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Killswitch Engage

Alive or Just Breathing (reissue) Review
by Brodie

2005 will long be remembered as the year of the reissue. With bands such as Boy Sets Fire, Blindside, and Unearth releasing new and improved versions of old favorites, it was nice to see Killswitch Engage join the fold with a reissue of their 2003 Roadrunner release, Alive or Just Breathing

The 2 cd set is an instant reminder of why in the current state of metal, KSE is king. Even with lineup changes and having gone through 2 vocalists, KSE shows that they can endure change, and come out even stronger on the other side.

Disc 1 of the 2 disc set features the rerelease of AOJB. It is apparent with the opening track, "Numbered Days", that not only is this band serious musically, but they are also capable of vocals that are strong and sharp, with lyrics that are well-thought out and poetic. It's easy to see early on what a force in the metal world KSE was to become. Every song is solid and non-formulaic, and the production by KSE drummer-turned-guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz is dead on. 

Disc 2 of the set includes "In The Unblind", from the band's first release on Ferret Records, as well as two previously unreleased tracks, "When The Balance is Broken", and the acoustic instrumental "Untitled and Unloved". The most important part of the 2nd disc, however, lies in the 3 demo songs included. "Numbered Days", "Transfiguration" (aka Fixation on the Darkness), and "Just Barely Breathing", are the very same 3 songs recorded by the band over one weekend in 2001, produced by Adam. This 3 song demo would be passed along to Roadrunner Records, and 3 months later, be the catalyst for the band being signed to the metal giant label. 

The 2nd disc rounds out with a version of "Fixation on the Darkness" featuring Howard Jones on vocals (who would come in to replace Jesse Leach just after AOJB was completed), as well as the videos for "My Last Serenade", "Fixation on the Darkness", and "Life To Lifeless".

KSE, unlike many bands in the metal genre, can do little wrong. It is easy to see why this band is such a force in the metal scene today, and one can be sure that they will continue to be a force for years to come.

Interview with Adam
Originally printed in 2002 for the release of Alive or Just Breathing

RNW: Most metal-core fans know about you guys from your self-titled debut on Ferret Records, which really turned a lot of heads when it came out. But now that you are with Roadrunner a lot of new people are going to hear your music for the first time, so basically what I’d like to do today is first get some background on the group for those who haven’t been exposed to you yet.  First question, where did the name Killswitch Engage come from? 

Adam: Actually our bass player came up with it after watching an episode of the X Files. He heard the word killswitch and thought it was a cool visual so he took that and tried to think of another word to go with it and came up with engage and we like the power it conveyed like shutting down the system or something like that. 

RNW: Can you give us a little of the band’s history? How you guys came together etc?

Adam: Ok cool, back in like late 98, maybe early 99, me and the bass player Mike meet up and started jamming together. (at this point we got cut off, so Adam couldn’t finish the story) 

RNW: How did the deal with Roadrunner Come about? 

Adam: Yeah the guy who runs Ferret, Carl, actually works at Roadrunner, he took the CD over to the guys at Roadrunner, they liked the record and the rest is history. 

RNW: Was it a major change for you guys switching over to Roadrunner from Ferret?

Adam: The only difference is the amount money they can spend of promoting you. A bigger label has more money so they are basically there for you when you need them. Not that Carl didn’t go a good job, he did a great job, it’s just that a smaller label doesn’t have the resources to get you out there like the bigger ones. 

RNW: I know the people over there that I have talked to are really excited about the album it looks like they are gonna make it a real priority.

Adam: Great! Yeah I know the European office is really excited, they’re really behind us. 

RNW: I know that Roadrunner took the unusual direction of having you produce the CD. 

Adam: Yeah, that kind of threw me back at first. I’m really glad they let me have the chance. 

RNW: Was there any pressure to tone down your sound or change it any to fit better with the Roadrunner bands? 

Adam: Actually, of course, they always want to give their two cents but I don’t really think they asked us to compromise the songs. Even if they did, to be honest with you, I don’t know that I would have listened to them. That’s one thing about this band, we’ve always done what he felt was right. We wouldn’t let our record tell us what to do with the band. Yeah so nothing really was done like that. 

RNW: Is there a big difference between the new album and your first one.

Adam: Oh God yeah, we got a better sound. Actually we’re finding out who we are as a band. I think we’ve finally figured out what everyone in the band wants out of this. I feel way happier with the new stuff, like structure-wise and guitar- wise, the songs flow a lot better now. They have a little more appeal now, they’ve got a little more melody, a little more structure, I personally think it’s cool. I’m actually very pop oriented. 

RNW: Yeah, I noticed a lot more dynamics this time around. 

Adam: Yeah, it’s cool. I like how the vocals turned out a lot better. 

RNW: The titled of your new CD, “Alive or Just Breathing” where did you come up with that?

Adam: That was Jesse’s idea. I goes along with that song “Just Barely Breathing”, it goes along with the lyric that song where Jesse is saying are we alive, living, are we really living our lives in focus, do we have our eyes open to what’s happening around us.  You know, respecting the people around you and all that. Some people are just there not really paying attention, not getting the best out of the situation.

RNW: I know a lot of people classify you as Metal-Core, do you think that fits you guys or are you trying to achieve something else?

Adam: I think it fits just fine. People in a band could sit there all day and try to explain what a band is like and you really have to be general, because every band is different but for a general term, I guess we’re just a “metal-core” band. 

RNW: Are there any bands out right now that you guys are excited about?

Adam: Well, if you asked me who we’d like to go on tour with, we’re setting up a tour with “In Flames” but to be honest with you, I don’t really listen to a lot of metal. 

RNW: Really!?  (laughs) The irony of it all!

Adam: (laughs) yeah I know! Everybody else in the band loves metal, the one record that really blew me away last year was the “Nevermore” disc, I love that. There are a lot of great bands out there right now, definitely. 

RNW: So what are you into music-wise?

Adam: Me, myself?

RNW: Yeah

Adam: I like a lot of more poppier music, one of the biggest band, I like Radiohead a lot and I actually like Travis a lot too. A lot of Brit pop like that. Everybody in the band makes fun of me for it. 

RNW: Yeah, you gotta expect that. 

Adam: To hell with them! 

RNW: What is your song writing process like? Do you work on songs collectively?

Adam: Yeah, we actually try to make it a point. Bands that I’ve been in the past were like so one-sided that I ended up writing most of the music for my old bands. I think it’s much cooler when you get everyone’s opinion on a song. We try to make it point to get everyone involved in the songwriting. 

RNW: I noticed that most of your songs have a positive message underling the themes, which sets you apart from a lot of other bands out there today. 

Adam: Yeah, we don’t try to be blatant about it.  It has positive views and a positive outlook that a lot of bands don’t have right now. At the same time, I think it’s important that you don’t try to force opinions or views down people’s throats. Just be suggestive, I think that is best way to get your views explored, you never wanna push something on people. 

RNW: What are your favorite tracks on the album?

Adam: “Last Serenade” and “Self Revolution”

RNW: Being that hindsight is 20/20, is there anything you would change about the album, looking back on it now? 

Adam: Always! You never have to ask me that question. (laughing, in a mocking voice) “what would you change?” Definitely, we would have worked on the vocals a little harder. We kind of settled for some because we ran out of time, but it was mostly for a song that isn’t on the record. But most of the vocals I’m pretty happy with. The guitar tones on some of the songs I don’t like at all, we ended up settling for some. We had some problems with one of the guitars going into the studio and it was a nightmare, he should have had his guitars worked on before we began working on the record. I guess that we settled for a guitar tone that I didn’t really like, oh well, what are you gonna do? 

RNW: So do you think people will get a lot different experience hearing you live?

Adam: Well, it’s definitely gonna be different from the record, energy wise. We’re a little more energetic live (note from ed- that’s really saying something if you hear the intense energy on the CD!) 

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Killswitch Engage - Alive or Just Breathing (reissue)


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