Killswitch Engage pulled into the Uptown Theatre in Kansas City on Saturday, March 19th, to celebrate the release of their Incarnate album, along with three diverse but equally heavy openers.
The first band to perform was Toothgrinder. The two main elements of the band’s music are both familiar: groovy stoner metal, and unhinged metalcore vocals. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the two fused quite like this. The end result came across as the fusion of Mastodon and Motionless In White. Frontman Justin Matthews has an incredible range of screams, veering from occasional pig squeals to Slipknot-esque shouting to traditional metalcore roars, and even on the rare occasion an early screamo fry scream. His versatility made each song stand out even when the riffs started to bleed together, and the unique approach made the band a standout.
Up next was 36 Crazyfists, who blend old-school thrash riffs with more modern heavy vocals. The band had tons of energy, but didn’t really seem to connect with the crowd the way Toothgrinder did. In fact, after their set, the people next to me went back to talking about that first band that was so good.
After that came Memphis May Fire. I will admit to a personal bias: I cannot tell a single Memphis May Fire song apart. They’re very competent musicians and have that in-style metalcore sound down pat, and that’s enough that the crowd went crazy for them, but even live they weren’t able to make any one song distinct.
Rounding out the bill were the headliners, Killswitch Engage. You could tell they are excited to play the new tracks live: set opener “Strength Of The Mind” has verses that are pure old-school hardcore, and the band came out playing hard. Frontman Jesse Leach did his best with the early songs that adopted this somewhat new trend away from thrash and towards two-step, seeming a bit out of breath on more melodic songs like “Always” or “My Curse.” The band, on the other hand, got better as the night went and the beers were chugged. They seemed a little forced for the first few songs, but once they were a couple beers in and loosened up, the performance started really feeling like a live show. Guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz especially got more involved (and lewder) with every drink, providing both laughs and much-needed energy on stage.
That said, Killswitch’s Incarnate album and Incarnate Tour are plagued by the same flaw: poor pacing. The early set was very intense, hitting some of the oldest and heaviest material, and some of the faster new tunes. About halfway in, though, the band shifted to thrashy songs with big, hooky, slow choruses. Everyone was singing along, but packing so many “soft” songs into the second half of the set killed the momentum the band was building, and it could be felt in how many crowdsurfers ceased going overhead. Killswitch Engage know how to write a killer song, but they also struggle with rewriting the same song over and over. Unfortunately, their song selection and set order highlighted that issue.