When it came to Killswitch Engage, vocalist Jesse Leach didn’t want the band to have a Gary Cherone or Ian Gillan experience.
Leach was the metal group’s original vocalist, recording Killswitch Engage’s first 2000 self-titled debut album released on Ferret Music, and its follow-up on the larger Roadrunner Records, 2002’s “Alive or Just Breathing,” before leaving the band. When his replacement, Howard Jones, left the band at the start of 2012, Leach had an opportunity to return, only to initially turn it down.
But then he realized this would mean Killswitch Engage would have to continue with a third different vocalist.
“I think in the history of rock and roll, the third singer is really never a charm,” Leach said in a late-May interview.
Van Halen and singer Gary Cherone would probably agree, as would most people who listened to Cherone’s lone album with the band, “Van Halen 3.” So might Black Sabbath. (Anyone remember Ian Gillan and his one-album stint with Sabbath?)
So Leach changed his mind and threw his hat into the ring to audition for the Killswitch Engage vocalist slot.
What also had happened was that by the time the other members of Killswitch Engage – guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, bassist Mike D’Antonio, guitarist Joe Stroetzel and drummer Justin Foley — had decided to audition for a new vocalist, Leach had resolved the main issue that kept him from accepting the invitation to rejoin the band in the first place.
“I didn’t think I was the guy because I just wasn’t sure I was going to be comfortable singing someone else’s material,” Leach said. “I listened to his (Jones’) tracks sort of as objectively as possible initially when they came out, just following the band, and kind of just felt like it wasn’t really my style.”
But when Leach got word that an audition for a new vocalist was happening, he started thinking again about Killswitch Engage.
“What I did was I went in and really listened to the songs as a fan, and started reading the lyrics and sort of putting my head in the headspace of how could I relate to these lyrics?” he said. “What do they mean to me? How can I place them in my life that would make sense to me that I would be able to reproduce them, not only sonically, but also have my heart and soul in it. And the first song that really struck me was ‘Arms of Sorrow.’ I read the lyrics and then I listened to it, and I was, like, this is sonically unique. The music to it is different. It kind of reminded me of Faith No More a little bit. Then I just read the lyrics and it was just I could relate to them being someone who suffered with depression. And I think from that point on, it just kind of opened me up and I became a fan and I started to really fall in love with the songs.”
When Leach nailed his audition, it was clear that the chemistry that he enjoyed with his former bandmates was still there. After a couple of tours, it was clear Leach was again a good fit for the band.
Then the band, which had begun work on its new CD, “Disarm the Dissent,” before the change in vocalists, went back to work on the album.
Going in, the band wanted to make a more aggressive, heavier album than its previous release, a 2010 self-titled album, Leach said.
“I feel like these guys came out of that record, even before I came on board, thinking to themselves, all right, … we’ve got to really make this record more of a metal record, make it more of an in-your-face (record), bring it back to the energy, sort of the roots of what Killswitch is.”
“Disarm the Dissent” delivers on the group’s intentions.
There is still a pop sense to the new songs, which are concisely structured, blend melodic vocal sections with Leach’s fiercely screamed parts and frequently add in hooky guitar lines. But songs like “The New Awakening,” “A Tribute to the Fallen” and “All We Have” are full-throttle bangers with plenty of churning guitars and pummeling drums to go with the hookier elements.
Killswitch Engage is now on its first headlining tour in support of the new album, playing a set that numbers about 18 songs spanning the group’s career. And Leach says he feels at home on stage with Killswitch Engage the second time around.
“I think just from living, doing tours with other bands and trying out other styles of music, and just from growing up and becoming a man, it’s now something I’m quite confident with,” Leach said of performing. “I know how to deliver my voice. I’m comfortable in front of a crowd of people. … I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be, where years ago, it definitely wasn’t the case.”