It's hard to believe it's been over 10 years since Killswitch Engage released their genre-defining classic, Alive or Just Breathing. Original vocalist Jesse Leach left the band following said album, and the band continued on with vocalist Howard Jones for the next 9 years and 3 releases (it's been 4 years since the 2nd self-titled release!). My own interest in the band seemed to wane after The End of Heartache as the band's material seemed to be getting stagnant and slightly more mellow. When news broke in early 2012 that Howard would be leaving the band and the subsequent news of Leach's return, I couldn't help but be excited for what lied ahead for the band. After all, Jesse collaborated with Adam D. the year prior with the excellent Times of Grace. So, along with undoubtably many others in the metal community, this became one of my most hotly anticipated titles of 2013.
So how does it hold up to expectations? Provided you are not expecting Alive or Just Breathing Part 2, both old and new fans of KsE should find plenty to enjoy here. As I had hoped, the return of Jesse Leach to the band has invigorated them. As I previously mentioned, my own interest in the band had declined to the point of listening to the self titled disc #2 just a few times before I was bored with it. The band seemed to be stuck in a songwriting rut. The riffs were stale, with cookie-cutter choruses that seemed lifeless and uninspired. As I listen to Disarm the Descent, I don't get that same feeling. 2013 Killswitch Engage is firing on all cylinders once again! Much like Soilwork's recent opener, "Spectrum of Eternity", opening track "The Hell in Me" will undoubtably take many aback with it's heavier than expected introduction. This heavier tone maintains for much of the album, flexing a muscle that we haven't seen from the band since AoJB. Some of this stems from Leach's more abrasive and visceral approach (which has held up quite well over time) but that would be an injustice to the riff output on Disarm the Descent. I hear that classic Killswitch guitar tone and lush melodies ("No End in Sight") but played with more fever. "Beyond the Flames" certainly flirts with melodic death metal in it's playfulness, "A Tribute to the Fallen" will suck you in with the addictiveness of the choral riff, and the Iron Maiden-esque gallop of "You Don't Bleed for Me" will put a smile on many faces. The thrashy and frentic pace of tracks like "New Awakening", "All That We Have", and "The Call" will be hard pressed to not pull older fans back to the fold. They even tossed in a number of short solos as well, most notably with "The Turning Point" and "A Tribute to the Fallen", which makes me wonder why they've hid them away in so many past releases. If there is one weak point, it's the length of the tracks, which for the most part stick in that 3-4 minute arrangement and I would love to hear some of these tracke elaborated a bit just to hear them a bit longer (leave 'em wanting more I suppose).
While this is more of a riff-monster of an album than the last record, Leach also elevates it with his return. I've always felt his vocals were a bit more aggressive than Howard's, and he meshes with the sound of Disarm the Descent to the point where you'd never realized he had left the band. His positive lyrics are always a refreshing change of pace from my usual dosage of the standard 'doom and gloom' metal lyrics and this release is no exception. One new addition to the table (clearly taken from Times of Grace) is the harmonization of Leach and Dutkiewicz in the choruses. I absolutely love the way their vocals mesh, and it makes for some exceptional choruses (see "Beyond the Flames", "Always", "Time Will Not Remain" for the best examples). I found the standard 'mellow' song "Always" to be their most compelling since "My Last Serenade", with slightly cliche-yet-touching lyrics and striking chorus. Leach's work on the anthemic closing "Time Will Not Remain" will almost certainly become a live staple, with his lyrics and vocal delivery at their peak.
It's hard not to be excited listening to Disarm the Descent. I didn't realize how much I had missed this band from my rotating playlist. While it will not leave the same lasting mark on the metal community as AoJB, it's a more than suitable spiritual successor. Welcome back Jesse!