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.
The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival has been a staple of the Massachusetts music scene for 14 years now. I attended the third day of this year’s festivities at The Palladium in Worcester, MA on April 22. The two prior days featured such acts as All That Remains, The Black Dahlia Murder, DragonForce, The Acacia Strain, Overkill and tons more, but the sold out final day touted the highly anticipated return of Killswitch Engage.
I arrived just in time to catch Recon on the second stage. It was their return show and first with new vocalist Rob Fusco. Recon's music is more straightforward than Fusco's past projects (Most Precious Blood, One King Down), but he seemed to have fun. The crowd kept a healthy mosh going for their 20-minute set. In fact, the second stage was virtually a non-stop mosh pit - with the occasional stage dive - throughout the day.
On Broken Wings’ music is chock full of mindless breakdowns, but it’s always fun to see them in their homestate of Massachusetts, where kids go hard. The moshing was mostly respectful, despite encouragements for violence. The band has been laying low for a while, but they just recorded some fresh material and played one of the new songs. Longtime staples “I Do My Crosswords in Pen” and “Listless” really got the crowd going.
After their opening song, Stick to Your Guns frontman Jesse Barnett remarked how he couldn’t believe that he hadn’t seen one person jump off the stage yet. That’s all it took; the next song, “What Goes Around,” was a frenzy of stage diving. It continued throughout the remainder of their half-hour set, until the stage became a sing-along pile-on for closer “This Is More.” It was good to hear Josh James (of Evergreen Terrace and Casey Jones), the latest addition to STYG, doing some back-up vocals as well.
I’m not familiar with Sleeping Giant, but they were headlining the second stage (and my other option was Chelsea Grin), so I stuck around to check them out. It got surprisingly personal. Before “Eyes Wide Open,” vocalist Tom Green revealed that he was molested by his babysitter at the age of 4. The trauma in turn ruined his first marriage and affected his children. Despite the abuse, he said that he still believes in God (which received a lukewarm response). Green spoke about his religion a few times throughout the half-hour set, getting dangerously preachy at times, but he was so passionate and genuine that it was hard to mind even from an atheistic standpoint. Performing is his way to work out those demons, and members of the audience clearly shared that mindset.
With the second stage wrapped, I headed downstairs for the main stage. The vibe is completely different there. Where is the upstairs of The Palladium provides an intimate show perfect for a couple hundred tightly-packed kids, the main room is a full-scale concert hall that holds over 2,000 people. As such, most of the hardcore bands played upstairs, while the metal groups were downstairs.
I got to the main stage right before another Christian band, For Today, went on. I had just checked out their new album and enjoyed their August Burns Red-esque metalcore sound, so I was interested to see them. They delivered a solid set, and it too was not without a little bit of preaching. Frontman Mattie Montgomery proclaimed that if you feel broken, there is always hope in Jesus Christ. The band was joined by Matthew Hasting of fellow fellow Christian group MyChildren MyBride for "Devastator.” At one point, Montgomery went onto the barricade to sing; it’s always nice to see musicians bridge the gap with fans.
I have never made my disdain for Emmure a secret, and their live show certainly did nothing to change my opinion. I will say this: there were a lot of kids into them. More power to ‘em. I just don’t get it.
Vanna went through some line-up changes only a couple of months ago, but it didn’t seem to impact their live show. They always get a good reaction in their homestate, and Metal Fest was no exception. They kicked it off with the “Let’s Have an Earthquake,” a great opener. Matt Lanners, vocalist of The Greenery (who played the previous day), later came out for a guest spot. I was happy to learn that the band still plays “A Dead Language For A Dying Lady,” despite it being from two vocalists ago, and the audience loved singing along. They closed with “Trashmouth,” at the end of which the band members dove into the crowd.
Every Time I Die opened with “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space,” the first track on the new album. It was the perfect way to set the pace for the energetic, 45-minute set. Everyone running around the stage at all times mixed with the inherent aggressiveness of the music made for quite an intense live show. There was even a fan in a beer can costume moshing and crowd surfing. With a new album to support and five others to also choose from, the band’s set was a mixed bag. They threw in “The Logic of Crocodiles,” from their full-length debut, for the old school fans. Frontman Keith Buckley asked for as many high fives as humanly possible during the second to last song, “We’rewolf” - which spawned an army of fans crowd surfing their way to the front. The band then closed with “Ebolarama.”
Killswitch Engage’s Alive or Just Breathing played a large role in developing my taste for heavy music, so to say that I was ecstatic to see their first show back with original vocalist Jesse Leach would be an understatement. I am happy to report that the show did not disappoint, and Killswitch Engage is officially back.
The band entered the stage, appropriately, to the tune of Peaches & Herb's "Reunited.” They started with a bang as the pulsating “Numbered Days” kicked in and continued on through “Self Revolution” and “Fixation on the Darkness.” At this point, I thought that perhaps the band was surprising fans with a complete performance of Alive or Just Breathing (as those are the first three tracks). Unfortunately, that was not the case - but the hour and a half set was still more than worthwhile.
Leach dedicated the next song, “Rose of Sharyn,” to former vocalist Howard Jones. The situation is awkward from the outside, so it’s great to see them being respectful about it. Leach took it a step further later when he confessed that “The Arms of Sorrow” is his favorite Killswitch song, and he didn’t even write it.
The band played a few more Howard-era songs in addition to the old favorites. They exited the stage after “The End of Heartache,” but fans knew that it wasn’t over yet. It wasn’t long before they returned to play “My Last Serenade.” As an added surprise, they ended the night with a heavy rendition of Dio’s “Holy Diver.” They famously covered it with Jones, but Leach did the iconic song justice as well.
Jones had great power as a frontman, making his performance seem effortless. Leach, on the other hand, gives it his all, with raw passion shining through. The debate as to who is better will rage on amongst fans, but I, for one, am happy to see Jesse back. The band seems rejuvenated and even more energetic than usual. The experience was perfectly described by eccentric guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz as “fucking amazing.” (He went on to confess that he woke up with the biggest boner that morning.)
The beautiful thing about this music scene scene in general is how it unites people, regardless of race, gender, beliefs, etc. The New England Metal and Hardcore Festival takes it one step further; it allows metal heads, hardcore bros, scene kids and mall goths alike, from the old school to the new school, to come together under one roof and enjoy some good music. It's no wonder that the festival continues to be a smashing success each year.