The arguable forefathers of metalcore and longtime leaders of the new wave of American heavy metal, Killswitch Engage, have returned with their seventh full-length album, Incarnate. Of course, the big news with this album is that it's their second with returning vocalist Jesse Leach, who rejoined the band in 2012 and performed on Disarm the Descent, which was the first album with Leach since the landmark 2002 metalcore staple, Alive or Just Breathing. Alive or Just Breathing single-handedly influenced a legion of bands that followed in the sizable footsteps set forth by Killswitch Engage, and though Killswitch hasn't been known for straying too far from their own formula, why fix something that isn't broken? Incarnate sees the band continuing to do what they do so well: creating crushing, catchy and accessible metal that's hard not to enjoy, no matter what walk of metal the listener may be coming from.
It's safe to say that Incarnate is a much stronger album overall than its predecessor. Though Disarm the Descent was by no means a bad album, it lacked cohesiveness and felt like Killswitch Engage was still getting re-accustomed to having Leach back in the band. This time around though, it's apparent that Leach has once again become an integral piece of the band he helped to form, and honestly, it's damn great to hear his voice soaring and screaming across these songs, many of which can hold up to the classics Killswitch have already cemented in the lore of modern metal. As revered as Howard Jones was, Leach is far and away a much better fit for Killswitch Engage, and his impassioned performance on Incarnate proves it. From the opening notes of "Alone I Stand" to the final cry of "Ascension," Leach gives a performance as confident and heartfelt as ever, and one punctuated by the fact that these are some of the best songs Killswitch Engage has ever written.
Incarnate is certainly no slouch in the riffs department, either. Adam D. and Joel Stroetzel have always been one of the most adept guitar duos in modern metal, and whether they're smashing faces in with teeth-grinding grooves or wetting eyes with gorgeous melodies, they do so with amazing precision and skill. Incarnate features some of the heaviest songs ever from Killswitch, both sonically and thematically. Leach touches on themes of racism, suicide and other heavy subject matter in his powerful and touching lyrics, and it's likely that several of these songs will become staples of Killswitch's live set, especially "Strength of the Mind," which is bound to become the "My Last Serenade" for a new generation of Killswitch fans. Killswitch also pulls some new tricks out of their musical hat on Incarnate, flirting with odd time signatures on some songs, channeling their inner Iron Maiden on "Until the Day," and even going borderline death metal on "The Great Deceit." There are plenty of headbangable moments to be found throughout, but of course, the heart-wrenching melodies are what stick the most.
Killswitch Engage really are masters of their craft at this point in the game, and while the familiarity of Incarnate is its biggest strength, it could also be perceived as its biggest flaw. Some may not like the fact that Killswitch hasn't really changed its approach after 16 years as a band, but then again, Killswitch isn't trying to push the envelope anymore. They did that already 16 years ago, but that doesn't mean they aren't still doing great things for metal. Their songcraft has always been a cut above the rest, and while there are a couple of duds on Incarnate, the album is really full of songs that are very easy to keep coming back to, and more importantly, hard to forget. It's nigh impossible to not listen to the album one time and not have at least one memorable chorus or catchy riff drill its way into your brain, and that shows the strength of the album. Time will determine how Incarnate stacks up to rest of Killswitch's legendary catalog, but with songs like these, it's hard to imagine that this album won't breathe new life into a band that's still going strong. As long as they keep releasing albums like Incarnate, Killswitch Engage won't be bidding farewell anytime soon.