Review: Killswitch Engage – ‘Atonement’

‘Atonement’ is the album-that-almost-never-was. After undergoing throat surgery, Killswitch vocalist Jesse Leach was left pondering if his career was indeed over. That would have been a hard one to take. With Leach back in the band after a decade out, Killswitch stepped up to the big leagues. 2016’s ‘Incarnate’ landed at No6 on the Billboard Top 200, giving the band their highest chart position yet, as well as being their third consecutive Top 10 album.

After surgery, Leach had to undergo, not just speech therapy, but also vocal and scream therapy. It’s remarkable that with such adversity to overcome, Leach sounds better than before, on what is obviously a deeply personal album for him. ‘I Am Broken Too’ is a cathartic few minutes that begins with the lines ‘You carry this weight trying to cover your mistakes, to make it seem like nothing could ever break you’. There will be thousands of Killswitch fans that will identify with ‘I Am Broken Too’, never underestimate the strength that is found from within once the realisation of not being the only one suffering sinks in.

‘Atonement’ has plenty of killer moments that you might have come to expect from KsE. There are no rapid changes in style, no attempts to reach a newer, bigger audience, it’s a Killswitch album. Lead guitarist/producer Adam D sounds on fire, ably supported by the crucial rhythm work from Joel Stroetzel (the melodic intro to ‘Us Against The World’ is all too short, but oh so sweet). Then there is the spine of the band; bassist Mike D’Antonio and partner in crime, drummer Justin Foley, both bring a sublime swing to the aforementioned ‘Us Against The World’. You might need to dig through the screams to find it, but the swing is there. Likewise, on ‘Know Your Enemy’ Foley displays quite a simplistic touch at times, where others would be tempted to overplay, he reigns it in and allows the song to breathe. Foley does however release the hounds on closing track ‘Bite The Hand That Feeds’.

The main focus on ‘Atonement’ is aimed squarely at ‘The Signal Fire’, not just because it’s a total banger, but because it features Leach going toe-to-toe with the man that replaced him in Killswitch back in 2002 (and who Leach in turn replaced in 2012) – Howard Jones. By Christ it’s massive and if ever proof was needed that Leach was firing on all cylinders after his surgery, here it is. The best of both worlds? Hell yeah it is. On the subject of guest appearances, how about Chuck Billy popping up in his inimitable style on the thrash-tastic ‘The Crownless King’? Hit play, hit rewind, then repeat..over and over.

Leach has channelled his throat issues, mental health struggles, and a bout of writer’s block into his song-writing. The end result is an album that ultimately offers up hope, as well as a call-to-arms…on ‘Take Control’; ”When the fear and panic takes a hold, look within your soul, when your sorrow drags you down below, you must take control.”

There is something very profound about ‘Atonement’ being the first Killswitch Engage album to appear on Metal Blade Records, hopefully this will be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Purchase ‘Atonement’ here.

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