A familiar face rejoins Killswitch Engage's metal maelstrom

Matt Sullivan

Massachusetts metal band Killswitch Engage will look a little different when the group returns to Alaska, but the faces will still be familiar to fans. When the band played the Egan Civic & Convention Center in 2006, it was with longtime vocalist Howard Jones, who left the band in early 2012. His replacement is Jesse Leach, whom Jones originally replaced back in 2002.

So what's changed for Leach now that he's returned to the band he helped start in the late '90s? "A decade of growing and figuring myself out and having confidence in myself," the singer/screamer explained over the phone after a sound check in Honolulu. He said that lack of confidence and experience led to depression and anxiety, which ultimately led to his decision to leave the band.

As for Jones, Killswitch's previous vocalist explained on the band's website that he had been battling personal issues of his own, among them being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

"We've been refraining from talking about it," Leach said of Jones' exit. "That's the generic statement I'm allowed to give you." He added that the departure was amicable, though.

Even though Leach wasn't with the band in 2006, he's been to Alaska before. His brother was in the Army, and Leach visited him when he was stationed in Fairbanks. "Thankfully in the summer," he added.

Leach stayed busy with music even while he was away from Killswitch. He plays in Times of Grace with Killswitch guitarists Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel, plus the metal band The Empire Shall Fall. His blues-rock group Seemless played here in 2007.

Mixing melodic metal and hardcore, Killswitch Engage played a key role in forging what became known as metalcore, a sound that's prevalent in Anchorage, from local groups like City of Ashes to Griffith and, to a lesser degree, Thera. Those bands make up the opening bill for the Killswitch show Saturday at the Egan Center.

In laying that groundwork, Killswitch released two records with Jones that were certified Gold, even earning a Grammy nomination for 2004's "The End of Heartache." Metal magazine Decibel recently inducted the band's last album with Leach, 2002's "Alive or Just Breathing," into its Hall of Fame.

In April, the band will release its first record with Leach in almost 11 years.

"When I came into the band it was just handed to me: 'Here's the record -- write,'" the singer said about the new album "Disarm the Descent." "For them it was -- initially when they were demoing it -- they wanted the songs to be more aggressive and faster," he explained, adding that it has "definitely a little more teeth and little more bite" but assuring the melodic side is still there.

While the title might suggest a political message, Leach said it isn't intended to be that straightforward. "(It's) definitely a mixed bag," he offered. "It's definitely not just about one thing, though politics does play a big role. I try to leave it ambiguous."

That's part of the singer's newfound confidence, and he said he feels comfortable letting people draw their own conclusions about the lyrics. "I think it's important not to preach to anyone," he added.

By Matt Sullivan