Welcome to Stepping Stone: a new column focusing on the metal albums of our yesteryears. Music is very much a proverbial road traveled, and sometimes, years later, we look back at what we used to listen to and realize how much we’ve changed as individuals. Essentially, Stepping Stone is broken up into two parts: how we used to view the album before and how we view the album now. Unlike Heavy Rewind, it doesn’t so much as aim to place the album within the context of its release, but rather explain its meaning to us and our growth as consumers of music. Thus, the article is divided into “opinions” rather than an actual chronology of the album and its release.
Jimmy Two’s first edition of this column was great and had me harking back to the glory days of browsing CD’s for hours and stressing because I only ever had enough money for one. One album kept coming to mind when I was considering what to pick for this feature. The album in question is the often heralded Alive Or Just Breathing by Killswitch Engage.
“THE TIME APPROACHES”
It only took the opening passage of “Numbered Days” for me to latch onto this sound and begin furiously moshing around the room. At only twelve years old I was already deep into nu-metal and all of the bands that were being plugged on music TV because of that movement’s surge. Spineshank, Mushroomhead, Trapt… All bands that I thought were playing the hardest, angriest music around. Brought up on Maiden, Sabbath and Priest, I was beginning to look for music of my own generation that had what I wanted. I wanted fast drums, loud guitars and screaming, honest vocals and lyrics. I wasn’t getting any of that with the shit on TV. Then Killswitch Engage came on.
“My Last Serenade” was doing the rounds on TV for awhile before I really heard it. I’d listened before but I hadn’t heard it. The groove in the verse riff and the interplay between guitar and vocals was something I’d never have dreamed of. Leach’s shift between hardcore tough guy and heartfelt crooner was totally mind blowing. I knew I needed more of this and thankfully, a good friend’s big brother had the CD (thank you Bramwell family, forever in your debt). It was around this time that I picked up a bass to play (also the Bramwell’s influence, if you’re reading this: here eh!) and set about trying to learn how to pick as fast and riff as hard as the KsE dudes. If I had any sense of vanity back then then I would have tried to shout/sing like Leach and Adam D too.
Every track on Alive Or Just Breathing had something for me: the huge chorus in “Life To Lifeless” taught me that slowing things down was okay, the breakneck start of “To The Sons Of Man” gave me a fright every time it kicked in, the bass tone on “Rise Inside” made me crave better equipment at an early age. It’s also where I would hear music inspired by At The Gates for the first time. Only a few years down the line I’d be introduced to another band taking those influences and using them in a much different style. The band I still call my favourite band to this day, The Black Dahlia Murder.
I still fucking love this album. It’s right up there with End Of Heartache in terms of great riffs, choruses and mosh moments but has way more in the nostalgia department. I’m listening to it right now and I keep picking the air guitar up to hit the pinch harmonics in “My Last Serenade”. Whatever you think of the Howard Jones era and the material with Leach back on vocals, AOJB’s influence is too important to dismiss. I still hear this in music today, whether it’s a guitar harmony or a vocal hook (or a band name, I see you From Sorrow To Serenity!).
This record still sounds great. It doesn’t have the artificial sheen of modern metalcore records and doesn’t sound as sucky as some that have tried to scale back their production values on purpose. I still want that bass tone and yes, I would love to be able to bark and lament like this. “My Last Serenade” is still one of my favourite tracks and listening back through the album now, it brings back fond memories of learning my instrument. The early days of my musical taste seem a million miles away as the candles on my birthday cake increase and my attention span decreases. But this album is still something I have to have on my phone for work or long journeys.
I rarely listen to albums that I had on constant rotation in the fledgling days of being a fucking mosher; still trying to forget that awkward part of my life where all I listened to was The Cure. Taste changes because times change and nobody is the same person they were at twelve/thirteen years old. But alas, the more things change the more they stay the same. I’m still a sweaty headbanger but the media I digest is different. Shorter songs, nastier sounds and wayyy more violence. All the twenty second grind songs in the world still don’t take me back as poignantly as those three opening words. Still a classic, despite the fucking awful artwork.