New York – On the day nominations for the music industry’s highest honors were announced, nobody could find Killswitch Engage.
Most of the members were asleep after headlining a concert the night before, pumping out ear-shattering music and screeching lyrics for a tiny audience. At least it was tiny compared with audiences for previous metal Grammy nominees, like Metallica and Black Sabbath.
“Everyone’s mouth was pretty much wide open” after the Grammy nods, lead singer Howard Jones recently told The Associated Press. “Everyone was like, ‘Did this really just happen. What sort of bizarro world is this?'”
It’s the kind of world where the hit album “The End of Heartache” and a much-played single by the same name can take Killswitch Engage from underground to breakout sensation almost overnight. Now the Massachusetts-based band is up for the Grammy against Motorhead, Slipknot, Hatebreed and Cradle of Filth – bands that helped pave the way for the genre.
Killswitch Engage, which took its name from an episode of “The X-Files,” was founded in 1999 by bassist Mike D’Antonio, drummer/guitarist Adam Dutkiewitz and guitarist Joel Stroezel. They later added singer Jesse Leach and drummer Tom Gomes.
The band released a self-titled debut in 2000 on an independent label before singing with Roadrunner Records. Its major label debut came in 2002 with “Alive or Just Breathing.” But what should have been a shining moment for the band was dimmed when Leach quit, citing stress to his vocal chords. Gomes soon followed him out the door.
Jones, who was singing with another band, heard about the opening and called. Later, Jones recruited Justin Foley to take over for Gomes.
In 2004, the reconstituted band released “The End of Heartache.” Despite the lineup changes, Killswitch has managed to avoid many of the classic “Behind The Music” rock pitfalls, such as infighting.
The reason, says D’Antonio, is age – the band members are all in their 30s. “We’re definitely mellower in our old age. We’ve already done all that crap when we were kids, when we were with other bands,” he said. “Now we’re able to just enjoy it.”
Their success has helped push the re-emergence of the hardcore metal genre.
“They kind of exemplify what’s been going on the past couple of years,” said Albert Mudrain, editor in chief of Decibel magazine, which recently named Killswitch Engage Band of the Year. “Nobody is doing it better than Killswitch Engage.”
Part of the reason, Mudrain says, is the band’s lyrics and music. Two of the band’s members are alums of the Berklee School of Music and one is a classically trained drummer.
“Lyrically they’ve managed to express sentiment beyond anger,” he said.
But perhaps the biggest reason is the five-minute single that was cut down to three minutes for radio.
At first, Killswitch Engage didn’t want anything to do with it. The edit may have toned down a few guitar riffs, but the band remains hardcore.
“One of the things Adam said is, ‘I don’t want to write anything that you can’t pump your fist to.’ For us, it has to be aggressive. It has to have an edge to it,” D’Antonio said.
That’s obvious from the latest album’s cover art, designed by D’Antonio. It shows a heart impaled by nails.
“That was a dark time in my life, mostly due to girls, ladies,” D’Antonio says. “Maybe the next one will be daisies and roses without nails. Well, maybe not.”