Interview: Killswitch Engage

Interview: Killswitch Engage

The last half decade of Killswitch Engage’s career is a story that has been told countless times in the music press. Beginning with the departure of the band’s former vocalist Howard Jones – a figure beloved and respected by hardcore and casual fans alike for his incredible vocal prowess that defined so many of their greatest songs.

But, after a tumultuous period of uncertainty, original vocalist Jesse Leach’s return was the perfect solution – rejuvenating the band at a time where most of their contemporaries were on the wane. This year, the band released ‘Disarm The Descent’’s follow up entitled ‘Incarnate’, and have toured pretty relentlessly since then. So what’s it like to be in Killswitch Engage right now?

“It’s good man, everyone’s a little tired ‘cause we’re approaching the end of a long year, but it’s been good: a lot of good touring and stuff and we’re excited” opens guitarist Joel Stroetzel. “We’ve got a new DVD coming out, probably hopefully start working on a new record next year.”

With ‘Incarnate’ only hitting shelves in March, thoughts of a new record this early on can often be the sign of a band wanting to move on from a poorly received release, but in KSE’s case, the larger gap between albums since Howard’s departure might just mean that the creative itch has been more intense than usual. A mix of the more melodic moodiness that defined a lot of the Howard-era, while still retaining the relentlessness and uplifting nature of the Jesse’s tenure, the band certainly aren’t interested in sweeping this record under the rug, with a quarter of tonight’s set being dedicated to it.

“It’s hard to say which ones are our favourite, sometimes the ones we play live are different favourites, it depends on crowd reaction. We’ve been doing ‘Hate By Design’, it’s a good dancey song, people get into that one so that’s always fun. We recently added ‘Cut Me Loose’ to the set which is going over pretty well too,” explains Stroetzel.

A song that explores suicidal thoughts and finding light in darkness (as Leach’s lyrics often do), ‘Cut Me Loose’ is the band’s latest single, and while on the whole ‘Incarnate’ wasn’t quite as hot as ‘Disarm The Descent’, this is undoubtedly one of its standout tracks, and features a music video that juxtaposes self immolation with a performance segment filmed on a salt plain.

“It was really hot out there, the sun was pretty intense, but yeah we had fun. We made sure there was plenty of cold beer and a tent to hide under between takes. It’s a concept that Jesse and Travis (Shinn) the director came up with together. The song’s about depression and suicide so they thought the guy in the fire backwards would be a cool way to do it, and it’s kind of a nice contrast to the performance part too.”

However, as they look to the future, Killswitch Engage aren’t afraid to revisit their past, as this coming January they will tour Australia to celebrate the the 15th anniversary of their seminal record ‘Alive Or Just Breathing’. While undeniable Killswitch tracks like ‘My Last Serenade’ will always have a place in a Killswitch set, Stroetzel makes it clear that this is just as much for them as it is for the fans.

“It’s kind of nostalgic for us to go back and play older material like that. We actually did a short Alive Or Just Breathing tour back in 2010 for the ten year anniversary. We were supposed to do it in Australia, but the festival was cancelled, so now it’s actually the 15th anniversary of that record. We asked the promoter if we should do this, and people seemed into it, so yeah it’s fun for us. I always liked playing ‘Element Of One’. We used to play it more – we just have so much material these days that it hasn’t really popped into the set for a while so it’s going to be fun to play that one again.”

Indeed, with such a wealth of material at their behind them, now seems as good a time as any to reflect upon what has brought them to this point. Not only are they revisiting older material, the Massachusetts five-piece have just released a new DVD entitled ‘Beyond The Flames – Home Video Vol. 2’ and will be the first video release since 2005’s ’(Set This) World Ablaze’ live album.

“We did a DVD like ten years ago and it was focussed on the live show with the documentary attached, this one’s more focussed on the documentary part of it, and then there’s some bonus stuff, some live raw stuff but it’s mostly the documentary,” explains the guitarist. “It’s kind of about Jesse coming back to the band and where we’ve been over the past five years since his return, so it touches on a lot of stuff.”

"We can’t go off and do 200 shows a year like we did back in the day, but everyone’s still having a fun time”

Having now been an active unit for the best part of twenty years, it seems fitting that now should be a time for reflection. Looking outward at the metal world, the old guard are beginning to fade away: Black Sabbath and Aerosmith have already begun their farewell tours, while the mortality of heritage acts Metallica, Iron Maiden and AC/DC is constantly called into question. This sort of conversation may be some ways off for Killswitch Engage, but with a light that burns as brightly and intensely as theirs, will their be a conscious effort to address this on future releases?

“We can definitely feel that we’re older now,” concedes Joel. “We can’t go off and do 200 shows a year like we did back in the day, but everyone’s still having a fun time, it’s all about moderation too I think: spend enough time on the road until you get sick of that, then go home and do a record and when you’re sick of being home it’s time to go on the road again, so as long as there’s a balance everybody’s happy.”

While the band can’t deny their age, this doesn’t necessarily mean a compromise in sound is on the horizon. Incarnate’s b-sides ‘Triumph Through Tragedy’ and ‘Loyalty’ contain some of the heaviest moments in the Killswitch’s career to date.

“I think everyone just kind of writes and has their own style, it’s really cool that everyone in the band writes demos and stuff so that we have a lot of material to choose from and everyone’s material is very different, so we just kind of go with what we like regardless of what style it is. Some songs are more melodic than others, some are sludgier, some are thrashier, it doesn’t really matter if everybody likes it.”

With their new retrospective documentary and an anniversary tour on the near horizon, it appears Killswitch Engage aren’t interested in looking too far into the future. Sporting one of the most celebrated back catalogues in metal’s history, they have little left to prove, and with live performances as flawless as their recent UK shows, there shouldn’t be too much concern about time catching the band up just yet.

‘Beyond The Flames – Home Video Vol. 2’ and ‘Incarnate’ by Killswitch Engage are available now on Roadrunner Records.

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Words by Josh Graham (@jollyboyjosh_)