When your soul needs saving, this is the band you need.
Yeah, sure. You can say it’s more of the same from Killswitch Engage. Since 2002, it’s been easy to say that. But that’s a disservice to them. Much like it would be to Motorhead or AC/DC or Slayer.
Formulas can work, and they can be refined, and they can experimented with, all while never losing the integrity of a band’s sound. Their previous album, 2016’s “Incarnate” was among those experimental albums. It was everything you’d expect, yet something was different. Vocally especially, not just for Jesse Leach, but out of all of their albums, it had the most clean vocals they’d ever done to date. A majority of the songs weren’t as hard hitting or heavy as usual.
Well in case anyone may have been worried, “Atonement” rectifies all that. The songs are shorter, tighter, faster, heavier, and they fucking mean it. It might be the heaviest thing they’ve done since their 2000 self titled debut. That’s up for you to decide.
“Unleashed” was seemingly a somewhat strange 1st single to choose at first, but now I can see why they did. It was just proof that they’re still who they’ve always been. Standard Killswitch, if you will. 2nd single “I Am Broken Too” is most definitely the most hard rock song they’ve done to date. It’s short and sweet (clocking in at 2:39), fairly basic, and 98% clean vocals, but it gets the job done. It was meant to be exactly what it is, and the focus is on the message of the lyrics. I prefer it to the 2013 hit “Always”.
Then there’s the song that *every* KsE fan was waiting for, “The Signal Fire”, which features a guest appearance with their former vocalist… Howard Jones. I’ve seen mixed reviews. Some people expected more? More of a highlight of Howard’s cleans? I’m not sure really. He performs the entire 2nd verse, backups throughout the song, and he’s intertwined in the chorus with Jesse. Much more of an appearance than Jesse did on 2004’s “Take This Oath”. Anyway. This song is among my most favorites and it’s also one of their fastest tracks. It’s pretty relentless, and I couldn’t have asked for more. Even without Howard, it would’ve been one of the best. HoJo being on it just adds to the awesomeness. 100% satisifed.
There’s a 2nd guest apperance by Testament’s legendary Chuck Billy on “The Crownless King”. Also one of my most favorites. An uptempo thrasher that’s as heavy as anything you’d expect from Testament from 1997’s “Demonic” onward. Chuck has one of the most recognizable voices in all of Metal, and they couldn’t have picked a better song for him to come destroy on.
Quick highlight on “As Sure as the Sun Will Rise”, “Ravenous”, and “Bite the Hand That Feeds”. Just listen to them. Do it. DO IT.
There’s a fire in this album that can’t be put out. Even within the most melodic sections, it’s just a quick breather before you’re being pummeled to the ground again. They might have had some setbacks, mostly due to Jesse Leach’s vocal surgery, but it was seemingly worth it. His voice is as good as it’s ever been in all the ways. Instrumentally, everyone is as good they’ve ever been. Killswitch Engage is celebrating their 20th year of existence this year, and if you were to show the 1999 version the 2019 version, they’d most likely nod their head in unison with approval. “Damn we sound good.” Yep. You just kept making great album after great album, and continue proving why you helped change the entire face of metal with your 2002 and 2004 masterpieces, by making more masterpieces.
“Atonement” is their 8th album, and out of those 8, I rank this as their #4. That could sound like a bad thing, but when put up against “Alive or Just Breathing”, “Disarm the Descent”, and “The End of Heartache”… it’s hard to beat those, and for this to be just under those, and above 4 other amazing albums, trust me when I say, it is not a negative whatsoever. This is so damn good. It’s exactly what was needed and wanted. This album and Slipknot’s “We Are Not Your Kind” are battling for the top spot of 2019, and I’ve listened to both around 20 times a piece now. It isn’t helping my decision. I just know that it’s a good problem to have.
Seriously good job boys. The ONLY negative I can shine a light on, which I know I’m not alone on, is how short the album seems. It flies by, but because it’s so tasty, you WILL have seconds. And thirds. And fourths. Now how about all those other tracks you recorded… Actually, can you just drop another album next year? Can we make that a thing?
Reviewed by Marcus Miller