Killswitch Engage: Seasons in the Abyss
Originally published in Guitar World, October 2009
Slayer kicked them off their tour, and one of their guitarists nearly quit after throwing out his back. Now Killswitch Engage return with a new self-titled album and plans for a summer rematch with Slayer on the Mayhem tour. Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel weigh in.
"I don’t really aspire to be a wicked, awesome guitar player,” declares Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage. “I know that’s a shitty thing to say, but it’s true.”
Dutkiewicz is the band’s resident provocateur. He likes to wind people up and mess with their expectations. And what better way to mess with a guitar magazine than to proclaim total indifference to the quest for greatness as a guitar player?
“Adam likes to take the piss out of things,” says Joel Stroetzel, Dutkiewicz’s co-guitarist. “Onstage, he just wants to have a good time—kind of act like an asshole, but in a funny way. He likes to get people going, egg the crowd on. He gets up there and calls the crowd ‘pussies’ and all this stuff. But coming from a guy wearing short shorts and a cape, you gotta take things like that in stride.”
Adam’s unusual stage attire and demeanor have caused controversy in the stylistically conformist world of metal. Killswitch were once kicked off a tour by Slayer, who found Dutkiewicz’s strange sense of fashion “inappropriate” to metal—as if metal were a Catholic school with a dress code. But Dutkiewicz’s ironically confrontational approach is very much in the time-honored “proud to be an asshole” tradition of metal icons like Gene Simmons and Ted Nugent. He just puts his own post-emo spin on it.
And when it comes time to strap on the axes and get down to business, Dutkiewicz and Stroetzel are unquestionably, 100 percent metal and, it shouldn’t be forgotten, some of the most accomplished players in that eternally guitar-centric genre. They’ve evolved a brutally precise tandem approach, banging out eyeball-melting, low-string arpeggios and chunky, cement-block chordal passages like two repeat-offender muggers taking down a sucker. Their dark guitar artistry reaches new heights of intensity and confidence on Killswitch Engage’s new album, their fifth to date, which is titled simply Killswitch Engage. There’s a greater sense of freedom in the rhythmic feel and more imaginative variety in the compositions and arrangements. Singer Howard Jones pushes both extremes of his unique vocal style on the new disc, belting out some of the most soulful melodic passages he’s ever sung and some of the scariest Cookie Monster barking to emerge from a human larynx. And down in the lowest infernal depths of the frequency spectrum, bassist Mike D’Antonio and drummer Justin Foley pummel, pound, thunder and thud, with all due ferocity.
Stroetzel says, “The main goal this time around was to try to do something different. Over the years we’ve embraced the European metal thing more than the old hardcore stuff we used to do.”
The new Killswitch Engage album also marks the first time the band has chosen an outside producer, Brendan O’Brien, who has worked with AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots, among numerous others.
Stroetzel explains, “We had a conference call with Brendan many months back. He seemed like a really cool guy, and working with him seemed like a good opportunity to change things up.”
Up until now, Dutkiewicz has produced all of Killswitch Engage’s albums. Having also produced albums by Underoath, Unearth and Every Time I Die, he has acquired a solid reputation as a studio architect of the New Wave of American Metal. For this outing, O’Brien’s services were sought, in part to prevent the occasionally feuding Dutkiewicz and Jones from killing one another in the studio. It couldn’t have hurt that O’Brien had just completed production on Mastodon’s Crack the Skye, the hottest contemporary metal/mainstream crossover disc in recent history.
Dutkiewicz and Stroetzel have come a long way together, initially teaming up as co-guitarists in the mid-Nineties metalcore band Aftershock, out of Westfield, Massachusetts. Dutkiewicz switched to drums when he launched Killswitch Engage in 1998 but was soon back on guitar. Stroetzel says, “For a long time we couldn’t find another guitar player that was right. Finally I said, ‘You know what, Adam? You and I have played guitar together before. Why don’t we just get a drummer? So Adam switched back over to guitar, which made sense right away.”