If this influential metalcore act’s name was all you had to go by, you might assume that death was its main subject matter. And a quick listen to Killswitch’s pounding-but-melodic blend of metal and hardcore growling likely wouldn’t dispel that impression. A careful look at the band’s lyrics, however, reveals a focus that (with a couple exceptions) is surprisingly different than those preconceptions. Though Killswitch Engage doesn’t market itself as a Christian band, the influence of biblical truth is impossible to miss.
"A Light in a Darkened World" quotes Joshua 24:15 in the chorus, which advises, "Choose this day who you will serve/To be a light in a darkened world." Other lyrics on this track sound as if they could have come from an Old Testament prophet ("I've seen so much corruption/And it's hard to ignore/Living on greed and possessions/Is this what we're dying for?"). On "I Would Do Anything," a man longs to see a friend embrace truth and freedom ("I'll give my heart and soul to see you free again"). "Starting Over" deals with forgiveness and restoration in a broken relationship, and "Reckoning" rejects someone who thinks he's a god ("No man can be a deity/You are no god"). That song also emphasizes truth and healing. "The Forgotten" offers a study in tough love as it sternly warns an egocentric person that his poor choices are destroying his life. Similarly, "Take Me Away" laments bad decisions and expresses a deep desire for peace and a new beginning ("Take me away to a peace I've never known"). "Lost" achingly narrates the grief of someone who's lost a loved one to a ravaging illness.
"Save Me" practically feels like an altar call as singer Howard Jones recognizes his failings, frailty and need for a savior. The singer admits his misdeeds ("So much that I've done is wrong") and recognizes that only something outside himself can lead to lasting freedom ("To break the cycle I must turn to you/ ... I've searched inside and I'm empty"). Several lyrics seem to allude to Jesus taking our sin in exchange for salvation ("What I lack I gain through your virtue/ ... Take me as I am and make me whole again"). Likewise, forgiveness and salvation are closely linked on this track ("I freely give this calloused heart, can you forgive me?/ ... I don't have much, will you save me?").
Killswitch plumbs the depths of soul-wrenching struggles and usually turns a redemptive corner. A few times, however, lyrics don't do that in an obvious way. "Never Again," for example, finds a man clinging to unforgiveness after a harsh betrayal by a friend. "The Return" involves a man who's continually drawn back into a damaging relationship that he can't seem to escape, even though he says of this person, "I would tear my eyes out never to see your face." Album closer "Goodbye" chronicles the emotions of a man so demonized by his failures ("I see no way to be free") that death, apparently through suicide, seems like the only way out: "It's my choice, so please lay me to rest/Forgive me, let me go."
Sometimes what you see—or what you think you see—is not what you get. Such is the case with Killswitch Engage. The band's fifth album is not without a few problem areas that need to be navigated (or skipped). At the top of that list is "Goodbye." Still, moments of darkness never dominate. Messages of faith, forgiveness, redemption and salvation ring out far more frequently.
Oh, and about the band's name ... it doesn't reference death at all. A kill switch is simply a button that shuts off machinery in the event of an emergency. In the context of this band, it referenced making a clean break from past musical endeavors. Or as bassist Mike D'Antonio put it, "basically shutting everything down that we once knew and starting over." Whether intentional or not, though, that metaphor encompasses many of the spiritual themes the band deals with as well.