Unless it was a band like Pantera, Metallica or Corrosion of Conformity, metal was prime for spoofing in the mainstream during most of the '90s. Just watch any Beavis and Butt-head episode and you'll probably understand the gist of such ridicule. "Liquid fingers" guitar solos, double-kick drums, operatic vocals, long, permed hair, Dungeons & Dragons-like imagery; you name it, it was looked down upon. These are really silly things, so it's nice to hear and a see a band that is nothing of the sort that is considered metal. Also, it's nice to see a band that isn't in the "this is the heaviest record of all time!" sweepstakes or trying to be tougher than tough. I'm talking about Killswitch Engage.
After hearing nice mentions about the band for a couple of years, I finally got around to listening to their stuff thanks to a post on Eric's blog. Featuring a new original that (hopefully) will be on the band's next record and a cover of Dio's "Holy Diver," I felt compelled to check out more of their stuff. Watching some of their live stuff on YouTube and placing their DVD, (Set this) World Ablaze, on the top of my queue on Netflix, I had plenty of stuff to see how much time I'd want to devote to this band. Well, I wouldn't say I've become a metal freak, but I'm definitely now a KSE fan.
Listening to the band's music, especially The End of Heartache, and watching their DVD, I think about why this band stands out for me. In my eyes, too many heavy bands are all about playing up an image of toughness or darkness to sell to people. Heavy music is great to an extent for me; I can only handle so much dissonance and loud pounding before I want to listen to something else. With KSE, they effectively incorporate elements of classic metal (the guitar squeals, the double-kick fills, the half-time breakdowns), hardcore metal (the guttural screams, shifting rhythm sections) and warm melodies (you know, actual singing, poppy guitar lines and vocal harmonies).
Image-wise, these guys don't take themselves too seriously. They are serious and sincere about the music they play and how they play it, but they aren't about putting on flimsy, teen angst-like fantasies in the process. Guitarist/vocalist Adam Dutkiewicz reminds me of the Vandals' Warren Fitzgerald, aka, a spazzy sort of guy that is also insanely talented and smart. Dutkiewicz's stage antics take the piss out of tough-guy metal posturing and they never get to a point where they diminish the quality of the show.
If I had to pick one member that sets the band apart from everyone else, it would be vocalist Howard Jones. This dude can sing in all sorts of voices and he doesn't wimp out when it comes to the warm melodic stuff. He does have a sense of soul in his voice while so many screamo nerds sing their nose and hope that AutoTune will make their voices come off somewhat in key. Jones is a powerful singer and has a tone that isn't heard from that often in metal. Too many singers want to sound like Cookie Monster all the time and never try to branch out.
Metal, like a lot of genres, is a genre that is incredibly limiting. There is a degree of sub-atomic heaviness that must be held intact in order for it to be considered metal. There is a broad range that singers must sing in to be considered "brutal" to be considered metal. KSE is not on a path that strays too far away from the metal path, but they are definitely on their own path.
People I know don't understand how I can get into bands like KSE and Converge. Well, as much as I am a melody freak, I've always appreciated music that kicks a lot of rhythmic ass while also having some strands of catchiness too. The impact of these bands goes a little deeper for me beyond the music itself. Just like how bands like the Minutemen and Hot Water Music mean to me, bands like KSE and Converge are about being yourself more than anything else. When they mean "be yourself," they mean be who you are (warts and all) and not try to ape someone else for the sake of trying to be cool or fit in. This serves as a nice reminder that, as goofy and atonal metal can be, not all ideas behind it are.