Killswitch Engage's 8 tips on mastering metalcore
You'll never get them to say it themselves, but Killswitch Engage played a major role in the emergence and resurgence of modern metal.
They helped to shape the melodic metalcore sound that pervades today's heavy scene and influenced everyone from Trivium to Parkway Drive and The Devil Wears Prada along the way.
We sat down with guitarists Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel to find out their tips on writing, riffing, recording and living like a metalcore hero…
Paradoxically, hard material can be the most enjoyable to play, which is extra motivation to keep your chops up!
Adam: "I always think it's all terrible, what I've written. It's like, 'What have I DONE!?' The new stuff's fun, though, and it's probably the most challenging stuff we've written."
Joel: "It's definitely more technical, compared to stuff we've done in the past. It's hard at first, but as you get the songs down it's a lot of fun. New Awakening is a tough riff to play!"
Adam: "New Awakening is a pain in the ass!"
Joel: "There's loads of tapping in the riff, so it's a pain in the butt. But that's a good thing. It's like, 'How come you wrote that riff?' And it's like [joking], 'Because it looks cool!' It doesn't sound very good - but it looks cool!"
Be honest with each other
Honesty and trust seem integral to Killswitch's writing process. If the rest of the band isn't down with a part - it's out.
Adam: "Some days somebody will write an entire song, some days somebody will write most of a song and then we'll spice it up and chop it up, but if somebody writes something and one riff sticks out that's just lame, we'll be like, 'That sucks. Get it out of there!' We're all friends, so we can give each other as much shit as we want."
Joel: "Yeah, if somebody says, 'That sucks…' Everybody agrees. It's like, 'Ah, you're right!'"
There's no wrong way to write a song
At the risk of stating the obvious: if it gets the job done, go with it. If it's not working, try something else. Indeed, the only common factor in Killswitch's writing is…
Joel: "We eat a lot of pizza! That always seems to happen when we're writing for some reason!"
Adam: "When I'm writing, I sometimes like to not have my instrument and just write in my head. I find that better ideas come out of that. Then I sing it into my iPhone - always - that's the best way… I think when you force songs out, they don't come out as good as when they're natural and inspired."
Engage killer tone
Metalcore is all about tight riffing, so whatever gear you choose make sure it doesn't muddy your tone. And if one amp doesn't cut it, try two!
Joel: "I use Caparison guitars. I usually take one or two with me of the JSM [Joel's signature guitar] models that I've done with them for a few years.
"The amp is a Laney Ironheart 120-watt head into a 4X12 cabinet with V30 [Celestion Vintage 30 ] speakers. Then we're using the Laney Lionhearts - the little blue combos - and we're A/B-ing them for the clean tones and the Ironheart for distortion. For pedals, I just have a Maxon Compressor on the clean and a Maxon 808 on the dirty."
Adam: "I'm the same setup, except I'm playing EVH Wolfgang guitars now, with a lot of the guts ripped out of it, so there's less stuff I can break!"
Be loud, proud and valve
While more and more metalcorers tend to favour modelling heads like the Fractal Axe-FX II and Kemper Profiling Amp, Killswitch still kick it old school…
Joel: "We like a more of a classic guitar sound: mid-range, but with a little extra gain and a little extra low-end, [so we prefer tube amps] and the Laneys sound great - they're really focussed and musical."
Adam: "I don't if it's just the romantic in me, but I just think guitar playing should be coming from valves pushing electric currents and moving speakers. That's rock 'n' roll man. Instead of turning it on and having a fancy looking f**king slot machine…"
Joel: "Next time we're here we'll be using Kempers!"
Max out on a Maxon
Maxon's 808s overdrive, a take on the perennially popular Ibanez Tubescreamer, is ubiquitous in heavy circles and could transform your tone…
Joel: "They're just really well made, awesome-sounding pedals. Maxon was the company that made the chips for a lot of the highly regarded vintage Ibanez pedals and their own stuff is great.
"It adds a little charm to everything. I think the 808s just give it a little bit of that compression and a little bit of the solid-state pick attack on top that is sometimes missing from a lot of high-gain tube amps. It gets rid of the flubbiness!"
Over-production is one of the most common pitfalls new metal bands fall into when recording. Over-compression and over-correction run rife in metalcore…
Adam: "A lot of the new records are beginning to sound a little 'too Pro Tools' for me, like they've had a little too much editing and been stuck too much to the grid."
Joel: "Yeah, even the guitar parts - with the guitar tone and drum tone - you almost can't tell if things are programmed. Guitars are [recorded] direct and a lot of things are getting a little more sterile. I think it's just an easy way out."
Adam: "Mastering these days is just pretty mental. It's insane how loud a lot of records are. The EQ curves just have this huge spike at that 2.7/3kHz range [the upper-mid frequences] where it's just breaking your ear. It's painful!"
Maintain your modesty
Finally - if you're successful - keep your feet on the ground. There are no egos in Killswitch and they helped kick-start a whole scene. Not that they'll accept the accolade…
Adam: "[Laughs] We don't look at it like that! We're just a band doing our thing. I don't think we're necessarily responsible for a whole movement or anything like that."
Joel: "There are a lot of bands that came around at the same time as us. Bands that were better than us but never got noticed. We were just kind of lucky enough to get some recognition. But it is definitely flattering when people say stuff like that."
Adam: "We're just lucky!"
Joel: "Pretty much!"