The End of Heartache (2004) may be one of the closest examples, that I can think of, of a perfect record. The album is an undeniable classic of modern metal, that set both the bar and tone for countless acts to come. Yet it remains one of those albums that, for all its ubiquity and notoriety (perhaps even because of them) is still somehow severely underrated.
The album has gone down in history as one of—if not the—definitive moments of modern metalcore. However, listening back, one of the first things that springs to mind is: “where is all the hardcore?” In fact, hardcore is something that is mostly absent from the bulk of Killswitch Engage’s material. Their first album, 2000’s severely underrated self-titled effort, was essentially a melodic death metal record and, while there’s aspects of 2002’s Alive or Just Breathing that can be traced back to hardcore, they are far outnumbered by its blatantly metal elements. By the time The End of Heartache rolled around, the hardcore components had been all but eradicated from the band’s sound, resulting in a record that might more accurately be described as being an “extremely melodic death metal” album, than one which had any real ties to the world of punk and hardcore.
The End of Heartache is also far heavier than it is ever given credit for. Alive or Just Breathing always portrayed as being the heavier of Killwitch Engage’s two magnum opuses, with The End of Heartache given the melodic edge. Yet, as the little girl says on the taco adverts: “porque no las dos?” Alive or Just Breathing is certainly a rawer effort than its successor, but The End of Heartache also just as certainly contains the band’s heaviest material to date. For all their hardcore gusto, tracks like “Numbered Days” and “Fixation on the Darkness” can’t hope to stand up to the extreme metal onslaught of “When Darkness Falls” or the colossal opening moments of “A Bid Farewell”—the later of which has gone onto become a fan favourite and live staple, while the former should really be played more often. Even the saccharine chorus of “The End of Heartache” only hits as hard as it does by way of being contrasted with some seriously hard-hitting chugs and death metal screeches.
There’s a kinetiscism to the riffing on The End of Heartache that sets it apart from the more stop-start structures of the band’s previous material. Big hitters like “Rose of Sharyn” “Breathe Life” and “World Ablaze” are all built around what can only be described as viscous thrash riffs, as are deeper cuts like “Declaration” and “Wasted Sacrifice”, and the added pace makes for a an album characterized by a considerable forward momentum and which wastes no time getting going. Killswitch Engage weren’t, of course the first metalcore band to embrace the thrashier and more extreme ends of the the metal spectrum. Being derivative of At The Gates was a common criticism that was often leveled at the entire metalcore scene at the time; and also a largely unfounded one, if only because there’s way more In Flames to be found within the makeup of Killswitch Engage and their contemporaries than there ever was Slaughter of the Soul (1995). Similar fare had also appeared previously within the band’s catalogue—see: “To the Sons of Man”, “Temple from the Within” and “Vide Infra” from Alive or Just Breathing/the first self-titled (2000)—and contemporaries and forebears like Darkest Hour, Unearth and Shadows Fall had all laid claim to similar takes on the metalcore sound. Yet, none had embraced these more extreme metal elements so completely and convincing as Killswitch Engage did on The End of Heartache, and neither have any managed to strike such a perfect balance since.
Another aspect whereby The End of Heartache hits upon the “golden mean” is its production. Again, excessively clean, over-production is something metalcore would become infamous for, but with The End of Heartache, Killswitch Engage managed to strike the perfect balance between rawness and clarity. Sandwiched between the rough-sounding Alive or Just Breathing and the squeky-clean As Daylight Dies (2006), the band’s third record enjoys the best of both worlds—hitting harder than they ever had before or since, while presenting each and every note with pristine clarity. The transition from overly-raw to overly-processed is something that can be seen throughout, guitarist, Adam Dutkiewicz’s production work as a whole; compare his work with bands like The Acacia Strain and Norma Jean with later works by As I Lay Dying and The Devil Wears Prada, or even earlier and later albums he worked on by Unearth (The Strings of Conscience (2001) v. Darkness in the Light (2011)) and All That Remains (This Darkened Heart (1997) and For We Are Many (2010)) to see what I mean. But for a brief period Dutkiewicz hit the nail on the metalcore production head, and The End of Heartache lies right at the epicenter of that delicate moment.
Dutkiewicz has always been the focal-point and driving force behind Killswitch Engage, but there’s no denying that Howard Jones delivers The End of Heartache‘s outstanding performane. Jones’s collaboration with the band would bring increasingly diminished returns until he parted ways with them in 2012. Likewise, he’d never hit upon the same level of success with any of his subsequent projects (Devil You Know/Light the Torch). Yet he remains an icon of the metal world, able to drum up excitement with his every movement, simply because of his performance on this album (come on, nobody actually cares about Blood Has Been Shed that much). And his celebrity is deserved. The performance he gives on End of Heartache is utterly phenomenal, and set the bar unreachably high for the many bands and vocalists who tried to imitate him. The returning Jesse Leech somehow manages to pull it off, and is even arguably mad a better frontman for having such lofty compositions to tackle upon his return. Killswitch Engage are were lucky enough to hit upon the two best frontment of the genre and generation, but I bet the mention of Devil You Know or Light the Torch rang more of a bell than The Empire Shall Fall ever did. The End of Heartache also brought also brought in ex-Blood Has Been Shed drummer Justin Foley, who has stuck with the band ever since, and the album remains a successful comeback/line-up change the likes of Number of the Beast (1982) and Miss Machine (2004), if not Back in Black (1980) or Black Gives Way to Blue (2009).
The album’s true unsung heroes, however, are its album tracks. The End of Heartache remains ubiquitous a decade and a half since its release off the back of its iconic singles, but the record’s deeper cuts are as strong as any of its more well-known offerings. Both As Daylight Dies and Alive or Just Breathing suffer a noticable dip in quality about halfway through their runtime, but The End of Heartache refuses to let up. Anthemic closer “Hope Is…”, in particular, feels like an unjustly forgotten classic. Few metalcore acts would risk burying a song of its caliber at the end of a record, let alone abandon it to the annals of their back catalogue. Yet, Killswitch Engage are at liberty to do so, given consistent quality of The End of Heartache, and it and later cuts like “World Ablaze” and “Wasted Sacrifice” ensure the album ends on an equally triumphant note as that with which it began. Likewise, the records perfect pacing ensures that it remains fresh throughout. The brief instrumental interludes “Inhale” and “And Embers Rise” provide perfectly deployed moments of respite amid the record’s ongoing onslaught, and are yet just another example of how Killswitch Engage struck such a vital balance with this landmark album.
The End of Heartache is one of the greatest albums in the history of heavy metal and is available through Roadrunner Records.