Killswitch Engage is spending December looking back at a key point in its career: The 10-year anniversary of the release of its second album, “Alive or Just Breathing.”
The album was the band’s first release for Roadrunner Records, and while the follow-up, 2004’s “The End of Heartache,” was its major commercial breakthrough, “Alive or Just Breathing” remains an album that means a lot to guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz and his bandmates.
“It basically was just the foundation of the start of our career,” said Dutkiewicz (known by his nickname “Adam D” to many fans). “I guess after that record was released and everybody started talking about it, we just felt things really pick up, and things just really blossomed after it. It was just so crazy how it just seemed to really, really start everything for us.”
What’s also making the idea of performing the “Alive or Just Breathing” CD appealing — the band will play it in its entirety on Thursday at the State Theatre in Portland — is that Killswitch Engage is more like the band of that era now than it had been since 2002.
At the start of this year, vocalist Howard Jones left Killswitch Engage. His replacement, interestingly enough, is Jesse Leach, who was the band’s original singer and vocalist on the band’s self-titled debut and “Alive or Just Breathing.”
“It’s just kind of funny how things ended up with him rejoining the band,” Dutkiewicz said.
While there is good reason for Dutkiewicz and his bandmates (Leach, bassist Mike D’Antonio, guitarist Joe Stroetzel and drummer Justin Foley) to celebrate “Alive or Just Breathing” and what that album did to launch their career, it wasn’t an easy project for the band — or for Dutkiewicz, who was still in the early stages of what has since grown into a busy career as a record producer for Killswitch Engage and a host of other bands.
“It was definitely a bit stressful,” Dutkiewicz said. “It was my first record on a larger label. I’d (produced) a lot of, like, small independent, hardcore labels, metal labels, up to that. And Roadrunner was definitely the biggest client I had been hired by at that point.
“Yeah, I remember wanting so badly for it to come out great and for me to do a good job and for everyone in the band to be happy. I remember the studio being riddled with technical problems, with guitar issues and tuning issues, amp issues, all that kind of crap. I definitely remember being a little bit stressed out over it.”
Another challenge in doing “Alive or Just Breathing” was getting Leach in form for the album.
“He was a big ball of stress,” Dutkiewicz said. “He was battling his throat at that time, of course. That’s when he developed polyps in his throat, and was just not really taking care of his voice. He’s learned over the years how to actually take care and make sure his vocals don’t get strained.
“But back then, he would just go for it and just destroy his throat. So it was a battle for him. There would be days when we would work in the studio and we wouldn’t get anything done just because he sounded really hoarse and he couldn’t really control his pitch. It was a nightmare for him.”
The vocal issues, coupled with Killswitch Engage’s heavy touring schedule that created problems at home for the then-newly married Leach, eventually prompted him to quit the band.
Jones turned out to be a good choice to replace him. He held down the vocalist slot for the group’s next three albums, and started working on the band’s sixth album before deciding he needed to leave.
“I love Howard. He’s a great friend of mine,” Dutkiewicz said. “He left for several personal issues I shouldn’t really talk about out of respect for him. I think he’s much happier now. I think he’s feeling less pressure of being in a band.”
The change in vocalists delayed work on the new album, but the project is now almost finished. While the final choice of songs hasn’t been made, Dutkiewicz offered a few hints for what fans can expect.
“It’s a little speedier, a little more aggressive,” he said. “It’s got moments where it sounds like Killswitch, that’s for sure. We just went for a little more aggressive of a record this time.”
Alan Sculley is a freelance writer.