It’s been just short of three years since the release of 2013’s Disarm the Descent, Killswitch Engage’s triumphant return with original vocalist Jesse Leach. Disarm blew long time Killswitch fans away with it’s rejuvenated sense of energy and creativity, which was a breath of fresh air after 2009’s forgettable (second) self-titled album. Incarnate, the band’s seventh studio record, continues in the vein of Disarm the Descent, though with varying levels of success this time around.
Incarnate showcases Leach in his absolute prime as a vocalist, demonstrating levels of strength and control in his voice like no album before. His screams are guttural and ripe with emotion, but more understandable than ever, and his clean vocals shine throughout, often venturing into previously unexplored territories by the singer. Though the vocal hooks on Incarnate aren’t as immediately catchy as those on the album’s predecessor, Leach shows some real creativity and risk taking, and I can definitely respect his ambition to aim outside the box.
The biggest strength in Leach’s performance is an unparalleled sense of emotion throughout the album. Songs like “Strength of the Mind,” “Just Let Go,” and “It Falls On Me” bleed with the man’s struggles and personality, and the closer I’ve listened to the lyrics the more powerful his performances become. There are some less powerful moments through the record in songs like “Quiet Distress” and “The Great Deceit,” but what sticks out more than anything else is a bridge in “Embrace the Journey… Upraised” that is, deliberate or not, an obvious echo of vocal melodies from the Tool classic, “Sober.”
My big gripe with Incarnate, though, is the generally uninspired guitar work through out the album. It’s difficult to recall any major riffs from the record, because, frankly, there aren’t a lot of memorable ones. You’ll find all the staple Killswitch riffs here – some chunky bottom string rhythms, some shimmery chorus chords, and some trickier – sometimes tapped, sometimes not tapped – shredding licks over that same open-note breakdown that we’ve kind of all heard a dozen times already. Guitarists Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel don’t seem like they’re interested in trying anything new here, and instead, leave an end product of trite, lackadaisical, Killswitch-by-numbers arrangements, which is particularly disappointing given the excellent guitar work on Disarm the Descent. There are some stand-out moments, however, like some excellent Gothenburg-esque licks in “Until the Day I Die,” and intense tremolo-picked builds in tracks like “We Carry On” and “The Great Deceit.” Just don’t expect to find yourself air-guitaring between listens.
Overall, Incarnate is a solid record that will likely end up sitting in the shadow of Disarm the Descent before it. Though there are some great tracks here, and undoubtedly some terrific performances from vocalist Jesse Leach, Incarnate ultimately lacks that same refreshing spark as its predecessor. This record won’t be for every Killswitch fan, but Incarnate still earns a rightful place among some terrific albums from the group.
Stand out tracks: “Strength of the Mind,” “Just Let Go,” “Until the Day I Die” (Ivan Torres)