This article was originally published in June 2004.
Adam Dutkiewicz and his band, Killswitch Engage, are gathered in the lounge of Zing Recording Studios in the fading mill town of Westfield, Massachusetts, discussing the finer points of the band's stringent dietary requirements. "I love my food wicked spicy, dude," says the guitarist, "because you feel it the next day when you crap. It's like your bowels emit napalm. I love that feeling — it lets you know you're alive."
"Fried chicken, Indian food, and burritos," says guitarist Joel Stroetzel, smacking his lips. "Everyone loves it really spicy, except for me — I'm a pussy," says Killswitch's newest member, drummer Justin Foley. "I'm trying to build up my tolerance. One day I tried one of Adam's dishes. And I cried." The rest of the band — rounded out by vocalist Howard Jones and bassist Mike D'Antonio — all laugh.
Such fleeting moments of levity are precious indeed when a band has toiled as long and hard as Killswitch have to complete their upcoming third album, The End of Heartache (Roadrunner). "It was just hell," says Dutkiewicz, who also produced the album. "I worked every day for three months. I was in here on Christmas Eve! I took Christmas Day off, but that was it."
Jones is similarly burnt out. "I spent more time in the studio for this album than I have over 10 years being in bands," he says.
Rough mixes of the album prove that it was time well spent. Killswitch's signature brand of hyperkinetic neo-Scandinavian thrash has only increased in ferocity. Dutkiewicz can't help but boast, "We blew up an amp while we were recording. That's how hot and tasty our new tunes are — the amps can't handle the riffs!" Tracks like "A Bid Farewell," "World Ablaze," and "Rose of Sharyn" simply kill any of the offerings from the band's previous release, Alive or Just Breathing, while also delivering lush, nearly epic melodies. The song also finds Jones pushing his impossibly limber vocal cords into new feats of acrobatics: He still lets loose with bloodcurdling screams, but on the album's title track he sings through almost the entire song, creating what Stroetzel describes with a chuckle as "the closest thing that Killswitch will ever come to doing the power ballad."
"Yeah, I wrote that song 'cause I need to get a girl," Dutkiewicz jokes. "As soon as I heard the music for that one," says Jones, "I was like, I'm going to sing through that whole song. I just had a vibe from it."
But, despite a clear confidence in his own abilities, Jones readily admits that he was extremely nervous about making the new album. Though the brawny singer — who wears his surly, sardonic disposition as proudly as his two full sleeves of tattoos — has fronted Killswitch for nearly two years, this is the first time he's recorded with the band, and he's feeling the pressure to live up to the Killswitch legacy. "As long as this band exists, there'll always be that comparison," he says. "It's like, Oh, where's the old guy? The old guy sounds better. You're always going to hear some of that."
The "old guy" is original frontman Jesse Leach, who joined the group in 1999, when Killswitch were formed by Dutkiewicz and Stroetzel — both veterans of the band Aftershock — and D'Antonio, whose band Overcast has just broken up. (Dutkiewicz played drums until the band recruited Tom Gomes to fill the position). They released a self-titled debut in 2000 on Ferret Records before singing to Roadrunner in time to put out Alive or Just Breathing in 2002. One month later, just as momentum was building, Leach quit; he had seriously strained his vocal cords and could no longer drink or be in clubs where people were smoking. "[His life on tour] basically consisted of staying in the van the whole time," says D'Antonio. Leach had also just married and wanted to spend more time with his wife.
Enter Jones, then fronting the Connecticut-based hardcore band Blood Has Been Shed. The singer had known the guys in Killswitch for years. He called D'Antonio as soon as he heard about the opening and offered up his services; everyone jammed together shortly thereafter, and Killswitch's new incarnation clicked almost immediately.
Jones played his first show with Killswitch in July 2002, at the extreme-music festival Hellfest; the band then toured tirelessly, opening for In Flames, Kittie, and Poison the Well and playing last summer's Ozzfest. Then Gomes called it quits. "Tom was burned out on life on the road," Stroetzel explains. "He had met this girl and he moved out to L.A. — Tom was in love and not into the band. He wanted to go to school, learn to record."
The band harbored no hard feelings. (In fact, Dutkiewicz, a self-professed "metro-sexual" with no love for the touring life — "playing the same shitty clubs — not showering, smelling like shit," he grumbles — commends Gomes' decision, calling him "the only intelligent broke I've ever worked with.") But still, there was the matter of his replacement.
Once again, Jones rescued the band from its bind, calling in Foley, who had also played in Blood Has Been Shed. With BHBS on hiatus while Jones focused on Killswitch, Foley, a classically trained drummer with a masters in music, was playing in the percussion section of an orchestra, accompanying dance classes, and giving drumming lessons. Foley joined the band just in time for last fall's inaugural Headbanger's Ball Tour with Shadows Fall and Lamb of God, and Jones is clearly happy to have him onboard. "Justin has the chops," the singer says. "And he loves The Simpsons just as much as I do."
Amid all the touring and turmoil, Killswitch somehow found time to write new songs. "When we got home, I just locked myself in a room and riffed for hours," Dutkiewicz says. "I ate nothing but Shredded Wheat and shredded all day."
The Zing Studios are haunted. Seriously. "My boss here is very into the supernatural and the occult," says Dutkiewicz. "One night he had a séance to talk to his father because he and his dad still had some unsettled business. He thinks ever since then that his father's ghost won't leave. It's really weird."
"Wouldn't that be the worst?" D'Antonio asks. "You're in heaven, you're hanging out on a cloud, you get sucked down and thrown into a drum room! I would kill my son." Despite the jokes, the band members all claim to have had close encounters. Dutkiewicz has seen "crazy lights" and "floating orbs," Foley has seen "the shadows doing things that shadows don't normally do," and Stroetzel recalls one night when took a nap in the lounge after 12 hours of recording: "I was laying here an I swear I kept feeling someone brush against me or walk through the room. Then I'd wake up and there was no one there. It creeps you out."
But if the studio's poltergeist gave the Killswitch guys a hard time, it was nothing compared to the hard time they got from Dutkiewicz when he was producing. "He's a jerk," says Jones with a chuckle.
"He came down pretty hard on all of us," says Stroetzel. "I had a couple of nights when we kept having to do a part over and over again and I was just like, What are you talking about? That take was awesome!"
One might not expect such a firm hand from Dutkiewicz, a notorious goofball who, among many other stunts, donned a pig costume for the band's final Ozzfest gig. According to Jones, though, the guitarist becomes "a completely different person when he's producing an album." Foley agrees. "He takes it very, very seriously," he says.
As hard as the guitarist-producer pushed his bandmates to deliver their best work, "Adam demands just as much out of himself as he does out of everyone else," his own concedes Jones. "Just watching him do his own guitar parts, seeing him just dog himself, just crack on himself for some of his playing, was really funny."
"Honestly, I don't give two fucks about people being like, Oh, I fucking love you shit, dog, oh, you're fucking great," says Dutkiewicz. "I appreciate everyone who listens to our music because without them, we're nothing. But at the end of the day, it's way more satisfying to create something and know that you put your all into it and hear that final product."