"Killswitch Engage is about flipping
the switch, and sending things into a grinding halt, both musically and
emotionally," states Killswitch Engage bassist Mike D'Antonio. Dead stop. A
single, focused emotional and physical release. That is the feeling at
Killswitch's core. Alive Or Just Breathing, the Massachusetts-area band's
Roadrunner debut is a white light, white-hot explosion of spirit and substance.
"It's a calling," says vocalist Jesse David Leach. "I want people
to feel the urgency and desperation I feel. I want people to stop and think
about what's going on instead of walking through life. Hence, the title: are you
alive or are you just taking in the air?"
From the first note, Alive or Just Breathing is about impact. While Killswitch Engage revel in heaviness and cobra-like riffing, there's also a sense of frailty that underscores their metallic din. Their subtle use of melody makes their songs all the more affecting and poignant. Tracks like the brutally grooving "Fixation On The Darkness" and "Alive Or Just Breathing" run the gamut of emotions, yet they never waver in intensity. "It's loud - it's in your face and you can't ignore it," states Leech.
The history of Killswitch Engage is the clearest signpost of their present sonic revolution. "It's a unique collection of people that could only come from years of doing things separately, struggling with music and finally coming together to form one band," says the frontman. While guitarists Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz (who also recorded the drum tracks on Alive or Just Breathing) toiled in Massachusetts metallurgists Aftershock, vocalist Leech cut his teeth with a few outfits in the Providence area. It was D'Antonio's tenure in the much overlooked but highly influential Overcast that most clearly indicates where the roots of Killswitch lay.
"Overcast was a band that started when hardcore and metal were just starting to come together." Mike recalls. In 1998, with a clutch of releases to their name - as well as influencing the entire metal core movement of bands likes Lamb of God and Shadows Fall (who boast ex-Overcast throat, Brian Fair) -- Overcast called it quits. After a bit of downtime, Mike came together with Dutkiewicz and Stroezel. The chemistry was instant. The only missing ingredient was a voice. After many frustrated months, Leech was called in for an audition. "We played one song and there was no question about it, we had found the guy," Mike recalls. That crucial chemistry was then first heard on Killswitch Engage's, 2000 self-titled, Ferret Records debut and became an instant underground classic. Gigging with the likes of Swedish riff-heroes In Flames, appearances at high profile festivals including The Worcester Metal and Hardcore Festival as well as Syracuse's Hellfest - documented on Trustkill Records' "Hellfest" home video -- quickly built Killswitch Engage a ferocious live rep.
In early 2001, Killswitch Engage began writing Alive Or Just Breathing. Based on the strengths of a demo, Dutkiewicz - also known for his production work with underground groups such as From Autumn To Ashes and Unearth - was asked by the band and label to handle the album's production chores, with noted metal-man Andy Sneap (Machine Head, Stuck Mojo) mixing. The results are staggering. Based on the sheer impact of Adam's demos, Kerrang! Magazine cited Killswitch as one of "The Hottest New Bands of 2002". The album itself - described by the drummer/producer as "the hardest I've ever worked on any record" - is a stunning alloy of beauty, brutality, melody, desperation, and urgency.
From the onrush of opener, "Numbered Days", Killswitch Engage make their point with a furious conviction. "Babylon, you will fall/Your days are numbered!" spits Leech, who grew up a Minister's son before discovering the intensities of metal and hardcore as well as the quiet beauty of roots reggae. "That song is directly aimed at the people who are creating negativity. My message to those people is simple: whether it's judgment or karma, those things always come back to you." "There is a spiritual aspect to what we stand for," the singer admits. "Yet, I also know that once you start professing any one belief, you're immediately closing people off." The song "Self Revolution" is not only an idea, but also a call to arms. "To me that's an idea at the core of Killswitch Engage," Leech states. "Mental revolution." Killswitch Engage isn't all in the head and heart though – they are a heavy dose of visceral passion. Consider Alive or Just Breathing's final track, "Rise Inside" with it's cry of "The time has come to make a difference." Clearly, their revolution isn't exactly a passive one.
"That's a call to my brothers and sisters." Jesse explains, "There's a line at the end of that song - 'If I stand alone I will fight for you.' I'm that convicted about this." The switch has been flipped, there's no turning back. Now is the time to ask yourself, "Are you alive? Or just breathing?"