Incarnate is the Massachusetts Metalcore band Killswitch Engage’s seventh full-length studio album (or sixth if you count the 2000 self-titled one as a demo, which some people do) and their second since original singer Jesse Leach returned to the band after a three-album absence. It was released in early 2016 and had the very unenviable task of following up their critically acclaimed (and in my opinion amazing) Disarm The Descent album from three years prior.
As with most of the band’s work it was produced by guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and released on Roadrunner Records; with the same line-up of musicians since their debut (Justin, Joel, Mike and Adam), and the music is a continuation of the same musical formula they’ve been working from more or less since the beginning. At this point, its safe to say you can kind of guess what the album will sound like, at least broadly.
Some fans, reviewers, publications and podcasts that I respect didn’t give this album the strongest reception at the time. A lot of the criticism was either ‘heard it all before’ or else ‘not as good as Disarm The Descent.’ For me, I never find the ‘heard it all before’ issue a problem, if its good its good as far as I am concerned, and this album is definitely good. I am not the harshest critic of music in the world. I won’t just lap up any old crap but I won’t throw a band I love under the bus just for repeating a formula or having one album be especially good doesn’t ruin everything else for me.
There is some variety on the disc and there are occasional riffs and moments that definitely haven’t been heard before from this band. The almost Djenty rhythm on ‘Strength Of The Mind’ doesn’t sound like anything on The End Of Heartache at all, for example. If they vastly changed their sound too far, people would cry ‘sell out’ instantly, so this slow and very gradual evolution while staying within the boundaries of sounding like themselves is for me the best way to go. Its like Motorhead. Nothing on Ace Of Spades sounds like On Parole anymore and there’s plenty on March Or Die sounds nothing like Ace Of Spades anymore either and yet we all know that (say it with me now) ‘every Motorhead album sounds the same!’
Sure; there will always be a few Melodeath influenced riffs, a few Groove Metal and Hardcore influenced breakdowns, a light/heavy change up dynamic, a pinch harmonic here, some very sparingly-used blast beats hidden there. At least one slow track. A clean arpeggio style intro here, a sparingly used death growl backing-vocal there. But hey, that’s what we love about the band to begin with, right? This album is chocked full of great memorable moments. There’s absolutely tonnes of individual parts that catch your attention and make you pull a satisfied face as they slam into that riff or that groove or as that tasty drum fill sneaks in etc. They may have been doing this formula for years but that also means they’ve had a lot of practice getting it right!
Highlights include for sure the three most famous tracks ‘Hate By Design,’ ‘Strength Of The Mind’ and ‘Cut Me Loose’ as well as the very strong ‘Until The Day’ and the opener ‘Alone I Stand.’ If it were just these tracks it would be an absolutely astounding album. I guess there may be a little filler, but overall it is a pretty strong album.
Placing it in the band’s discography, I would agree with the majority of people that it isn’t as strong as Disarm The Decent which is actually my number one favourite album by the band, and it may not be strong enough to count as my second favourite either sure, but it is far from their worst album and far far from any sort of disappointment. Material from this album live is absolutely crushing. Tracks from this album in best-of playlists sit well beside any of the previous material. When anything from this album comes on on shuffle or random it makes me sit up and smile.
Another thing to point out for praise here are the lyrics. I’ve spent the past five years in a really depressing environment, (and especially the past two), watching people die almost every few days, watching people get told they have HIV, watching people in the grips of diseases and cancers that have damaged their brain so much they don’t recognize their own husband’s face, seeing the ravages of addiction on the body and mind and all the horrible health complications from it they don’t tell you about. Just a real swirling vortex of constant human misery. When I bought this album it quickly became my walking to work album for its amazing, positive, uplifting lyrical content. ‘Who can raise you from the fall and save you? Only you. Who can take the pain away and change you? Only you. Gather all your pain and suffering: Turn them into strength and weaponry to overcome the enemy that’s in you, that’s in you!’ – Hard to argue with that! Its great how this album makes you feel inside yourself, as a person. ‘Inspirational‘ is a very cheesy and overblown word to use in a review for a Metalcore album but here it almost seems fitting.
Overall; as long as you aren’t sick of the formula, I fail to see why you wouldn’t enjoy this album if you are an existing fan. If you are a new fan and haven’t heard everything already and so again aren’t sick of the formula, I fail to see why you wouldn’t enjoy this. In terms of ranking and being an amateur critic sure, I can see albums to say it isn’t as good as, but on its own merit it is a really strong, really enjoyable record and a very worthy addition to any fan’s collection. Some of those riffs, some of those breakdowns, some of those choruses will stick with me forever and if like me, you were a bit too put off initially by any of the negative reviews out there to try it right away, rest assured this album is absolutely worth checking out and a really respectable entry in the band’s discography.