REVIEW: KILLSWITCH ENGAGE - ATONEMENT
There can be few people more glad, even relieved, to see the release of Atonement than Jesse Leach. Last year, Killswitch Engage’s frontman began to experience problems singing. Having been lucky enough to get a second chance at fronting the band after leaving in 2002, it looked like the dream could slip through his fingers again. But while throat surgery solved the physical problem, things were not so easily fixed elsewhere. A divorce from his wife of 16 years changed the shape of his world, while a worrying social media post hinted at thoughts of suicide. On top of this, the matter of writers' block and self-doubt were yet another weight on Jesse's shoulders.
It is testament to Jesse’s enduring strength and ability to keep going when everything seems at its bleakest that Atonement exists at all. It is all the more admirable that he has funnelled this dark time into his work as a way of acting as a friendly voice to others finding themselves in a similar position. "You carry this weight trying to cover your mistakes, to make it seem like nothing could ever break you," he sings on the deeply personal "I Am Broken Too", the title of which he now has tattooed on his left arm. "I am broken too, in all the same places as you. If you needed proof, I’ll reopen my wounds." On "Take Control" he’s even more open and direct - "When your sorrow drags you down below, you must take control. Your strength will unfold." He sounds impressive in voice as well as intent, with a renewed sense of love for his job.
It is this combination of re-invigoration and emotional honesty that carries Atonement because, musically, this is very much business as usual for Killswitch Engage. It’s expertly crafted as you’d rightfully expect from a band of this standing and length of tenure, but often the staccato riffs and fine-tuned powerful metal are so neatly taken from Killswitch’s own peg that many of the individual parts could slot neatly into any of their previous albums. The heart of this album is not in its riffs, or even indeed any of the musical foundation of the album at all - it's in the message the album is bringing to its listeners.
This is something proven when Howard Jones, Jesse’s replacement and the man he eventually replaced again, appears on the surging fan favourite "The Signal Fire", a song that represents a band in all its glory past and present. Killswitch Engage are not just a band, they are a family, and there is absolutely no awkwardness at all in having their beloved former singer come back for one more run before he rides back off into the sunset with Light The Torch. My favourite guest spot, however, has to come from Testament’s Chuck Billy on "The Crownless King", which sees the metal legend delivering a raging and thoroughly awesome performance.
Atonement is a record where context is key. Coming in cold, it’s another Killswitch Engage album. It's metal that punches and screams with an effectiveness and accuracy of attack that can only come from five expert musicians. But, in knowing the journey of its creation, it gains a character and a level of emotion that all their best albums have. That’s the most important thing about Atonement - it is a warts and all diary of Jesse Leach's struggles that he hopes will help others who are feeling the same.
ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10
Words by Tom Da Silva