Incarnate review by Killswitch Engage

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  • Released: Mar 11, 2016
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 7.4 (48 votes)
Killswitch Engage: Incarnate
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Sound — 8
Though starting out as a standard metalcore act with a penchant for measurement changes, Killswitch Engage soon became one of the quintessential bands for the American melodic metalcore sound that came to prominence in the mid-noughties. With their third album, the gold-status "The End of Heartache," first earning great reception for its melodeath-influenced riffs by founding guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and a strong harsh/clean singing performance by standout vocalist Howard Jones, the following "As Daylight Dies" would bring forth both some of the band's best songwriting, as well as their ubiquitous cover of the Dio classic "Holy Diver," ushering the apex for Killswitch Engage and, arguably, American metalcore at that time.

After this, however, Killswitch Engage went through a considerable decline. After their 2009 self-titled album garnered mixed reviews for feeling like "more of the same" (as well as unfortunately having to follow the critically-acclaimed status of "As Daylight Dies," in a FFVII/FFVIII-type of complex), Jones' presence began to decline in the band; first starting as an absence for a number of shows, and then leading to his full departure from the band in 2012, in the midst of recording their sixth album. But in this time of instability, Killswitch Engage's resolve strengthened, and after replacing Jones with original vocalist Jesse Leach, the band released their sixth album, "Disarm the Descent," to rave reviews. With its style revitalizing their metalcore sound heard in 2002's "Alive or Just Breathing," as well as showing Dutkiewicz's extensive guitar solo skills, it became the album to truly compete with the highly-lauded likes of "As Daylight Dies."

Now releasing their seventh album, "Incarnate," Killswitch Engage go through the ringer of all their sounds and techniques previously used. One can tick all the boxes of things to hear: the acoustic intro of "Quiet Distress" that basks in the old spirit of "Alive or Just Breathing" or "The End of Heartache"; the "As Daylight Dies"-style tapping riffs heard in "Embrace the Journey... Upraised" and the breakdown of "Strength of the Mind"; the proper guitar solo in "Hate by Design" that continues Dutkiewicz's guitar solo penchant heard in the band's previous album; or the occasional blastbeat/tremolo section that never fails to work itself into a Killswitch Engage album at least once (appearing this time in "Ascension"). As a whole, this reuse of their songwriting repertoire doesn't come off as wholly uninspired, although some moments do feel unambitiously recycled, like the 6/4 riff in "Just Let Go" that flows very similar to the 6/4 bridge riff of "My Curse."

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But in the same space where Killswitch Engage show off tricks already shown before, they also do plenty to mix things up from where they last left off. There are much more measurement changes this time around, which expands from their well-established standard-to-3/4 formula and includes more cases off odd time signatures, like the 9/4 heard in "Alone I Stand," the 5/4 chorus in "Just Let Go," and the 7/4 verses in "It Falls on Me." And while "Disarm the Descent" was more affixed on the energy of galloping guitar riffs and dazzling guitar solos, "Incarnate" focuses on tending to lower gears and stronger melodic elements by using more wall-of-sound guitar layers (heard in "Embrace the Journey...," "It Falls on Me" and "We Carry On") and better vocal harmonies (most notably in "Cut Me Loose" and "We Carry On"). This not only acts as a more effective way to articulate emotion in songs, but it also helps weave a stronger dynamic flow between songs, like the slogging morose likes of "It Falls on Me" making the following "The Great Deceit" hit even stronger.

Lyrics — 8
Lyrically, Leach's return to the band in "Disarm the Descent" prompted him to follow up from Jones' last set of lyrics in 2009's self-titled album; parlaying from Jones' dominant theme of misery-filled interpersonal relationships by sticking to the same emotionally-wrought subject matter, but traveling it with a more uplifting and empowering arc. In "Incarnate," Leach now focuses on honing empowerment in the face of a society flawed and corrupt, and a population still apathetic towards such, which he tackles right from the start in "Alone I Stand" ("A time of deception, conflict and unrest / I will not cower in fear and submission / I will hold my ground and resist").

This isn't only a reprise of his lyrical matter brought forth in "Alive or Just Breathing," but given the regressive current events in the U.S. within the past few years, it's all the more pertinent. As Leach had condemned racism and discrimination in "Vida Infra" over a decade ago, he presses on the subject even harder, speaking out on the epidemic of younger generations being taught discrimination in "Hate by Design" ("Fueled by hate, it's your mistake / It's a choice you made / It's tearing us apart"), and invoking chants from the resonant Black Lives Matter protests in "The Great Deceit" ("This disconnection / Through color of the flesh / Blood of generations / Saturate our roots... Violence increased / No justice and no peace / In the great deceit"). Leach also covers the epidemic of domestic violence and abusive relationships in "Quiet Distress" ("Night after night, search for the light, relive the fear and misery / Disguise the pain, the blood will wash away, but the wounds still sing of your agony"), and regarding his pet topic of spirituality, he casts aside the hard-lined definitions of absolution, salvation, and the afterlife that organized religions have drawn for his own search of such in "Embrace the Journey..." ("My soul searches beyond the ether / Beyond the dogmatic haze / I still believe").

Overall Impression — 8
Killswitch Engage's timeline past their apex of "As Daylight Dies" is just as worthy of admiration as their apex itself, especially since that time is tougher for a band to navigate gracefully and successfully. While they experienced the nearly inevitable downtick that comes after such critical acclaim, they persevered by refashioning their pre-Golden era sound in "Disarm the Descent" rather than safely deriving from the same formula that previously earned them acclaim. And it's that strategy of reusing those classic tricks and sounds but still leaving plenty of room to craft something new that makes "Incarnate" succeed. Ultimately, it represents the point of veteran status Killswitch Engage have reached, and they show that they can wield the things that made them stand out in the first place while still continuing to be fresh.

38 comments sorted by best / new / date

    redgravegilver
    Well, I like it but it's safe to say that they would probably never deviate from their formula. Also the bonus tracks from the special edition are great. Ascenion in my opinion, is a pretty weak closer but the special edition tracks such as triumph through tragedy fixed that for me. Anyway can't wait for a new Times of Grace album. Can't remember if it's Adam or Jesse who said it but there are already demos.
    vppark2
    Interesting. I found Ascension to actually be one of the best songs on the album. It just hits home like the way Reignite, and Embrace The Journey do. I can't say that for many songs on this album unfortunately though. There are a few other soft songs I found very interesting, like Just Let Go, but I can't find myself interested in ones like Cut Me Loose. This album is probably a 7/10 at best for me, which isn't bad, but given how strong their discography is, I'd rate it second to worst, next to 2009's ST, which is probably a 5.5/10 at best.
    redgravegilver
    Second to worst? i highly disagree but that's just me. My ranking is: 1. Alive or Just Breathing and As Daylight are just tie. 2. Disarm The Descent. 3. Incarnate 4. Killswitch 1999 5. End of Heartache( I honestly can't believe that this was kind of acclaimed by lot of people. After the self titled track, the album ceased to become interesting. The next songs are just so bland.) 6. Killswitch 2009
    vppark2
    TEOTH is actually my favorite, and well, it would prob be tied second to worst with ST 1999. My second favorite is ADD, then DtD, and I know Ill get flack for this, AoJB (not into the rough mix on it).
    thejay2
    I must admit I went into this album not expecting much, but it was excellent! I have listened to this a couple of times now and think it is a welcome improvement over Disarm the discent. There is more than enough there to know that it is Killswitch Engage, you can hear it in their signature sound but there is also hints of them trying to separate this album a bit. I think Jesse's voice is fantastic on all of the tracks and his clean vocals sound amazing once again. Essentially I would say it sounds like they have taken what they do and tried to add a different flair to it and it has paid off. Amazing album and just gets better after every play through.
    vivekjha25
    KSE are in the that part of their career where any deviation from their existing sound would throw off their existing fanbase and playing stuff that they are already good at (and in many ways pioneered), it will be looked upon as "playing safe" and "more of the same". I mean its not bad to look at Iron Maiden for example - if you can do one thing really well and better than others, why not keep on doing more of the same
    m4ss3 m/
    Can't believe that the UG team gave Disarm the Descent only 6.7 but 8.0 for this one. I think DtD was a really good album but this one just seems to lack the stand-out tracks. It's catchy but there isn't really any memorable riffing on this album.
    redgravegilver
    There are a lot more melodeath/thrashy riffing in this album compared to the last one.
    vppark2
    There is, but tbh, the last one was solid all the way through. Like you were in the moshpit the entire time, aside from Always (love that song btw).
    sachetta
    Hit the nail on the head for me here. After hearing "Loyalty" and "Strength of the mind" last year I was like woah we're in for a wild ride. But once I downloaded the album I felt like the singles held all the good riffs and there weren't many others to discover. I think the album overall is decent (I'd give it a 7.5 after a couple weeks of listening), but definitely felt a bit let down by it. And, like you said: not enough stand out tracks, and not enough memorable riffing.
    RamblinMan2450
    I didn't really find anything in this album amazing EXCEPT "Just Let Go". I mean, I can't get enough of that song, it's really great, but the other's, I feel like the guitar's a bit slow, or cliche, and just in general felt a bit bland, but I wouldn't say it's a bad album, it just doesn't sound like an amazing new Killswitch album. I've listened to it a bunch of times already, and I'll continue to do so.
    IAmSpoderman
    pretty solid album, better than their last two in my opinion. love the time signature changes, great hooks, love that they use Adams voice more. one thing that bothered me -- some of the songs just seem way to short, like they were really rushed, they could've easily added 1 or 2 minutes at least to some of the songs like: It Falls On Me, Just Let Go, Ascension. it feels like they thought that the songs HAD to be as close to the 3 minute mark as possible. I know that Adam and Jesse are in both bands, but is it just me or do a lot of the songs on this album sound like they could have been on a Times Of Grace album?
    sachetta
    Completely agree here. As I was listening to "Ascension" I was like oh man here would be a great place for the breakdown / solo ... and it just never came. The song ended far too quickly and without the fire it needed. I've said the same thing about many of the other tracks as well. Overall, I think the album is decent, but Killswitch sets the bar so high that I can't help but feel a little let down.
    vppark2
    Yeah, too much ToG stuff involved. Thats prob why I found most of it boring.
    IAmSpoderman
    I love ToG, and those songs on this album that sounded like ToG are the best in my opinion, I just find it strange that they chose to put them on a KsE album instead of the next ToG album which they're working on now.
    redgravegilver
    Not a huge fan of ToG I see xD
    vppark2
    Haha idk why. I guess when I listen to metal, I prefer to have a balance, and a few occasional soft songs that work and aren't forced. I can't think of any metal band that just sings that I listen to very often.
    RCA1186
    I've been listening to it on repeat for at least 8 hours a day at work since Monday. My opinion on the album is that it is pretty good, the second half of the album is better, the bonus tracks are worth it, and overall the album sounds like KSE. Basically they haven't made any strides musically as far as progression of their sound, but the album is still pretty solid sounding.
    henrihell
    Currently giving it a first listen, and it sounds pretty bland to me. Pretty destroyed in the master which makes it sound pretty boring as there are no dynamics at all.
    RAGman22ReborN
    As an album, it's Jesse KSE business as usual but one thing REALLY bothered me -- the mix/mastering on it is TERRIBLE. Had my speakers halfway up and there's lacking in bass, too much mids and noisy. It's like they put the mix through a compressed Tube Screamer for lack of a better term. The ONE thing I miss about Howard KSE is that the mixing was better. Oh well, gonna wait for the next Devil You Know album!
    redgravegilver
    Weird. I didn't find that much wrong on the mixing and I even liked it compared to Disarm, or my ears are just fucked up right now.
    GoToSleep
    Incarnate is better than Disarm IMO but only a bit. If they added more solos and finished the album with one of the bonus tracks I would've called it the best since Alive or Just Breathing.
    Xomar
    I tune into these old metal bands I used to listen to and they sound the same as they did 8 years ago haha.
    vppark2
    Is that a good thing..?
    Xomar
    It's fine by me! I just think it's funny that there's not much variation. My musical tastes have changed so much since I first became a KSE fan - I'm surprised they've been able to keep their same sound this whole time.
    Big Bovy
    I thought it was pretty decent. Just Let Go is fantastic for KSE. Really effective song writing. Generally I thought it was a bit weaker than Disarming The Descent but then it must be shorter by a fair bit and there's a few weaker songs. It's still probably the best thing I've heard this year (for metal).