When Killswitch Engage guitarist, songwriter, producer and all-around metalcore mastermind Adam Dutkiewicz teamed with vocalist Jesse Leach to create Times Of Grace, many probably expected the results to sound like "Alive Or Just Breathing, Part II." Leach, after all, fronted Killswitch Engage on that breakthrough CD, only to leave the band just a few months later. He was replaced by Howard Jones, and the rest, as they say, is history. (Meanwhile Leach, who suffered from voice problems during his time with Killswitch, learned some proper vocal technique and went on to sing for the criminally unappreciated Seemless.)
"Hymn Of A Broken Man" does sound like the sequel to "Alive" in places ("Strength In Numbers," "Live In Love," "Hope Remains" and "Worlds Apart" would fit on any Killswitch CD--and there's nothing wrong with that, IMHO) but this album also extends far beyond the metalcore template. "Fight For Life" and "The End Of Eternity" call to mind Tool and (as another reviewer noted) Alice In Chains. "The Forgotten One" is a bluesy, bare-bones acoustic song (and I wish there were more like this one, I love Jesse's vocals here.) "In The Arms Of Mercy" is a heartbreakingly beautiful instrumental. And "Fall From Grace" brings the proceedings to a close with a song that manages to be at once heavy, ethereal and beautiful. Dutkiewicz actually sings lead on "Fall From Grace" and shares lead vocal duties with Leach on several other tracks, notably "The Forgotten One," "Until The End Of Days" and the title song. While he lacks Leach's range and depth, Dutkiewicz's singing here is surprisingly serious and emotional, for a man otherwise known as metal's class clown. Dutkiewicz plays all the instruments and (of course) produces here, and he's built a powerful and solid musical base for Leach's soulful clean singing and piercing screams. Leach's lyrics, steeped in his strong Christian faith, focus on the search for hope and redemption in the midst of loss and despair. He manages to speak to the spiritual longings in all of us without being too preachy, and that's no small feat.
"Hymn Of A Broken Man" was conceived and written during Dutkiewicz's lengthy recovery from emergency surgery for near-crippling back issues, and Leach has said he was battling some demons of his own while making the record. Maybe it's because I've seen some very dark days myself recently (I'm from Tucson...enough said) but this album has really affected me. I can't remember the last time, if ever, that a metal album moved me to tears. This one did.
Could the best metal album of 2011 have just been released? It's quite possible. Times Of Grace has definitely set the bar high for the rest of this year's metal music releases. "Hymn Of A Broken Man" is a profound musical effort, and should be on a lot of "Best Album" lists at the end of the year, and not just for the metal genre.