Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #134. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Eight albums in, Killswitch Engage have reached a new peak with their ball-tearingly brutal and mind-numbingly meticulous riffage. Avery Jacobs catches up with shredder Adam Dutkiewicz to learn how they brewed the career-defining sonic carnage of Atonement.
Two decades and eight albums in, the profound integrity and punishing ferocity of Killswitch Engage haven’t waned a bit. The undisputed champions of pit-splitting breakdowns and pulverising blast beats, Atonement sees the heavy metal titans crank their amps up to 11, tune their guitars right down to the gallows, and unleash pure, unrestrained hell upon their instruments.
It was a taxing album for the Massachusetts fivesome to smash out – by proxy of their other commitments and logistical hiccups, they were forced to lay the album down in chunks, with members recording their parts in different studios strewn across the United States. Not only that, but midway through recording, frontman Jesse Leach came direly close to throwing in the towel. A polyp developed scar tissue in the screamer’s throat, forcing him to undergo surgery, and then three months of intensive physical therapy to get his vocal chords back up to scratch.
Thankfully, the band were able to push through and emerge victorious with Atonement. And in spite of its turbulent inception, the record puts forth some of their strongest work to date. The guitars are thick and fierce and numbingly intricate, and Leach’s guttural bellows are as ravenous as they’ve ever been.
With the record finally out in the wild, we caught up with lead guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz to learn more about how he and the other Killswitchers managed to kick it over the line.
What was it like recording all over the States, rather than rallying everyone up and locking yourselves down
in the one studio?
To be honest, man, I wish we did do the latter. It was so difficult to fly back and forth and do this and that. But Jesse is such a slow mover. I think he had a lot to do with the fact that it all dragged on – y’know, he can only work for a couple of hours a day, and I think he was pretty slow with the lyric‑writing process on this one; I think he hit a couple snags and had some writer’s block here and there, so that definitely had an impact on our work ethic. I obviously would’ve preferred if if he had the whole record written and ready to go – that would have made things a lot easier, for sure.
Do you think that had much of an impact on the final product?
Well, it definitely made it more difficult. I think the longer you hang onto and work on a record, the more it beats you up and the more you kind of lose your sanity over it. But at the end of the day, there’s always a level of quality control that we try to hit – if Jesse brought some ideas to the table and they just didn’t cut it, we’d start over again. We only let the best of ourselves onto the record.
We can vouch for that: Atonement features some of your most intricate and interesting guitar work to date.
Did this record push you very far our of your comfort zone?
Definitely. There’s some more thrashy stuff on there, because I’ve been wanting to get thrashier, and I personally set out to challenge myself with those songs. I’m right at the tippity top with my downpicking speed, and there’s some really tricky stuff in there. It’s good to push yourself! I haven’t really done that in quite some time.
So other than spine-crushingly heavy, what were you going for with the tones that you wanted to explore on
For me, it was mainly just getting out that aggression. And obviously, there’s different points of atmosphere floating around, which I think is important to have with the way our records sound. I really enjoy music that has different textures and things happening in them, so I always strive to do a little bit of that in Killswitch.
What guitars were you ripping out on?
We played our signature models from Caparison. I used my TAT Metal Machine, and then we actually used Joel’s old signature model, not the one he just put out. It was the first JSM he did with the set neck and the flame maple top.
What is it about those Caparisons that make them such a powerful backbone to your sound?
I just love the simplicity of mine. Because of the design, it sounds like it’s the loudest guitar only. Mine is a neck-through with only one Fishman Fluence bridge pickup, which is tappable to go into a non‑active setting. It’s got locking tuners, stainless steel frets, the most playable neck ever… It’s just tough, man. Tough as nails.
Were you very hands-on in the design process for your Metal Machine?
Yeah, we started with the blueprint of the regular TAT, and then I just changed things around to fit the specs I wanted. Y’know, I need something that will withstand the rigours of the road, and also make me sound like more of a beast.
What about in the way of the effects you were running through?
We use Maxon OD-808s in front of any real amplification we can get our hands on. That’s pretty much it – we’ve been known to use some delay pedals here and there, but we’re not really crazy about that stuff at all. The less stuff we have to plug in, the less stuff that can break, y’know? When you have five guys all playing heavy, down-tuned guitars together, you want it to sound as unprocessed as possible. We mainly just concentrate on writing riffs that don’t suck.