When KILLSWITCH ENGAGE burst onto the scene in 2002, they lived up to the promise of New England scene legends OVERCAST (from which they had descended) with a sound that defied the nu-metal trends of the moment and went for something a little more traditional, yet still modern enough to sound fresh. A potential setback for the group — the departure of vocalist Jesse Leach almost as soon as their Roadrunner debut, "Alive Or Just Breathing", was released — turned into a golden opportunity as they recruited BLOOD HAS BEEN SHED frontman Howard Jones to step in. Jones helped elevate the already seasoned band to a new level as a live unit, and the chemistry they've developed since then has paid off in crushing style with the band's third effort, "The End Of Heartache".As with their second album, KILLSWITCH ENGAGE liberally blends many different styles of metal and hardcore into an intense, fiery stew. Riffs with roots firmly planted in the great American thrash and European metal traditions peel out of every single song, bolstered by a rhythm section, featuring solid new drummer Justin Foley, that is relentless. "The End Of Heartache" features ten songs and two brief instrumentals, and its relatively short (under 43 minutes) length and wall-to-wall sequencing (all the songs bleed into each other) ensure that the music doesn't get stale and the listener only gets a breath when the band permits. The quintet has bigger things on their minds as well, as epic tracks like "When Darkness Falls" and the title cut build to gigantic crescendos of power and emotion. Jones is a nimble and diverse singer, easily jumping from a bloodcurdling growl to a soulful croon, and while he occasionally skirts on the edge of emo-style plaintiveness, he never lets himself fall into that abyss. Those two songs also underline KILLSWITCH ENGAGE's growing prowess as songwriters: both mix muscle with melodicism, showcasing memorable choruses and fluid arrangements, whereas some of the other songs pile up the riffage without necessarily organizing it into a completely catchy structure. But even the band's less unforgettable material makes up for that with sheer metallic crunch, and the group is clearly progressing in the right direction in any case. Add a vicious, in-your-face production by guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and a razor-sharp mix from the always-brilliant Andy Sneap, and you've got a certain contender for one of the best all-out metal albums of the year. It may be the end of heartache, but KILLSWITCH ENGAGE shows that metal is not just breathing, but indisputably alive.
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