Frontman Jesse Leach returns to Killswitch Engage

Killswitch Engage members, from left: Justin Foley (drums),

Killswitch Engage members, from left: Justin Foley (drums), Joel Stroetzel (rhythm guitar), Adam Dutkiewicz (lead guitar), Mike D’Antonio (bass) and Jesse Leach (vocals). (Credit: Roadrunner Records / Travis Shinn)

It's been a transformative year for Killswitch Engage frontman Jesse Leach.

After a decadelong hiatus, he reclaimed his position with the Massachusetts metalcore militia, which is experiencing continued international success. While it was with subsequent singer Howard Jones (not the '80s synth pop maven, by the way) that the group scored two gold albums, a gold DVD, its first Grammy nomination and its first Top 10 release with 2009's self-titled album, Leach's re-emergence has not deterred the group's progress.

In fact, the quintet's latest album, "Disarm the Descent," which combines its thrashier roots with the melodic quotient the band developed with Jones, hit the same spot on the Billboard Top 200 as the last album (No. 7) and even higher chart positions globally. It also earned the group its second Grammy nomination for best metal performance with "In Time." The band is in the throes of a world tour, which arrives Thursday at the Paramount in Huntington.

 

Manic energy, inner peace

Conducting the interview from a hotel in Sydney, Australia, where he had just checked in after a flight from Japan, Leach is soft spoken, and not simply because of jet lag. He is a thoughtful, reflective artist who balances his manic, onstage energy and internal rage with humor and a desire to find inner peace. Ambient artists Brian Eno, Steve Roach and Boards of Canada are on regular iPod rotation while he tours.

This past year has been a big learning curve for the singer, who must balance performing his Killswitch material with tunes popular during Jones' tenure. "It's interesting because it's a different style for me, the more soaring, big melody choruses," Leach says. "It's taught me a lot about my voice and about trying to make it my own thing but staying true to what's written because the fans want to hear it a certain way. It's been a lesson in humility, for sure, and something I've never done before, someone else's lyrics and figuring out how I could relate to them to make it a passionate performance, to make it real and legit.

"I think it's made me a better writer, a better singer, a better person doing it that way. I've actually fallen in love with a lot of those songs and just think that they're brilliantly written. I've actually become a big fan of Howard Jones' vocal style. He's a pretty amazing singer."

Leach certainly remained active over the past 12 years, fronting the heavy-minded Times of Grace, The Empire Shall Fall and Seemless, the former two groups still active. The issues that plagued him upon his departure in 2002 -- battling depression, lacking a sense of firm identity, creative and personal differences, and struggling with his punishing vocal style, which has led to a form of acid reflux -- were essentially resolved by his return in 2012.

"All those things at once just made me feel completely alienated," he recalls, "and I think it made it even worse for me and in a darker place where all I wanted to do was press the eject button, so I did."

 

Learning to dial it down

The driving engine of his art, his anger, particularly at the state of the world, always remains. But he has learned to dial it down and pull back from it. When asked what it would take to remove some of the rage that dwells within him, Leach says he is not sure.

"I don't envision myself without a streak of anger or craziness. I think that's part of who I am," he says. "I would say maybe having children or something radical like that might change me. I don't see that happening anytime soon, either. One of the reasons I even started screaming when I was 14 years old -- and why I even wanted to do it and why I looked to bands like Minor Threat, Black Flag and Dead Kennedys -- I get that anger, I get that sarcasm, and I think that's always been a part of me. Because of that anger, compassion and love for the good things in life or the other side of humanity washes over me, too, so it keeps me balanced. I think if I were to lose that balance, it would affect my work."

WHO Killswitch Engage

WHEN | WHERE Thursday at 7:30 p.m., the Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington

TICKETS $25-$50

INFO 631-673-7300, ticketmaster.com

 

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Leach on success

While metalcore has become mainstream since the time Killswitch Engage first emerged, singer Jesse Leach views the ascension as bittersweet. "It's a mixed bag for me, honestly," he says. "It's great for me and my family because I'm actually able to pay some bills these days and play to bigger crowds. All of that is so cool."

On the flip side, a lot of bands he would never listen to have become popular. "I'm a purist -- I think music is art and that's definitely been lost coming from the hard-core and the punk scene and being in bands that have lyrics that actually say things about political and social issues," Leach says. "A lot of that has just been dumbed down for the sake of mainstream album sales, popularity, whatever you want to call it. I feel a responsibility as a lyricist and as a writer to try to inject some of that back into this kind of music."

Leach is a big fan of reggae and late-'70s and Reagan-era hardcore and punk music. The genres may be radically different, but both often have a political and social agenda in their lyrics. Leach says you can still make music with a message, but that approach becomes trickier as sales soar, fan bases swell and money rolls in. And he has been finding his footing returning to a band that is bigger than when he left it.

"I feel pretty comfortable with that and have lightened up a lot," he says. "My punk-rock guilt has dissipated into an acceptance of where I am in my life, and I've actually become very happy because of that. I'm enjoying some success, seeing the world and having fun. It's not all seriousness."

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