“I felt like we had something to prove”: How The End Of Heartache made Killswitch Engage superstars
When The End Of Heartache dropped in 2004, Killswitch Engage were – let’s be honest – an incredibly promising hardcore band. Make no mistake, the Westfield, Massachusetts, quintet were expected to do awesome things, positioned as they were on the front lines of the burgeoning metalcore movement alongside bands like Shadows Fall and God Forbid. There was also plenty of talk about their talented new singer with his sweeping, heartfelt voice. But no one immediately thought they would become one of the most important bands in rock music and inspire legions of imitators looking to copy their mixture of catchy melodic riffs and breathtaking harsh/clean vocal dichotomy.
The End Of Heartache changed that. Almost immediately after it was released, Killswitch’s third full-length album was hailed as metalcore’s greatest achievement. Suddenly, the band were everywhere, their logo and tormented graphics emblazoned on the shirt of every kid with dyed hair and a piercing. Songs from the album were featured on the soundtracks for big-budget horror movies like Freddy vs. Jason and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. By the time the title track was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 47th GRAMMY Awards, the world knew: this band was no longer an underground success. These were the new rock stars.
“I think you can definitely hear a bit more maturity in the record,” says Adam Dutkiewicz, founding guitarist and longtime producer of Killswitch Engage. “We grew as musicians and band members, and having Howard was such an amazing thing because his pipes are amazing. It was a whole new world that opened up so many possibilities and potentials, so I think we did step it up. It was a good time for us.”
Reflecting on The End Of Heartache, Adam sounds matter-of-fact rather than nostalgic. He doesn’t get too sentimental about the record’s 15th anniversary – “We shouldn’t live in the past, you know?” – but instead remembers what it was like to be a young musician hungry to make a big statement.
“It was a strange time to us, because it was Howard’s first record, so I felt like we needed to have something to prove on here,” says Adam. “Just before, we had Alive Or Just Breathing, which was the record where people started noticing us and who we were, and we started growing as a band. Then, all of the sudden, we had a new singer, which is a very weird thing. So as I was producing it, I was thinking about how it needs to be better than what we just did, that it needs to be the next big thing, and not a step back.”
The trade of vocalist Jesse Leach (who has since returned to Killswitch as frontman) for singer Howard Jones was the most notable change between Heartache and its predecessor, 2002’s Alive Or Just Breathing. Not only were the two frontmen’s vocal styles different, but also their strengths as musicians.
“Jesse’s strong suit was his lyrics and messages behind the music, but he struggled with his voice,” points out Adam. “Alive Or Just Breathing took forever to record because his throat and voice had so many troubles. Howard was the exact opposite. He had trouble writing down songs, but he could sing anything. Any melody or arrangement idea I gave him, he would perfect it. He just has that iron lung. He could literally do anything I said, which was amazing.”
Once in the studio, though, Adam says the creation of The End Of Heartache moved pretty smoothly. “I tried to be much more planned out with this record, and we did a lot of pre-production. I had all my thoughts put together. There was a lot of planning out, so there wasn’t much issue. The one thing I can think of is that an amplifier blew up on us in the studio, so I think there’s one song with one different guitar amp. I think there was smoke, but no flames!”
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly The End Of Heartache made Killswitch Engage famous. The song’s nomination for the Best Metal Performance Grammy is certainly notable. For Adam, though, the realization came a little earlier: “The moment we were told that we were going to be featured in one of the Resident Evil movies, I realized that people were paying attention to us. Even though they rolled us during the credits, it’s cool that they even rolled us! It was neat, going from being this underground hardcore band to being this band that has songs being played in theaters, and getting more attention on mainstream radio. You take notice, coming from a tiny band.”
Fifteen years after its release, The End Of Heartache is an awesome distillation of Killswitch Engage’s sound, and remains a fan favorite for those who grew with the band. Given that he’s lived with it all this time, one wonders if Adam D loves the songs thereon as much as Killswitch fans have for the past decade and a half.
“Oh my God, no!” laughs the guitarist. “I don’t think that about any of our music. My band is the last thing I’d ever listen to. Of course we have to play The End Of Heartache because it’s one of our biggest hits. I pretty much have played it so much, that I could probably play it without looking at my guitar. I’d just go into autopilot. The truth is, whatever we play, if the crowd is into it, that’s my favorite song to play. It’s all about the crowd’s reaction.
“It’s all about what the fans think,” adds Adam. “That’s what matters at the end of the day.”
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