Hey there, everybody, and welcome to the twenty-first episode of A Scene In Retrospect! This time, we (that is PR/social media manager Valentin and staff writers Jake, John and Ashley) will discuss one of the most important and influential records of the early-aughts New Wave of American Heavy Metal/metalcore scene: The End of Heartache by Killswitch Engage. Please enjoy!
The End Of Heartache is a crucial marker on the heavy metal timeline. It had drawn from the best of what came before it, and then opened the door to a future that altered the landscape of metal forever. Since its unveiling in 2004, the album became something of an instruction manual for aspiring metal musicians. In many ways, it saved metal from an ugly death.
It was the early 2000s. Nu metal had sponged emo, made its impact, and had subsequently transmuted into an excessive compound of fake angst, corporate sponsorship, and painful-to-hear drivel. Even bands with an established and long-running reputation in the metal circuit seemed to be jumping in on it. And although the alternative continued to thrive with bands such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Glassjaw, and so many others, there was little or nothing to fill the sullied and no longer respected commercial limelight of heavy music. Cue the antidote: Killswitch Engage. The band had already made a mark on the industry with their debut album (well… proper debut anyway) Alive Or Just Breathing, but the best and most successful of their days were still ahead.
Skilled heavy metal disciple and Killswitch mastermind Adam Dutkiewicz had assumed full-time guitar duties after toggling between strings and drums in the band’s early years. Killswitch Engage were also in a temporary make-or-break flux after the departure of singer Jesse Leach. As we know, that all got amended in the long run. But for now came the reign of masterclass vocalist Howard Jones; with a diaphragm that could crumble buildings, and a distinct operatic singing voice that could warm hearts and power furnaces in equal measure, the high standards of Jones’ voice fit perfectly with the immaculate sheen of Killswitch’s in-house production values. And so came The End Of Heartache. So many riffs, so much genius! Every hook was irresistible; every component was meticulously executed and fearlessly delivered; every band member played their instruments with top-level showmanship. Songs such as the passionate powerhouse “Rose of Sharyn”, the devastatingly groovy “Take This Oath”, and quick-witted headbanger “Breathe Life” all contained that tough-to-conceive mix of gratifyingly heavy and technically astute. Created under the flag of Roadrunner Records, the album was also a viable product besides being a labour of love.
With only their second record, Killswitch Engage brought a newly birthed sense of purpose and dignity to popular metal. They made technical proficiency and assiduously crafted production a thing to be valued once more. And even though a portion of the fanbase may be broken into the ‘Jesse vs Howard’ camps (both of which can be argued for with good cause), there is no denying that no Killswitch Engage album had the same impact and influential resonance as The End Of Heartache.
Killswitch Engage went through a very dramatic line-up change after their second album Alive or Just Breathing: original drummer Adam Dutkiewicz moved over to play lead guitar, and the band recruited singer Howard Jones and drummer Justin Foley from Blood Has Been Shed. I feel that this is their strongest line-up, and The End of Heartache, the first album with this group together shows just how powerful it can be. The album came out in 2004, and it aged really well; it still stands with (or over) modern metalcore records.
You definitely get kicked in the face once the album starts with “A Bid Farewell”. This is one of those ‘wear a mouthpiece in the mosh pit’ kind of albums! Every member of the band gets a chance to shine. Not only does Howard have an incredible singing voice, his screaming is reminiscent of Phil Anselmo in his prime. The guitar work is phenomenal, being littered with technical riffs featuring tons of squeals and solos. Even though they are from Massachusetts, they write some really southern metal riffs! You can really hear the Dimebag Darrell inspiration. New drummer Justin Foley channels the power of his big red beard to crush the drums with complex bass drum patterns that follow the guitar chugs, and a barrage of intricate fills.
I really dig the two ‘interlude’ songs “Inhale” and “And Embers Rise”. If this album is a metalcore version of High Intensity Interval Training, these tracks are your rest period from violently headbanging and slam dancing.
Even if it’s a cop out, the highlight of the album is the title track. It’s just so epic, and really captures their sound with powerful vocals and tremendous riffs. Two other songs that stand out to me more than the others are “Breathe Life” and “Hope Is…”, the latter of which uses powerful gang vocals that lead the album to its massive end. The final moments of the album have you climbing to the peak of intensity with thundering double bass and Howard screaming ‘hope is not lost‘, leaving you at the top of a beautiful 43-minute metalcore mountain!
It’s genuinely difficult to imagine my life without Killswitch Engage. I remember watching some now-defunct music channel on TV and seeing a music video for a song titled “Rose of Sharyn”, and being instantly captivated. I hadn’t ever heard a voice quite like that of then-frontman Howard Jones. I loved the passion that he seemed to pour into every note, and there was an authority in his voice that made me pay attention. The melody of this song was hook that has stuck with me until this day. While discovering music now comes from nearly avenue but TV, I knew that after seeing this video I needed to know more. The more I read and heard the more I was in love with what this band was saying and how they were saying it. While the first record that I was able to purchase by KsE was their later effort, Daylight Dies, I searched and searched until I could latch onto my own copy of The End of Heartache.
From the opening of the album with tracks like “A Bid Farewell” and “Take This Oath”, this album was about ownership and taking control, and this is still a theme that resonates with me. The songs weren’t meaningless rants or pure escape fantasy; they were grounded, empowering, and passionate anthems. Of course, I could also latch onto the grooves and breakdowns that are sprinkled throughout the record, like those found in “When Darkness Falls”. This was metalcore that leaned harder into metal than many of the other bands that I had listened to up until then. While my tastes for production and genre may have shifted since discovering this band and album, there is still something special about hearing these songs.
The End Of Heartache is full of great riffs, squeals, and anthemic choruses. It’s a record about resolve and the will to enact change. Sure, this may be a little cheesy, but the honesty of the lyrics and the earnestness of the delivery strike a balance that makes this album deeper than the average metal or metalcore fare. In general, I’m not necessarily so invested in lyrics, as they can be reductive, repetitive, and are often just trite. Killswitch Engage do things a little differently though, and this album includes some of their best songwriting. With the empowering “World Ablaze” and the closer “Hope Is…”, this record grabs me by the shoulders, stares me in the eyes, and screams ‘you can do it.’ And we all need that from time to time.
Killswitch Engage is a band that will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was one of the first heavier bands I got in touch with during my teenage days. I was about 14 years old and currently browsing YouTube in search of new music (yeah, that’s how it was done before the days of Spotify and Facebook) when I stumbled across the music video for “Rose of Sharyn”. I decided to give it a try and instantly fell in love with Killswitch Engage’s unique sound. Being eager to listen to the rest of the album, I begged my dad to buy The End of Heartache for me (which he luckily did), so I kept jamming the album over and over again when I finally received it.
Over the course of the last 14 (!) years, The End of Heartache did not lose any of its glory; it actually got even better for me. The whole album is full of energy, diverse songwriting, and beautiful melodic choruses, exquisitely delivered by Howard Jones, who I consider to be one of the best clean vocalists in the genre. The perfect, organic production just adds to the general beauty of this album.
I think it’s safe to say that Killswitch Engage created a timeless masterpiece that influenced the whole genre of modern metal as we know it today. The End of Heartache will forever be a favourite album of mine, that’s for sure!
And that brings us to the end of yet another installment to the A Scene In Retrospect feature! What are your thoughts on this record? Are there any records that you would like to see receive the classics review treatment? Let us know in the comments!
See you back here in fourteen days for more belated review shenanigans! Until then, stay safe, and as always…
…thanks for reading!