm gonna have to get going.
What has the audience response been like to the new songs on tour?
They're great and going over very well - better than expected actually. It's very cool to see.
Interview by Steven Rosen