Anyone claiming they always knew KILLSWITCH ENGAGE would reunite with original vocalist Jesse Leach witnessed neither the distressing circumstances surrounding their original separation, nor the commercial triumphs quickly enjoyed by the remaining band members and his very able replacement, Howard Jones.Indeed, until dwindling inspiration, shrinking album sales and frayed personal relationships (not necessarily in that order) gradually conspired to push Jones out the door and KsE up against the wall, a reunion with Leach seemed both unlikely and, well, unnecessary. But now, of course, the reunion is well underway, and, while we still refuse to award brownie points for retroactive 'told you sos,' fans obviously have every reason to be excited about the release of "Disarm the Descent" - KsE's sixth studio album, and first with Leach in almost 11 years. After all, the band's last outing with the singer, 2002's era-defining "Alive or Just Breathing", remains, by most accounts, the gold standard of American melodic metalcore and therefore, KsE's career; so what better chance for the band to revive its ailing fortunes than with Leach back in the fold, and a massive chip on their collective shoulders? So it goes without saying that the reconstituted band employs a back-to-basics approach throughout "Disarm the Descent", wisely foregoing innovation in order to revisit the formula no one's really managed to improve upon since "Alive?" and, one would assume, giving fans exactly what they've been hankering for all these years. However, whether KsE succeeds or fails at this endeavor will frankly have a lot to do with individual listeners' personal standards and expectations, because only a serious amount of hair-splitting will ultimately decide whether infectious new singles like "Beyond the Flames", "In Due Time" and "Turning Point" ? with their trademarked Gothenburg melodies, serpentine riffs and wobbling harmonics - will stand up as bona fide new classics, or a mere recycling of past glories. What's more, some of the harshest conflagrations of dark and light on display here - songs like "All We Have" and "The Call", which alternate their harmonic hooks with bursts of quasi-black-metal velocity and ferocity - remind us that extremes of horror and beauty virtually define the KsE appeal; so it's interesting to realize just how streamlined those contrasts had become, of late, in part because of Howard Jones' effortlessly smooth, huggy-bear power operatics. By comparison, Leach's vocal duality almost sounds a little strained (and the murmured asides he first helped popularize are conspicuously absent), but, as it turns out, this helps explain why his emotions come across that much more believably - then and now. One thing is certain: the memorable songwriting touch that always differentiated KILLSWITCH from even their biggest competitors, and which was astonishingly absent from 2009's eponymous LP, is back in force on "Disarm and Descent", along with Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel's exhilarating twin-guitar interplay and a bevvy of unusually flamboyant guitar solos. No, "Disarm the Descent" isn't perfect, faltering near the finish line by sneaking an ill-fitting, semi-ballad ("Always") where simply dropping a few songs would have worked better; but, for most all intents and purposes, this is obviously the album KsE needed to make - for themselves and fans - and it's now for the rock and roll fates to decide whether it brings the band failure or redemption.
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