VERSUS: Alive or Just Breathing vs. The End of Heartache

VERSUS: Alive or Just Breathing vs. The End of Heartache

Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal history, compare them, and see which one was the better record.

In this edition of Versus, we have a special internal battle with the legendary metalcore act Killswitch Engage. A band that is synonymous with the genre, and one of the most famous and successful acts in the genre. Today, we will be tackling two albums that marked a turning point in the band's career. With not only a singer change with one album, but following that, an album that would blow the band's popularity into the stratosphere. We will look at two of the band's best records. Albums that defined metalcore in the 2000's, and what their front men brought to the table with their era of the band. This is gonna be a good one in this matchup I'm calling "Putting The Core in Metalcore".

First up is the band's second album, 2002's Alive or Just Breathing. The band's major label debut with Roadrunner Records, the band strived to bring everything they had with writing the album. Drummer Adam Dutkiewicz would not only produce the album, but would be the last as the band's drummer. With positive and optimistic lyrics by vocalist Jesse Leach, his last with the band at the time, the album would begin to perfect the band's trademark sound with this record. Considered a landmark release in the metalcore genre, let's listen to this Leach-era classic from the band.

Opening the album is "Numbered Days". With chugging opening guitars, bass gurgles during the spoken word part and double bass, the song starts fully with Leach's guttural growl into a scream. I love the riff during the verse, its classic 2000's metalcore in it's sound and playing. Echoed clean vocals, into snarling screams into the breakdown, is such a great transition. The chorus' vocal contrasts throughout it is classic Killswitch. With parts of clean vocals, deep growls and shrieks, all mixed together beautifully. One heavy, punching opening track. "Self Revolution" starts with a very up-tempo metalcore riff. Dutkiewicz' drumming in the opening and throughout the track shows, especially during the double bass and drum fills behind bassist Mike D'Antonio's section. Guitarist Joel Stroetzel delivers chuggy, catchy and melodic guitar riffs throughout the song. Leach's clean vocals and his harmonies on the chorus are nicely mixed and hit hard on the chorus. I love the breakdown after the chorus, where you can hear Phil Labonte of All That Remains doing vocals on the track.

Next is "Fixation on The Darkness", which was a popular track on MTV's Headbanger's Ball in the 2000's and a lot of people's introduction to the band. Howard Jones would appear as the vocalist, but the actual song features Leach's vocals on it. The band would re-record it with Jones on vocals for the 2005 re-release of the album. I LOVE the guitar tone on the track, especially going into the opening breakdown and double bass, accenting the riff. Leach's snarls are on point and the song is almost one breakdown after another throughout the song. The contrast of clean vocals into the growling highs beneath it just add dynamics and power to the cleans in contrast. I also LOVE D'Antonio's bass build into the breakdown of the closing of the track. Such a heavy and brutal closing to a Killswitch classic.

Next is "My Last Serenade". Opening with acoustic strumming, and Leach's vocals delivering the chorus is very peaceful before the cymbals rise the song from the depths to a chugging opening riff. The double bass hits with so much punch in the mix as the riff picks up. It's an instant follow along with headbanging with the snare as the song heads into the chorus. Leach's clean, gritty vocals sound so good. The ending of the track, wrapping around to the original opening is a beautiful close to the track. "Life To Lifeless" opens with a machine gun like opening start/stop chugging riff and corresponding drums. Leach's phlegmy, snarling screams are top notch, adding more piss and vinegar to the feeling of the riff. I love the chorus being all clean, which would devolve to growls later in the track. The building drums and palm-muted riffs after the halfway mark just build so much power, before returning to the main riff of the verse section. My favorite track off the album and one of my all time favorite Killswitch songs. Following that is "Just Barely Breathing". With an ominous clean guitar passage in the beginning, dark and brooding atmosphere, the song teases an opening build with drums twice. Opening with an almost melodic death metal sounding tremolo guitar section, it starts off very low and slow in its pacing. After almost a minute and a half, the pace picks up and goes for the throat with double bass and Leach's opening scream. Stroetzel is just riff after riff of intricate, fast-paced metalcore guitar playing that would be a trademark of the genre. I love the clean vocals, a more somber and sorrowful delivery at the halfway mark. Showing emotion in a less powerful delivery, underlined by high growls adding depth to the lyrical punch. A different track, with the band still adding metalcore elements, but experimentation with other genres and vocal delivery.

"To The Sons of Man" opens fast and furious. The shortest song on the album, the song is 100 mph right off the bat. With the band delivering unrelenting speed and not taking it's foot off the pedal. Vocals are harsh as all hell in the mix, with the double bass adding punch and power behind it. There is clean vocals near the close of the track, but this song is just a pit-starter of a track. Just two minutes of pure energy and visceral aggression. Next is a re-recording of the song "Temple From The Within" from the band's debut. Amped up with better production and a stronger vocal performance from Leach, it is definitely what the band wanted the track to sound originally. On "The Element of One", it opens with a beautifully mixed and heavenly sounding acoustic guitar. The atmosphere is serene before the songs gets heavy. You can hear the band again adding more to the metalcore sound with depths of the vocal mix, the guitar tone and playing style before the verse section. I do like the tape-warping effect with the clean acoustic guitar, and Leach's spoken word, into his high shrieks and the return of the heavy riff near the closing of the track.

Next is another re-recording from the debut with the song "Vide Infra". Another good re-recording. I love the better quality production and mixing of the track. We get the short instrumental track "Without A Name". Somber, heartfelt acoustic guitar harmonies, open the track. Almost like a peaceful lullaby feel in the song's motif and feeling in the performance. The album closes with "Rise Inside". D'Antonio's gurgling bass leads the charge. With an opening, breakdown-like feeling, along with the undertone of the pulsing bass, it is a heavy start to this closer. Leach's hardcore-esque call out vocals, into his gritty clean vocals and high screams, REALLY shows off his range on the track. Drums are heavy and more aggressive, with an almost blast-beat like section, which hasn't shown up on the album before. The song is a audio journey of complex guitar, emotional vocals and with an almost six minute runtime, it is a grand closer to this album and a perfect closing chapter for the Leach-era of the band at that time.

It's opponent is the band's follow up The End of Heartache. It would mark the studio debut of Howard Jones on vocals, following Leach's departure after the release of Alive or Just Breathing. This would also mark the debut of drummer Justin Foley to the band. With Dutkiewicz officially transitioning to lead guitar and backing vocals. Heartache was a breakthrough album for the band. With the title track appearing on the soundtrack to the movie Resident Evil: Apocalypse, it also received a Grammy nomination that same year. Fans and critics praised Jones' impressive vocal performance on the album, and also stating him as an amazing addition to the band. How does the debut of Jones-era Killswitch stack up against the pinnacle of the Leach-era?

The album opens with "A Bid Farewell". With building drums by Foley, Jones' opening screams start the song into a chugging opening breakdown section. His vocals are so commanding throughout the growls and shouting parts of the song. I LOVE his scream into the heavy and relentless drumming section at the minute mark. Dutkiewicz & Stroetzel harmonize so well on the chorus. Jones is a BEAST on the track with his quick-change of high growls, clean harmonies and deep growls. Really showing how he is one of the best vocalists in metal. I adore the pacing of the song picking up on the bridge. The dual screaming harmonies, with the double bass back into the blast beat section is such a one-two punch before going into the closing chorus. "Take This Oath" actually features Leach on guest vocals, even though he was no longer with the band. Starting off aggressive with high screams and Jones' commanding vocals, the song is leading the charge in power, ferocity and creating the trademark 2000's metalcore sound. I love the chorus with an all clean vocal delivery of Leach, then segueing into Jones' yell of destruction at the end of chorus. With "When Darkness Falls", we open again with Jones' ear-piercing scream with blast beats behind him. The song has the feel and energy of a track off of Alive or Just Breathing, but with better production. With the chorus, you hear the power of Jones' clean vocals, with additional harmonies from Dutkiewicz singing the song's title. Such a powerful and commanding performance from Jones on the track, especially going into the bridge. With D'Antonio's bass adding a driving pulse to the bridge and into the chorus.

Next is "Rose of Sharyn", opening with a classic metalcore riff, Jones is delivering an emotional performance in vocals and lyrics. This song is just fast-paced, high energy and with its sing-along chorus, no wonder it is a live staple of the band. Foley's drums have so much punch in the cymbal strikes and later the d-beat style drumming. Dutkiewicz & Stroetzel lead a chugging riff throughout the song heading into the chorus. Dutkiewicz even gets a little singing solo on the bridge of the chorus with Jones' building vocals behind him into his impressive shriek back into the chorus. My all-time favorite track from the band and Jones' best song with the band in my opinion. We get a short instrumental track "Inhale". A nice calming reprieve from the emotional journey of the previous song. "Breathe Life" kicks the door open with its opening drum fill. Dutkiewicz & Stroetzel lead with machine-like chugging precision, with Foley's double bass mimicking the punch of their guitars. Foley really stands out on the track, with many moments showcasing simple but effective drum fills. Accenting the song's aggressive slow down/speed up pacing. A nice guitar solo does appear after the halfway mark, which is unexpected, but fits the song. With Jones' clean vocals closing out the song with the chorus.

Following that is the title track. This was the song that catapulted the band into popularity. With the chugging guitars, matching drums and Jones' clean vocals, it is a strong, catchy opening. Jones' voice is such a powerful presence in the clean vocals of the verses. With just the drums behind him, it really lets his vocals shine and amplify how strong his voice really is. The chorus is instantly catchy and earworm-esque with its call-and-response delivery of the vocals, which sound amazing live from the fans. I love the lead guitar section going into the second verse, especially ending on the pinch harmonic. A true standout and the band delivering one of the best performances of their career on the track. "Declaration" opens with thundering drum strikes and a lead guitar riff, ascending and descending, amidst the chugs. We are off to the races with the galloping guitar riff of the track, with Jones' matching the peaks and valleys. Aggressive and pissed off in the playing, the band is just going non-stop in its speed and delivery. Jones' screaming, gritty delivery of "let this be the day" gave me goosebumps when I heard it. The song flies by and before you know it, it's over.

"World Ablaze" opens with a groove-like guitar riff with Foley's simple and powerful drumming. Before adding punching double-bass to Jones' snarly scream. I love the drum fill on the chorus, adding to Jones' vocal delivery. The track is heavy, but not cliché up-tempo metalcore. Little more perplexing and the band playing again with the metalcore clichés to add new tricks and ideas to their sound to separate them from their peers. Another instrumental piece follows with "And Embers Rise". A tranquil mix of acoustic guitars and clean electric guitars creates a harmonious feel, like an ascension to heaven in its feeling and build behind it. "Wasted Sacrifice" starts with a militarialistic drum and guitar with Jones' leading the troops with his commanding voice and screaming vocals. The double bass packs a whallop on the track during the verse. Guitars pick up the pace even faster than the double bass, instantly picturing the pit going crazy during the track. The chorus is instantly emotional in it's lyrics and message, accented by Jones' clean vocals. The forceful vocals on the bridge/breakdown hits SO good. Album closer "Hope is..." features Phil Labonte of All That Remains on the track. With a building drum fill, the guitars speed the track up even more as the band wants to end the album strong. The simple, heavy chugging on the verse lets Jones take control and carry the song in the palm of his hands. I love the gang vocals on the chorus. Creating an almost thrash/punk energy. With heavy double bass, a lead-in of heavy screams from Jones and Labonte and into the closing moments, the song is a strong closer to one of the best albums in the band's catalogue.

This is, by far, the TOUGHEST Versus I have done so far. I LOVE Killswitch Engage, no matter the era of the band. Both vocalists have such similarities in screams, growls, clean vocals and lyrical depths. Musically, both albums deliver that metalcore itch I love to scratch. Each album delivers unique elements of the genre. Breathing has the rougher production and more grit in the vocals and musicianship. It has that piss and vinegar snarl I love in Leach's vocals on the album. Also, it features some classic live staples of the band. Heartache was more amplified and stronger with Jones' vocals, and a much sleeker production. The record made the band a household name in metal and would also feature live staples from the Jones era of the band. By a literal hair, I'm picking The End of Heartache as the winner. What clinched it was Jones' performance. Him and Leach do have very similar vocals, but I think Jones just did a tiny bit better. Musically, both records are solid and you really can't go wrong with either record from these legends of metalcore. I also think the fanbase would also be divided on this one as well, so hopefully I'm not alone on my decision in this matchup.

Leach would return to the band in 2012 following Jones' departure. He would make his studio album return on the band's 2013 album Disarm The Descent. He is still performing with the band, with a new album from Killswitch in 2024 per interviews, but no confirmed released date or album title has been announced at time of writing.  

Leach would also form a side project with Dutkiewicz called Times of Grace. The band contains their metalcore roots, but dabbles in the alternative metal sound. The band's debut, The Hymn of a Broken Man, was released in 2011. Times of Grace would follow that release up ten years later with their second album Songs of Loss and Separation.

Following his departure from Killswitch, Jones would continue to make music with new bands. He formed the band The Devil You Know and would release two albums under that name, 2014's The Beauty of Destruction and 2015's They Bleed Red. Due to a dispute between past band members about the copyright of the band's name, the band would change their name to Light The Torch. The new band's debut album Revival received positive reviews from fans and critics. The band's most recent record is 2021's You Will Be The Death of Me.

In-between tour and album cycles with Light The Torch, Jones would team up with YouTuber Jared Dines to form the project SION. The band released their debut single "The Blade" in 2021, with an overwhelmingly positive response from fans. Amping up excitement for the band's debut album. The band released their self-titled debut album that year. The project is planning a follow-up record with help from merch sales. No update has been announced at the time of writing of the status of their second album. Jones and Dutkiewicz have a secret project that they just finished recording new material, but little is known about the project at time of writing.

Following Jones' departure, both him and Killswitch have been on good terms with each other with no bad blood towards the other. With Jones not only performing live with them on some occasions, but also performed guest vocals on the band's most recent album Atonement. He appears on the album's second track "The Signal Fire", which was a huge hit for the album and showcases both vocalists' unified front and comradery in the legacy of the band.

Do you agree with my decision? Which album do you think should have won? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.

VS: Alive or Just Breathing vs. The End of Heartache - Online Poll - StrawPoll
What’s your opinion? Vote now: Alive or Just Breathing, The End of Heartache…

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