For the Massachusetts metalcore maestroes collectively known as Killswitch Engage, the sound stays the same. Gutteral growls ferociously compete for attention alongside soaring melodies, blitzkreig guitars and pulverizingly fast bass beats.
Lyrically, however, Incarnate marks a shift from the band's last two efforts. I said of 2013's Disarm the Descent, "Virtually everything on this album bears witness to [Jesse Leach's] Christian faith. Themes of redemption, salvation, deliverance, forgiveness, truth, light, hope and grace claw their way out of the cacophony in just about every single song."
This time around, I'm writing: Incarnate is not without its redemptive, uplifting and encouraging moments. But more than a few tracks suggest a repudiation, or at least dilution, of Christian convictions.
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"Alone I Stand" talks of persevering through trials (which may or may not be the ones outlined in the biblical book of Revelation). "A day of great tribulation is upon us," Leach announces, "A time of deception, conflict and unrest." But he insists, "I will not cower in fear and submission/I will hold my ground and resist." The same sort of fortitude can be found on "Until the Day." And "Strength of Mind" exhorts, "Gather all your pain and suffering/Turn them into strength and weaponry/To overcome the enemy that's in you." Deep, thorny spiritual questions on "Embrace the Journey … Upraised" are ultimately answered with the repeated phrase, "I, I still believe." "Cut Me Loose" is a fairly grim song that nevertheless includes one of the album's few obvious biblical allusions: "What's lost is now found."
"Quiet Distress" instructs us to notice and to help those who've been victims of domestic violence. "The Great Deceit" similarly exhorts the confrontation of racism and the pursuit of justice. "We Carry On" suggests that we can still heal from old wounds and bury past hurts. "Ascension" tells us to "shed the skin of past mistakes" and "put your fears to death." Deluxe Edition track "Triumph Through Tragedy" admonishes, "There is triumph through tragedy/Never give in to despair and hopelessness."
"Hate by Design" challenges listeners to relinquish hate-filled antipathies toward unnamed others. "Hate by design/Is destroying our lives," Leach rumbles. And in an interview with revolvermag.com, he said of the song's meaning, "I find true inner strength comes from a place of love, a place of wisdom and understanding. Hatred is a poison that in time will tear you apart and destroy you."
Positive sentiments in the abstract can sometimes get roughed up by hinting at specifics: "Hate by Design" takes parents, specifically, and older generations, in general, to task for passing on convictions that Leach doesn't agree with. He rages, "We are born free/From the restraints of this society/Helpless to what is instilled/To all those who raise us, mold us, and shape us/There is a time to separate/From this." Likewise, "Just Let Go" implies that personal growth requires rejecting time-honored teachings: "Nothing changes in refusing to grow/Wisdom engages those who will grasp for something more/Take this leap of faith/ … Reject what I once knew/I'll let go, surrender."
If those historical teachings defy Scripture, then the interpretation changes, of course. But that may not be what Leach is looking at … because several tracks on Incarnate hint at rejecting the church, the Christian faith, or perhaps both. On "Alone I Stand," we hear these ambiguous yet spiritually minded lines: "Mind and body conditioned to obey/They call us sons and daughters/Only sheep led to the slaughter/So many times, so many lies/I am disconnected from a system I've rejected/No allegiance/Defiant, I withstand." And "Embrace the Journey … Upraised" urges, "Silence the voice of the self-righteous/Condescending and without grace/Give sight to those who are blind with hatred/To see beyond hypocrisy/ … Beyond the dogmatic haze."
Again, self-righteousness, hate and hypocrisy in the church need to be dealt with, but there's a more overarching feel to these proceedings than simply recognizing that there are some who have strayed. The clue to that take? Though the song longs for life after death ("Prepare the body for when the soul escapes/The last caress before the great awakening"), there's an agnostic, even atheistic element that gets embedded when Leach insists, "Beyond the ether, pass into the veil/Dissolved into nothingness, no hands can grasp/There is no answer to the questions/In the span of the infinite, to the concept of all time."
"Strength of Mind" pushes God out of the salvation business, asking, "Who can raise you from the fall and save you?," then quickly answering, "Only you." Despair, doubt and disorientation turn up on "It Falls on Me." Leach asks plaintively (seemingly to God), "This feeling inside/Where's the peace that you promised me?/Desolation fills this hollow heart/Seeking all the answers as we drift apart/Where is the light?/Where's the sanctity in this choir of voices that deceive?/In disarray I find a place to come undone."
"Cut Me Loose" plays with suicidal imagery that involves at the very least a metaphorical hanging, if not a real one ("A faded memory of what used to be/The burden and the noose/And just cut me loose"). When Leach later lets loose, "Ghosts of the past no longer torment me/I release the anguish," it's difficult to know whether his is a statement of hope after dealing with those haunting spirits and moving forward in life, or whether the struggling soul from whose perspective he sings has given in and submitted to death.
Jesse Leach told blabbermouth.net, "I wanted to be able to speak on current events—stuff that is relevant to us today, stuff that's in the headlines—but I wanted to do it in such a way where it's ambiguous enough where people can sort of draw their own conclusion."
The sections above should help with that.