14 August 2023
Creativity, ambition, confidence, passion, consistency or changing with the times. Which of these does it take to survive in “the topsy turvy world of rock ‘n’n roll”? Road Hounds takes a close sniff.
Massachusetts outfit Killswitch Engage were at the fore of the early-2000s metalcore wave. With their infectious meld of New England hardcore and Swedish death metal, they achieved chart success and garnered Grammy nominations while selling millions of records.
Since their inception, they’ve navigated shifting trends in metalcore, and have been restless in discovery of new musical ground without sacrificing the heart of their sound. From their gold-certified, Top 40 The End of Heartache in 2004 to 2016’s chart-topping Incarnate, Killswitch Engage have established themselves as one of heavy metal’s most commercially successful (and critically acclaimed) acts.
Incarnate reveals that any visible seams are gone, and that the band’s sound, while remaining effusive and emotionally resonant, shows only a few signs of evolution. Fans needn’t worry, metalcore hasn’t been left by the wayside, but experimentation with progressive and melodic death metal is also firmly in entrenched.
As a whole, Incarnate improves on the creativity and restlessness offered by Disarm the Descent. There is more ambition, confidence and passion here.
Five Finger Death Punch
One of the most successful groove metal bands of the 2010s, Five Finger Death Punch have been a staple of the Billboard charts since their formation in 2005. Taking their name from the cult martial arts film Five Fingers of Death, the group’s titanic riffs and darkly skewed lyrics deliver a brand of vintage thrash and blazing metal as powerful as their name.
In the years following their 2007 debut, they have amassed a slew of awards via gold- and platinum-selling outings like 2011’s American Capitalist, 2013’s ambitious two-volume set The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell, 2018’s And Justice for None, and 2022’s AfterLife.
The follow-up to 2020’s hard-hitting F8, Afterlife sees Five Finger Death Punch continue to refine their uncompromising, groove-laden brand of hybrid thrash metal. Working once again with producer Kevin Churko, they deliver an unrelenting sonic onslaught led by mosh pit-inducing anthems like “Gold Gutter,” “IOU,” and the densely melodic title cut.
When they debuted in the early ’90s, Maryland hard rock workhorses Clutch combined elements of funk and metal inspired by Faith No More and Led Zeppelin. Through the decades, they built a devoted fan following through constant touring and hit alt-rock crossover albums, starting in the late ’90s with Clutch and The Elephant Riders and extending into the 2000s.
By the 2010s, the veteran quartet reached new heights, achieving late-era success with 2013’s Earth Rocker and 2015’s Psychic Warfare, which both peaked in the Top 15 of the Billboard 200. Extending their reach into the 2020s, they issued 13th album Sunrise on Slaughter Beach in 2022.
Sunrise on Slaughter Beach, the 13th set from hard rock road horses Clutch, is more of the same reliably rocking output from the Maryland gang. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. On this brisk, nine-track outing, the quartet prove once again that they are the masters of their craft, delivering hit after hit of grooving muscle and visceral thrills.
Their shortest salvo to date, Sunrise on Slaughter Beach distills all that’s good in late-era Clutch, providing a familiar hit of serotonin and physical release.
Hailing from the beachfront town of Byron Bay, Australia, metalcore outfit Parkway Drive blasted out of their serene surroundings touting a volatile blend of intricate metal riffing, punishing breakdowns, and hardcore’s emotional tension.
The band caught fire regionally with the chart-topping Horizons (2007) and Deep Blue (2010), then broke into the international market in 2012 with the arrival of Atlas. 2015’s Ire saw the group introduce clean singing into their oeuvre, and they continued to move toward a more melodic, though no less aggressive metal style on 2018’s Reverence and 2022’s Darker Still.
If Ire was the sound of Parkway Drive tunneling out of their metalcore prison cell, then Reverence is the great escape, and in finding that thin line between pageantry and purpose, the band has delivered its most crucial outing to date, one that’s both devastating and galvanizing.
Boston-area hard rock group Godsmack infuse a sound influenced by Alice in Chains and Metallica with mystical imagery and percussive tribal rhythms. Part of the late-’90s post-grunge/nu-metal wave, the quartet debuted with a dark and menacing self-titled effort.
Through the decades, they matured to incorporate classic rock and heavy metal touches on mid-era releases like The Oracle and IV. Following frontman Sully Erna’s solo projects in the late 2010’s, Godsmack reinvigorated themselves with the polished When Legends Rise (2018) and Lighting Up the Sky (2023).
Lynchpins of the late-’90s post-grunge/nu-metal wave, Godsmack, have spent over two decades applying their brooding yet polished sound to the mainstream rock charts. Lighting Up the Sky is the Massachusetts band’s eighth and reportedly final album. A sonic composite of their seven prior efforts, the eleven-song set straddles multiple hard rock and heavy metal sub-genres, from crushing alternative metal to classic rock-tinged post-grunge
Motionless in White
While their hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania is mostly known in popular culture for being perfectly mundane, gothic metalcore band Motionless in White make music that’s anything but tame. Blending the raw fury of metalcore with the dramatic atmospherics of goth-metal and industrial, the band has cultivated a dark and moody sound that owes as much to Type O Negative as it does to Slayer.
Emerging in 2010, the group entered the mainstream four years later with the release of their third studio LP Reincarnate, which debuted at number nine on the Billboard Top 200. Motionless in White continued to find chart success at home and abroad with subsequent efforts Graveyard Shift (2017), Disguise (2019), and Scoring the End of the World (2022).
Pierce the Veil
Combining elements of post-hardcore, emo-punk, and progressive rock, Pierce the Veil burst onto the scene in the late 2000s. They slowly built a following with 2010’s Selfish Machines before achieving mainstream success in 2012 with the release of their gold-selling third studio album, Collide with the Sky, which included the hit “King for a Day.”
The band topped the U.S. alternative rock charts again in 2016 with Misadventures before an extended hiatus. Seven years later, they returned, calmer and more reflective, with their mature fifth album, The Jaws of Life.
The Jaws of Life is definitely not the Pierce the Veil of the post-hardcare early days. Much like contemporaries Sleeping with Sirens and Bring Me the Horizon, they’ve changed with the times — for better or worse, depending on the fan — and the results are no less immediate and impactful.
These bands have used unique blends of creativity and restlessness, ambition, confidence and passion. Refining their formula, uncompromising, becomning masters of their craft or distilling their essence. Ot maybe they move toward a more melodic sound, added polish and consistency or simply changed with the times.
Yes, its a long way to the top if you wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll. but staying on top can be even harder.