Killswitch Engage’s Incarnate may be their darkest and most diverse yet, but it belies Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel’s relaxed state of mind…
Anyone who has seen Massachusetts metalcore pioneers Killswitch Engage at their blistering, live best, will no doubt have noted the differences between their guitarists, Joel Stroetzel and Adam Dutkiewicz.
While the former takes on a background role, professionally and passionately churning out the melodic death metal-riffs and hardcore chug, the latter has long since adopted the role of clown prince since moving from behind the drum kit.
Though seemingly an odd fit, it’s just one example of the yin and yang that epitomises the band and their music, which continues to evolve from its sturdy foundations.
Don't go soft
We find the pair on a confident footing when discussing the familiar if slightly protracted creative process of seventh album, Incarnate.
Though it’s still packed with the colossal, life-affirming numbers KSE have made their trademark, it’s a more complex and challenging listen than anything they’ve previously put their name to.
The hallmark positivity of Killswitch’s most formidable moments has always been born from places of melancholy and tribulation, but the darkness that permeates both Incarnate’s music and lyrics is notable. The question is, where did it come from?
“We did the usual where everyone writes separately and then everyone comes together to write. But it came out naturally,” assures Adam, dispelling any suggestion that there was an agenda revolutionaise their creative process, but acknowledging Killswitch’s desire to avoid repeating themselves.
“A lot of the songs are Adam’s and Justin’s, which is neat as there’s a different vibe,” adds Joel, offering his own take on the direction of Incarnate. “We were all thrashed out from the last one so it was a way of doing something a little different without getting too soft.”
It’s a testament to Killswitch’s creativity and desire to continually push themselves, given the success and adulation they’ve garnered since forming at the turn of the century.
After all, 2016 sees the band comfortable with their position in the metal hierarchy, firmly established and with a devoted following, but ultimately strong and settled as a unit following the unexpected departure of Howard Jones and return of original vocalist Jesse Leach for 2013’s Disarm The Descent.
Indeed their calm circumstances meant there was no pressure to rush the writing process, so that when Jesse struggled to write lyrics for the music he was presented with, even Adam, who doubles as producer and has a lengthy CV that boasts guidance for everyone from A Day To Remember and Underoath to Parkway Drive and Unearth, was more than happy to give his restored friend the time he needed.
“Everyone was a little more comfortable after having Jesse back, and there were no crazy deadlines so we could take our time with it,” says Joel. “Jesse spent a lot of time writing and demoing things with Adam and I think it worked out better that they had that time to experiment. I know Jesse’s really proud of this one.”
“You never want to rush a lyricist. If the lyrics aren’t heartfelt the listener can hear that,” Adam explains. “If there was a time where he wasn’t feeling it I told him to take a break and come back to it. We had a few issues where we had to stop for a while where we had some tours in between. It came out a little bit later than expected, but he’s happy with it and that’s the most important thing. I think he did a great job.”
While Jesse might have needed to overcome writer’s block, that problem didn’t hinder Adam - he not only wrote extensively for Incarnate, but has also got upcoming albums with he and Jesse’s moodier side project, Times Of Grace, as well as an as-yet-untitled death metal project with Cannibal Corpse bellower George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher and ex-The Black Dahlia Murder sticksman Shannon Lucas.
Adam’s range of material ending up aiding Incarnate’s variation and bringing new approaches to Killswitch; It Falls On Me and We Carry On find the band exploring brooding mid-paced dynamics punctured with swathes of post rock-esque delayed tremolo picking.
“We actually ended up taking some of the songs that were written for Times Of Grace,” Adam explains of these new elements. “I showed the guys. They thought it could work for Killswitch, and they asked if they could try them instead. Those are the songs on the album that are a bit darker, slower and sludgier, but I just figured I could always write more songs for Times Of Grace later. I started sharing! [laughs]”
Joel also reflects that while the band’s fundamental sound is carved in stone, the new musical ingredients are representative of five band members in their mid-to-late 30s with broad musical palettes and a desire to keep their sound fresh and honest.
“It’s unconscious. We listen to a lot of different music, from ambient stuff, to rock with shoegaze-y guitar parts. So it’s nice to experiment with that over metal and you can hear a lot more of that on this record.”
Give the drummer some
The humble, amenable Joel is also altruistic when describing his own contribution to Incarnate, admitting that while he brought a host of riffs and partially completed song ideas to the table, the writing process is truly a collective experience, with each musician helping to fill in the gaps in the songs.
However, he’s keen to deflect attention from his own efforts to heap praise on his bandmates. He commends Adam for holding himself to the same standards as everyone else, though admitting nerves while laying down backing vocals for the first time on record with his fellow guitarist, “Staring at you saying ‘Do it again!’” He also picks drummer Justin Foley out for special praise.
“I’m really happy that Justin’s written a lot of songs for this record. His songs really stand out and make it a lot more diverse than the last one,” he says. “I like Cut Me Loose. It’s sludgey and melodic and has an Alice In Chains vibe to it. I’m looking forward to playing it live but I’m trying to wrap my head around it as it has an odd timing.”
“Obviously Joel and I will write all these crazy metal riffs, and as Justin’s a drummer he’s limited to writing things that are a bit more basic,” adds Adam. “The things he wrote are a bit easier to listen to, with a bit more of a rock ’n’ roll feel.”
Though there are indeed the kind of immediately accessible moments on the album that the band have made their forte, whether it’s Strength Of The Mind’s assertive chorus or the sharpened hooks of Quiet Distress that instantly take hold and refuse to let go, Incarnate as a whole is an album with more textures and depths awaiting to be patiently explored than your run-of-the-mill metalcore effort.
I’s yet another triumph for a band whose collective desire is to keep pushing themselves creatively onward and ensure their well-trodden style sounds as vital and fresh as it did when it was first unleashed from the New England suburbs a decade and a half ago.
As Joel concludes, the process of writing songs that the band are proud of and wager to play live that is of paramount importance. That hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe appreciate what they do is simply a bonus.
“Ultimately we just want to be true to what we like and what we want to hear, and let the stuff we listen to influence us in a positive way. I think it’s important to evolve and be honest with yourself with what you’re writing at the time. Hopefully other people like it, and it’s so far so good for us, 16 years in.”
Killswitch Engage’s new album, Incarnate is out now via Roadrunner Records.