Any band whose name loosely translates to "Turn it off" either has a keen sense of humor or is hopelessly clueless. Killswitch Engage demonstrated the former Thursday night by kicking off their first headlining show at Boston's House Of Blues with the thumping electronic belches of Yello's "Oh Yeah," the eternal soundtrack to foiling high school principals.
So even before they played a note, it was clear that the Western Massachusetts band wasn't especially interested in hewing to the model of heavy metal as a serious calling.
In fact, singer Howard Jones violated a seemingly ironclad law of metal by good-naturedly mocking his audience when he called out, "Make some noise, white people!" And then, once the white people had complied, added, "It's funny because I'm black."
The band was confident enough not to worry that such tomfoolery would interfere with their performance. Killswitch's music, honed over the course of five albums in the last decade, was sharp, powerful, and not a little repetitive.
For anyone who wasn't raised on the current breed of heavy music, Killswitch was still recognizable as metal beyond the simple pummeling: sub-operatic vocals (when Jones isn't delivering a death growl), riffs with identifiably distinct melodic shapes, and the occasional harmonized guitars by Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel. It was telling that the closing cover of Dio's "Holy Diver" sounded, compositionally speaking, like a Killswitch original.
When a radical shift in tempo and feel made it sound like a new song had begun, it usually had. Songs like "Take Me Away" and "The End Of Heartache" added an extra half-dimension of dynamics beyond the brutal pounding at the heart of the band's approach.
Even so, Killswitch fell prey to a few traps. The pinched squeals in "Reckoning," "My Curse," and "Temple From The Within" were used more as sonic punctuation than music, and by the time the band reached "A Bid Farewell" around midway through, the ch-chunk of the guitars was beginning to seem rote.
That said, "Breathe Life" was a bit more than the sum of the above parts, and it's not as though the fibrillating stop-start that fueled Killswitch's rhythmic attack lacked effectiveness. Besides, there were enough songs like "Self Revolution," which featured a chorus where all the instruments and vocals unhinged at once only to bond back together again on the return, to prevent things from becoming an relentless, unvarying grind.
Better still, the band's refusal to take itself deadly seriously played well with the crowd. Whether it was the bald Jones fist-bumping a dude with a righteous afro in the front row, or Dutkiewicz dorkily running in place while spitting out a lightning-fast riff, Killswitch kept things casual.
It wasn't metal as journey into darkness, therapeutic catharsis or unification of the misunderstood. It was just metal as good-time music. Very, very heavy good-time music.
Killswitch Engage setlist:
Rose Of Sharyn
Fixation On The Darkness
The Arms Of Sorrow
A Bid Farewell
Take Me Away
Temple From The Within
My Last Serenade
The End Of Heartache