Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Times Of Grace - The Hymn Of A Broken Man [8/10]

I must start this review by making this rather bold statement: Howard Jones, as incredible a vocalist as he is, is not a patch on Jesse Motherfucking Leach. Howard’s soulful pipes made The End Of Heartache one of metalcore’s true and few classics, but the truth is (and yes, it’s the truth. Do not dispute this with me) Killswitch Engage haven’t been nearly the same band ever since Jesse Leach left the folds. When I first heard of the impending reunion of Leach and KSE’s often hilarious but mostly moronic guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, despite having a particular attachment to Alive Or Just Breathing?, I was quite sceptical. In fact, sceptical isn’t even the word; I was totally indifferent. At the end of the day, Killswitch’s recent output has not exactly been delicious to the ears, ...Heartache clearly being the seemingly unmatchable peak of the Howard Jones era. I had no reason to believe Adam D was still capable of writing the kind of genre-defining compositions that filled the two aforementioned cornerstones of metalcore. I had even less reason to believe Jesse Leach had anything relevant to say, fading into almost inevitable obscurity after his exit from the KSE camp. Imagine my delight when this album dropped in my lap and I was greeted with the freshest metalcore record since Trivium’s Ascendancy, dripping with an irresistible vitality and a forceful determination.

‘Strength In Numbers’, the albums lead single, opens the proceedings, and on first listen may seem quite underwhelming. As far as statements of intent go, this isn’t one of the best. Nonetheless, the song boasts crushing riffs and a rallying chorus, perhaps its strength being that it highlights the rest of the album a thousand-fold. The sludgiest riff Adam D has ever penned comes crashing through the intro of ‘Fight For Life’, the point at which you realise this album is going to have about as much to do with Killswitch Engage as Ozzy Osbourne has to do with a dictionary. ‘Fight For Life’s chorus catapults you into an air of spine-tingling euphoria, uplifting you while still retaining a dark and melancholic atmosphere. This is one of many highlights that pepper the album, and what’s that you say? We’re only on track 2? Delish. ‘Willing’ is similar in feel to ‘Fight For Life’ but with much more underlying optimism, as is also the case with ‘Where The Spirit Leads Me’. ‘Until The End Of Days’ offers our first moment of respite in the form of a mournful ballad, Leach delivering a haunting melody over a subtle yet unique chord sequence, acting as the perfect pre-cursor to obvious single ‘Live In Love’, which has the best chorus in a metalcore song since ‘Rose Of Sharyn’ (also, look out for Adam D’s take on a Metallica riff in the verse. Inspired). ‘In The Arms Of Mercy’, the point at which you can truly separate the album into two halves, is the beautiful centrepiece of the album, an interlude of acoustic guitars and a tear-jerking string section. At only just under two minutes long, it’s not enough, and with every strain you’re dying to hear this turn into a proper fleshed out song, but in a sense it’s perfect like this, leaving you with a sense of unrealised ambiguity. The word may be overused to the point of ridicule, but ‘...Mercy’ is truly epic. The title track soon gets pulses racing again, building on an unsuspected chord progression with a hint of thrash, while ‘The Forgotten One’ turns out to be a somewhat country-esque lament, that features outstanding vocal harmonies and melodies that’d make Stevie Wonder blush. Adam D shows off his hidden drumming abilities on ‘Hope Remains’, which is a fairly bog-standard track when compared to the adventurous flair of ‘The End Of Eternity’, combining hints of industrial influence with an atmosphere reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s darker moments. ‘Worlds Apart’ and ‘Fall From Grace’ round of this most expansive of albums, the former recalling Killswitch Engage’s finest moments, while the latter takes an almost downbeat twist in an otherwise strong, defiant and uplifting album.

About a third of the way through this review, I claimed that ‘Strength In Numbers’ was not exactly what I was hoping for when listening to this album for the first time. One listen through of the entire record however reveals the reasons behind Times Of Grace’s choice of introduction: not only is this the only track out of the 13 on show here that could open the album, but more to the point, this album isn’t supposed to be viewed as a collection of individual songs – it’s about the whole body of work. The song doesn’t overshadow the rest of the album, nor does it give us any inkling into what’s to come. The only inclination you have based on ‘Strength In Numbers’ is that this is an album born of hope, perseverance and triumph as well as despair, fear and despondency. It’s completely lacking in pretention, and it’s only purpose is to be some kind of euphoric catharsis for whatever you as a listener have troubling you in your life. As human beings, we need things like this album to bring us down to earth and keep us from the dark recesses of life, whether our problems are big or small, plentiful or few. Music fans should count themselves lucky we can find this most essential of life’s tools in one simple album. You know what to do. It’s in shops as we speak. Do yourself a favour.

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