It’s fascinating to see what a side project allows members to express that they couldn’t in their primary outfit. Doubly so in the case of Times of Grace: Jesse Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz already have a flexible outlet in Killswitch Engage. Leach had not yet rejoined the band in 2011 when the collaborators’ debut arrived; 10 years later Songs of Loss and Separation shows that outside of the NWOAHM influences that have marked Killswitch’s style for over 20 years there’s a lot of darkness still to mine, and the opportunity to play in a more melodic, heartfelt space really differentiates this from the pair’s other outlet. It also makes for a stronger, more impactful offering that’s been sticking in my head since first playing the record.
From the opening moments of “The Burden of Belief” it’s readily apparent that Dutkiewicz’s strength as a producer have lost none of its park. The album sounds huge, with a clarity to each instrument and track that lives and breathes in its own universe. The song bridges the darker, introspective tone of the debut and sets the stage for what’s to come: massive hooks that don’t sacrifice heaviness, an emphasis on soul and emotion, and some of the best metal vocals you’ll hear on a record. Leach has always been my preferred singer in Killswitch, and on Songs of Loss and Separation he has the chance to really lay it all out, mixing his signature roar with anthemic clean vocals that would be plastered all over hard rock radio if such a thing existed anymore. If there’s a surprise to be had vocally here, it’s that Dutkiewicz’s vocal contributions match nicely, adding a twang to his lines that complements Leach perfectly.
The music runs from the radio ready “Mend You” to the more driving attacks of “Rescue” and “Medusa” featuring that singular riffing you’d expect to hear on a Killswitch record. But to simply equate it to “darker Killswitch” does a disservice to what Times of Grace is attempting. The hints of progressive sludge, psychedelia, and hard rock put this in a much more interesting musical pocket, and having Dan Gluzak on board for drums really helps to accentuate the groove and slower drive the album takes aim at. “Far From Heavenless” is maybe one of the heaviest songs on the album, despite its slower pace. Much of this has to do with the lyrical content, as Leach and Dutkiewicz plumb the depths of loss, sorrow, and yes – separation to come up with some of the best content the pair have crafted since, well…the last Times of Grace album.
Songs of Loss and Separation wants to take you down the path of bands like Alice in Chains, who specialized in that painful cathartic rock that would dig into your marrow and release a pain kept buried deep. They succeed while still maintaining those moments of identity that can only comes from the combination of Leach and Dutkiewicz. It’s dark in a way that doesn’t feel calculated, the hooks stay with you, and it doesn’t feel like leftovers from other projects. I’ll take it, and keep listening to it, trying not to suffocate.