Alive Or Just Breathing - Reissued (2 Discs)
posted on 12/2005 By:
Going head to head with Unearth’s recent double CD reissue of The Oncoming Storm, Killswitch Engage has doubled up their somewhat groundbreaking 2002 sophomore album with a bonus disc. Now, while KSE's Alive or Just Breathing? isn’t nearly as genre defining as say Poison the Well’s The Opposites of December, Unearth’s The Stings of Conscience Shai Hulud’s Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion or Prayer For Cleansing’s The Rain in Endless Fall (all albums I wholeheartedly recommend for the new metalcore fan), it undoubtedly ushered a second metalcore generation, brought metalcore to the masses and to MTV viewers and it certainly added a more commercial mainstream gloss to metalcore.
To be completely honest with you, when this first came out, I bought into the hype, purchased it, and promptly returned it, as in 2002 I hadn’t quite fully succumbed to metalcore’s European melodies mingled with US hardcore style. (I really didn’t ‘get’ metalcore until I heard Hamartia’s To Play the Part in 2003 - then I went back and found out about all of the above mentioned bands). So this essentially isn’t a rehashed review as I don’t own Alive or Just Breathing?, so I’m pretty much hearing it for the first time, again, sort of.
Listening to the Jesse Leach fronted KSE as opposed to the Howard Jones Fronted KSE on The End of Heartache is a minimal transition as in retrospect and as I own The End of Heartache, they sound similar, both having snarling growls and soulful clean croons, though Jones may be a few octaves deeper in both categories (I still prefer Jones in Blood Has Been Shed). But listening to Alive or Just Breathing? four years later, I can appreciate the album for being what is was and is, especially considering the rather unfortunate growth of the genre. KSE basically nailed it, and nailed it good. The tangible, on the sleeve In Flames influence mixed with burly hardcore essentially fills the template that Unearth and Poison The Well made, but they threw in some sumptuous hooks, anthemic choruses and a clean, polished tone that would sit well with less ‘hardcore’ listeners. And even after listening to all the metalcore I’ve been forced fed for the last four years, Alive or Just Breathing? is still better than most of it, and is arguably better than their even more commercial follow up. Obviously, the hit single “My Last Serenade” stands out, but lesser known tracks like opener “Numbered Days”, the burly but soulful “Fixation on the Darkness” (which in retrospect seems made for Howard Jones’ vocals), the hardcore stomp of “Life to Lifeless” (though its chorus flails compared to other tracks), the moody but urgent “Just Barely Breathing” the short intensity of “To the Sons of Man” and the thrash assault of “Vide Infra” all deliver high end, pretty much perfectly produced and played melodic metalcore for the masses.
To be honest, if your are reading this review you probably own both KSE albums and your are wanting to know if the bonus disc is worth your money seeing as the first disc isn’t re-mastered or anything. Well, disc 2 offers up a total of 8 songs and three videos (“My Last Serenade”, “Fixation on the Darkness”, “Life to Lifeless”). The songs are composed of B-sides from the Alive or Just Breathing? sessions (“Into the Unblind”, “When the Balance is Broken”, the acoustic “Untitled and Unloved”), all solid tracks that fit right in with the album's complement of tracks. Then you get three appropriately surprisingly polished demo versions of the album’s better songs (“Numbered Days”, “Transfiguration” aka “Fixation on the Darkness” and “Just Barely Breathing”). Then there is "Fixation On The Darkness" rerecorded with Jones' vocals as seen on the video. It’s still the same fine song, but Jones does add a certain bluesy element to the clean parts, though that’s not knocking Leach’s performance. Finally you get some outtakes from the recording sessions, showing that KSE are a group of fairly down to earth humorous folks.
It’s a shame there’s been such a backlash against this band and the genre as a whole, as while this album certainly is responsible for the vast amount of saturation, it stands as a pretty trendsetting, stellar must-own example of metalcore before its decent into mediocrity.
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