Clutch and Killswitch Engage co-headline show at Sands Bethlehem Event Center on July 25
From a press release:
New York City hardcore punk band the Cro-Mags JM will open the show. After a legal battle over the Cro-Mags moniker, there are two versions of the band now. This version features John Joseph (vocals), Mackie Jayson (drums), A.J. Novello (guitar), and Craig Setari (bass). The other is led by founding bassist Harley Flanagan.
Tickets, which are $36, plus fees, go on sale this Friday, May 17 at 10 a.m. and can be purchased at sandseventcenter.com, the Event Center box office (77 Sands Blvd., Bethlehem), ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster outlets, or by phone at 800-745-3000. A pre-sale for members of the venue’s Music Insiders Club will take place on Thursday, May 16 from 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
There will also be special “buy three, get one free” pricing while supplies last.
Earlier this year, local music promotion and production team Camp Rattler shot and produced Clutch’s latest music video for the song “Ghoul Wrangler” in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“The Camp Rattler guys had a distinct pleasure banging our heads together on this one,” Camp Rattler founder James Callahan said. “It was my first stab at the art direction and design of props and characters. It just so happened that it was with and for one of my all-time favorite acts. What a blast!”
With the release of their highly anticipated 12th studio album, the gloriously titled “Book of Bad Decisions,” it would be easy to suggest that legendary Maryland rockers Clutch have made their finest record to date. This may even be true. Ever since their 1993 debut, “Transnational Speedway League,” they’ve been in the business of writing stone cold classics, and even the most rabid fan would have trouble picking just one. “Book of Bad Decisions” won’t make that task any easier. Rest assured, it’s another classic.
Recorded over three weeks at Sputnik Studios in Nashville, “Book of Bad Decisions” was produced by four-time Grammy winner Vance Powell (Seasick Steve, The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, etc.), a man who apparently knows that a one-degree angle change in microphones makes a difference to how an instrument sounds. Interestingly, his name first came to the band’s attention via country star Chris Stapleton.
“It started with my brother-in-law, who’s a huge Chris Stapleton fan,” says drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. “He and I would listen to the ‘Traveller’ quite a bit, and one thing that stood out was that it didn’t sound like any other country record that I’d heard. Shortly after that, I was on Spotify and a song by The Dead Weather came up. It just blew me away, and I could tell that whoever produced that record was doing things a different way. I looked it up and there was Vance Powell’s name again, so something was telling us that this is a guy we should reach out to.”
“Even though Chris Stapleton does music that’s not too much like our own, the sonics of the record are pretty great,” says frontman Neil Fallon. “He has a very different approach to recording; he comes from the school of live recording and engineering, and the songs, on tape, are not gonna sound that much different from what we do live.”
No stranger to the road, Powell spent three days on tour with the band in order to get a feel for what they do best, watching first from the front of house and then from the stage, checking out the live sound and how Clutch connect with their audience.
“I never go into a record having an idea of how it’s gonna sound,” he says. “But after hearing them live, I had an idea of how they could sound. I’m a big live recording fan, so I like when bands play together, and I didn’t wanna get into that manufacturing a record concept. I wanted it to be real organic.”
Indeed, “organic” is a word that comes up a lot when talking to Clutch about the new record, with Powell taking great care to get guitar tones right and making sure that each song had its own identity.
“Vance is all about vintage guitar sounds,” says guitarist Tim Sult. “I probably had more amplifier options than on any other album we’ve done. It was like going back to a music store in 1960! This was the first time I’ve ever recorded with amps from the ’50s, and I ended up buying a couple of ’50s amps while we were in Nashville.”
“I felt really good about the gear that I was bringing into the studio,” concurs bassist Dan Maines, “but Vance had this 1974 Ampeg, and I’m so glad that he recommended that. As soon as we plugged it in, it sounded like Sabbath! We ended up using it alongside one of my amps, and I loved it so much that once we were done recording, I scoured the ads for another one. What I really like is that each song has a different tone to it, and I think that’s Vance Powell’s style.”
With each band member contributing riffs to the album – including Gaster, who has added mandolin to his repertoire – there was no shortage of material, each song road-tested long before it reached the studio. Hell, with 15 songs, “Book of Bad Decisions” could easily pass as a double album. Always wary of repeating themselves and retreading old ground, there is even – for the first time on a Clutch album – a horn section that swings like James Brown’s pants.
“The third night I was watching the band,” says Powell, “they did this song that at that time was called ‘Talkbox,’ which is now ‘In Walks Barbarella.’ While Neil was singing, I was thinking to myself, “Wow, there’s a horn line here!” And while he was singing, I was humming it to myself. I brought it up to them, tenuously, and they were like, “OK, let’s do it!” This is as Parliament, Funkadelic as it gets, maybe even a James Brown vibe!”
One thing, however, that is entirely as expected, is that as arguably the greatest rock lyricist of modern times, Fallon, as always, has provided some interesting subject matter, everything from poets to presidents and recipes to rock ‘n’ roll. You may have to Google some of it because Fallon is nothing if not a clever bugger and likes to keep his audience on their toes.
“Most of the time, I have no idea what he’s talking about,” laughs Gaster, “but the lyrics completely inform how I’m going to play that tune. Whether or not I understand exactly what Neil is singing about is not important. I listen to the way Neil sings those words and I think about what those words mean to me, and that, ultimately, informs how I’m gonna play drums on that song.”
“I think I probably second guess myself into doing that,” says Fallon of his lyrical style. “I would rather not be able to answer all the questions, just to keep it interesting for myself. Sometimes a rhyme sounds awesome and I don’t know what it means, but I’ll go with it anyway. It’s become more difficult to write lyrics now that I have Wikipedia at my fingertips because you can go down rabbit hole after rabbit hole and not get anything done! Not too long ago, you’d have to spend months in a public library trying to find out the things you can find in a couple of keystrokes.”
Elsewhere, however, you’ll find a more straightforward approach to lyrics. “A Good Fire” relates the memory of hearing Black Sabbath for the first time – something that everyone can relate to – while “Sonic Counselor” pays homage to Clutch fans. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Clutch fans – collectively known as Gearheads – are a breed like no other.
“I’ve always loved rock songs that just celebrated rock ‘n’ roll,” grins Fallon, “but that song was a bit more about the people who come to our shows, that make it as exciting for us as hopefully it is for them. My favorite shows that I’ve seen bands do is like going to church, especially when everybody’s in sync with each other and you walk out with your jaw on the floor. I feel incredibly grateful that people have walked out of our shows and felt the same way. It’s a tip of the hat to them.”
“We’re exceptionally lucky to have the fans we have,” Gaster agrees. “They’re diehard, and because of that, we take this that much more seriously. We do not take this for granted. We know that those folks could be anywhere else, and they’ve chosen to spend the evening at a Clutch show, so we’re gonna do the best we can to provide them with the best musical experience we can. I think that translates to the records because, at the end of the day, all you have is your records. When this whole thing wraps up, those are gonna be the things that go down in history.”
Killswitch Engage exists deep within the eye of the storm, wielding the thunderous power of the elements like metallic alchemists, touching a nerve with the disenfranchised and crafting populist anthems that both challenge the status quo and rally those who society casts aside. Across multiple albums, videos, and worldwide tours, the band forged a musical foundation steeped in classic heavy metal, melodic death metal, and early punk/hardcore and built a following across economic, political, religious, international, and social divides.
No matter the climate, Killswitch Engage makes trend-resistant, timeless heavy music that has elevated them to the critical and community status of the greatest of American metal bands. The fiercely individual yet collaboratively resilient New Englanders have also commanded respect and appreciation from all corners. Having shared the stage with acts ranging from Rise Against to Slayer, the diversity and versatility of their touring reach is unparalleled. As headliners on celebrated tours like Ozzfest, Vans Warped Tour, Taste of Chaos, Rockstar Mayhem, and countless international festivals, their influence reigns on a worldwide scale.
Killswitch Engage anthems, singles, and live staples like “Fixation on the Darkness,” “My Last Serenade,” “A Bid Farewell,” “My Curse,” “Always,” and “In Due Time” have had staying power and appeal to all generations of metal fans worldwide. The band’s seventh studio album, “Incarnate,” possesses a stack of new Killswitch Engage anthems made to set the heavy music world ablaze once more.
A defiant cry to let go of the past, to keep away from scars that resurface, “Cut Me Loose” will resonate with anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression. “Hate by Design” also challenges our habit of tearing down when we should be building up, while “It Falls on Me” was penned during singer Jesse Leach’s solitary trips into the wilderness, where deep reflection and meditation resulted in the most intense of spiritual yearning. “The Great Deceit” is the heaviest song on the record, a scathing screed against the corruption that exists within government, organized religion, and other institutions. It’s not so much choosing a side as calling “bullshit” across the board, enlivened by the spirit of The Clash and Bad Brains that’s also a vital part of the Killswitch DNA.
“I find myself not in the light and not in the darkness, but dead in the middle, pleading to both sides, trying to find balance and peace,” says the singer with characteristic honesty and humility. “I haven’t lost my faith, per se. But I’m not swallowing the contradictions or the dogma of everything we were all taught.”
As co-founders of Killswitch Engage, lead guitarist/backing vocalist Adam Dutkiewicz, rhythm guitarist Joel Stroetzel, bassist Mike D’Antonio, and Leach (who returned four years ago after a decade-long absence) together with longtime drummer Justin Foley employ unrelenting determination to continually release powerfully potent work. Ever the technician, Dutkiewicz’s impressive skills as a producer (a discography that includes work with August Burns Red, Every Time I Die, and Parkway Drive) is part and parcel of the Killswitch sound. Foley’s power and dexterity has been evident since he first emerged in the band Blood Has Been Shed. In addition to his undeniable stage presence and rhythmic heft, D’Antonio works behind the scenes most of the band’s cover artwork, merchandise, and web presence. Stroetzel is the most dyed-in-the-wool metalhead of the bunch.
Leach wears his heart on his sleeve like never before, coming out of the experience of making “Incarnate” a brand new person. It’s an album of reclamation and redefinition from a band that still rules the scene.
Leach sounds more confident and inspired than ever on “Incarnate.” But this was no easy feat to achieve. He came back into the band he co-founded after the writing process for 2013’s “Disarm the Descent” was largely finished. The band was quickly on the road behind the well-received album. Following the long touring process, Leach was determined to put a definitive stamp on “Incarnate,” released in 2016.
“I really wanted to make sure that where I was at in my life was really represented properly on the record. I took a couple weeks to just soul search. I fell into a bit of a depression and, because of that, I came up with some pretty dark stuff,” he confesses. “By the time the record was done, I realized I’d changed. I was a different person. That has never happened to me before with a record.”
The closest he’d come to this type of transformative experience was with Times of Grace, the project where he first reconnected with Dutkiewicz after years of estrangement. The record the pair made together under that moniker reignited their electric songwriting and their honest give-and-take in the studio.
“Jesse is a very passionate dude with a lot of things to say,” notes his longtime friend and collaborator. “Vocal tracking is probably my favorite part of the recording process. We’d end up having deep conversations about life, politics, religion. The kind of conversations old friends might have over a cup of coffee.”
Leach pins much of the creative confidence of “Incarnate” on the band’s defiance of compromise. “As a creative individual I refuse to phone in anything. I refuse to let stuff slide. I don’t care about deadlines or the business side of things,” he says. “If we don’t deliver a record that’s got our souls on it, then we’re doing ourselves a total disservice. And we’d be doing our fans a disservice too.”
All of it has kept them enveloped in the most excitingly relevant pop culture touchstones of any given era since, ever since they formed back in 1999.
“Alive or Just Breathing” (2002) was certified silver in the United Kingdom, as were “The End of Heartache” (2004) and “As Daylight Dies” (2006), both of which were certified gold in the United States for sales in excess of a half million copies. Each of the band’s most recent albums, “Killswitch Engage” (2009) and “Disarm the Descent” (2013), debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 Albums chart.
“Incarnate” arrived as one of Rolling Stone’s “Most Anticipated Metal Albums of 2016.” “Strength of Mind” premiered via postmodern content network and powerhouse brand Nerdist, even as the band graced the cover of Revolver in “Star Wars” regalia just before “The Force Awakens” smashed box office records. This is nothing new for Killswitch Engage. They’ve always been present in the heart of the culture with invitations to contribute to HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” WWE, “God of War,” “Guitar Hero,” “Resident Evil,” and even “Freddy vs. Jason.”
Two Grammy nominations, three Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards, and two Boston Music Awards are just a small part of the fruit of their labor. The real evidence of the band’s impact lies in their fiercely devoted fans around the world. The reckless abandon of creative passion, the search for higher truths and personal justice, and the authentic reality of the duality within all people – the light, the dark, the playful, the deadly – these are the components that comprise Killswitch. They are also the elements of “Incarnate.”
This post was compiled by the staff of NEPA Scene.