20YearView: Alive, Just Breathing & Beyond with trailblazers Killswitch Engage - Knotfest
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20YearView: Alive, Just Breathing & Beyond with trailblazers Killswitch Engage

Posted by Alex Distefano in Culture on May 2, 2022

Frontman Jesse Leach details how the band’s Northeast hardcore roots made their sophomore album one that would endure for decades.

The term metalcore evolved as a catchall, a descriptor of bands that embraced a mix of hardcore and metallic sensibilities – a saturation of thundering, chugging breakdowns, interspersed with moments of big melody.

However, 20 years ago, the subcategory of metalcore was still very much in it’s infancy. Then, a handful of bands began to usher in this new exciting sound, crafting dynamically heavy songs bolstered by anthemic hooks that became some of the era’s most memorable tracks. At the forefront of that sounds was an American collective from Massachusetts that would become champions of the style. This was just the start for Killswitch Engage.  

But, as vocalist Jesse Leach explained, the label wasn’t something the band intended to cultivate, as much as it was a byproduct of their lineage. “When we started  playing with Killswitch, metalcore was not a thing,” Leach said  during a recent Zoom interview. We were just playing metal music but the majority of us came from hardcore. It was already a thing in Europe where they were incorporating some of the melodic vocals. So, we just took that and added  the Northeast hardcore influence to make our own sound.” 

Leach explained that while he and the rest of his bandmates in Killswitch Engage grew up on a foundation of metal and hardcore, the sound that Killswitch Engage perfected was something much more organic.”Metalcore came from one of the guys who worked in labels/management and he was trying to coin a term. We have never owned that term. To me it’s funny. I don’t even know what it means these days. Two bands that are metalcore could sound completely different.”

2022 is the year that Killswitch Engage celebrates the 20 year anniversary of its landmark second album, Alive or Just Breathing. In many ways, this album defined the band’s sound and still connects with so many fans. But, Leach said that the band has no plans to commemorate the album by playing it in its entirety live, as was done 10 years ago for the record’s 10 year anniversary and Leach’s rejoining the band after a decade.

“We are humbled and honored that so many fans to this day still connect to that record, and love the songs on Alive or Just Breathing, but to be honest we  we already did a show, and even a U.S. tour where we played the entire album for the 10 year anniversary. it was in 2012, when I just rejoined the band again and it was so powerful and emotional that I still remember the shows. It was a big thing back then for us and for that album’s legacy. But at this point we’re really just looking to move forward. Of course, we’ll always  play selections of songs from that album in rotation like we always have done, and we may bring back rare ones to diversify our live set. We are just focused now on our future and to push forward with a new record.”

Killswitch Engage’s last album, Atonement from 2019 was interrupted by the Covid -19 pandemic but  Leach said the band is elated to be able to play shows for live audiences finally after a two year period where no one  went to a live concert.

“I’m  a very emotional person, I always have been, on stage and off,” Leach said. “But, I will say  there is definitely a new appreciation for being on stage since the pandemic hit and we all had two years of not being able to play shows. For the shows we’ve recently played, I found myself stopping to thank the audience and be present more than I ever have. You don’t really grasp how special that connection and reciprocal energy you get from the crowd is until you have lost it for a while like we all do. It’s amazing and it gives you a real sense of purpose for sure. There is nothing like it.”

Though Leach said Killswitch Engage has a huge tour with other big name bands in the works over the next few months, nothing can be announced yet, except the release of a new live album, recorded live at the Palladium in Worcester Massachusetts, in August, 2021. 

This was a live streaming event, and included the band performing  Atonement in its entirety along with the band’s self-titled debut from 2000, and a special  selection of other tracks. “Going into it normally all the nerves are a lot higher when we record or do live albums, but for this one we just sort of jammed,” Leach said.  “It was fun, and we really enjoyed the songs we played, which on some of them we did have to do a few takes. But, we did the best we could. It’s not perfect, but considering we only had a week to rehearse I think we did a good job. The fact that it’s not perfect though, that’s what’s special about it and that is what a live album should be.”

The future for Killswitch will definitely see the band on the road again, with a full U.S. tour in the next few months. “It has been a few years since Atonement now, and  we wanted to make up those tour dates for that album, which for the most part we have done. But, we’re all itching to put out some new material and write another record that will just push our sound even further.”

Leach confided that he never thought 20 years ago Killswitch Engage would be a legacy act that would be the influences to many younger bands, but he takes pride and is grateful for the band’s fanbase, which now spans generations.

“We have been seeing a lot of parents bringing their kids to our shows, and vice versa, for so many of our  pre-pandemic shows. We have such diverse fans, from all walks of life and all ages. AT one show in the Northwest, we had one sweet older lady fan, who was like a 70-year old stoner who brought us all marijuana edibles, it was amazing.  At the end of the day, We’re humbled and grateful to have such a diverse,  loyal dedicated fan base.”


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