I've never been known for my memory. It usually takes several conversations before I learn a name. I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast this morning, let alone anything beyond that. But I distinctly recall the first time I heard Killswitch Engage's Alive or Just Breathing. Sitting at my kitchen table doing menial middle school home work, I put a CD that I friend of mine told me I had to hear in my Walkman and pressed play.
Immediately I was blown away. I was inspired by the uncharacteristically positive lyrical content and loved the perfect chemistry of singing and screaming. The album had a profound impact on me, opening the door to heavy music by allowing me to realize that Slipknot was not, in fact, the best band in existence. I still consider Alive or Just Breathing a masterpiece of the metalcore genre. Although other artists had pioneered the sound, I believe that Killswitch Engage perfected it.
I could hardly contain my excitement when witnessing the triumphant return of original vocalist Jesse Leach at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival earlier this year, but I was even more ecstatic to learn that the band would celebrate the tenth anniversary of Alive or Just Breathing with a tour in which they perform the 2002 breakthrough album in its entirety. I attended the December 19th stop at Pearl Street in Northampton, MA - the closest to a hometown show on the tour.
Although the crowd was primed for Killswitch Engage to come right out with Alive or Just Breathing, they instead teased the audience by opening with two post-Leach songs: "A Bid Farewell" and "Rose of Sharyn." Regardless of frontman, Killswitch's live show remains both entertaining (thanks, in no small part, to guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz's over-the-top stage antics) and musically sound. Leach was great with the songs originally performed by his successor, Howard Jones, but it was his own material for which the longtime fans yearned.
Finally, Leach screamed "The time approaches!" for the the bombastic opening of "Numbered Days." For the next 45 minutes, the sold-out crowd was treated to Alive or Just Breathing from front to back. The album contains some of the band's most well known hits, such as "My Last Serenade" and Fixation on the Darkness," but I was more interested in hearing the deep cuts. I was particularly excited for "Rise Inside," the album's lengthy closer. A longtime favorite of mine (I even named my crappy band in high school after it), I never thought I'd see the song performed live. I don't think the band had ever played it before this tour, but they nailed it.
Upon completion of the album, the band did two more Jones-era songs, "My Curse" and "The End of Heartache." Although that's where the show ended at the other stops of the tour, the band came out for a special encore for their loyal homestate friends. It featured "Take This Oath" (the studio version of which features a guest spot from Leach) followed two cuts from their self-titled debut, the instrumental "Prelude" and "In the Unblind." It was nice to cap off the night with an old song. The only thing missing was a taste of the new material the band is working on.
The venue was a bit of an odd choice. Although the band collectively hails from nearby Westfield, they had never played at Pearl Street with Leach before. (They played there once with Jones. Dutkiewicz did note that he was born in Northampton.) I expected the show to be an a venue where they cut their teeth as a young band, but Pearl Street served its purpose well. It was exhilarating seeing the band at such an intimate club.
Killswitch's longtime friends in Shadows Fall provided direct support. It was drummer Jason Bittner's first show back after being diagnosed with acute Pancreatitis a couple of months ago. He's a beast behind the kit, so it was great to have him back where he belongs. I'm used to seeing the band at the significantly larger Palladium, but they really thrive in smaller venues. Case in point: vocalist Brian Fair didn't even last one song before going in the crowd. I was hoping for more old songs, given the nature of the tour, but their half-hour set offered a mix of material, including opener "The Light That Blinds," "Destroyer of Senses" and "Still I Rise." They closed with their thrashy rendition of "War," which Fair described as the world's fastest Bob Marley cover.
Acaro warmed up the pit earlier in the night with a tight performance. They have been making a name for themselves in the Massachusetts metalcore scene for a few years now, and this may be the tour that finally gets them known beyond New England. Vocalist Chris Harrell knows how to command an audience. He even did a stage dive during the band's closing song and then crowd surfed his way back to the merch booth when they were done. It's also with noting that drummer Jason Fitzgerald previously played with members of Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall in the legendary Overcast. Once Beloved, featuring Diecast guitarist Jon Kita, served as local openers to set the tone for the evening.
Killswitch Engage's Alive or Just Breathing 10th anniversary tour proved to be nostalgic not only for the performance of the album, but it also brought to mind a time when the metal scene was dominated by Massachusetts natives. It was great to witness a night full of passionate musicians who are in it for the right reasons and do it well. With Killswitch back in full force, I hope to see another resurgence of that integrity.