Killswitch Engage's second full-length effort, Alive or Just Breathing, finds the band expanding on the crunchy metalcore sound they established themselves with on their 2000 self-titled debut. This is a pure metal album that seemingly has ignored any fashionable trend and instead relies solely on skill and expertise to sculpt some of meatiest heavy metal since the glory days of Metallica and Slayer. Injected into these chaotic hardcore/death metal hybrid songs is an undeniable sense of melody that flawlessly enhances every track, and instead of turning Killswitch Engage's permanent heavy sound weaker, this melodic accompaniment only goes to make you realize how intense and exhilarating the band is when they explode in an inferno of enraged brutality. Killswitch Engage refreshes your memory by including two old favorites, "Temple from the Within" and the must-hear "Vide Infra." While these have been given a new treatment, each song outdoes the original in sounding much crisper and more lethal; in this situation, the fluid production definitely has helped strengthen the old tunes. The lyrical content is exceptional, as Killswitch Engage don't travel the weary path of death, destruction, and unrepentant negativity, and instead seek to bring the listener to a new level of awareness, delivering the message to treat one another with respect, keep hope alive, and strive to make the world a more civil place to reside in. This is not the typical metal band; with lyrics such as "I believe love will overcome" from the sensational album closer "Rise Inside," it is obvious KSE has more than a blistering double bass and agonizing screams going for them. Although the group now belongs to a much more extravagant record label, their do-it-yourself attitude shines fiercely; in fact, guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz handled all production and engineering duties on top of recording all of the album's drum tracks, while bassist Mike d'Antonio took the time to give much thought on the album's packaging and art direction. This results in an album that one cannot deny reflects the group's heart and soul. This professionalism and skill is understandable, since d'Antonio once was the creative force that propelled Overcast into the spotlight as one of the best metalcore bands in the underground community, while vocalist Jesse Leach struggled in several projects, including Nothing Stays Gold, and Dutkiewicz and guitarist Joel Stroetzel made a name for themselves in the Massachusetts area in Aftershock. Alive or Just Breathing shows the group broadening their metal horizons, while still succeeding in putting almost every other metal album in the last five years to shame. With this album, Killswitch Engage has transformed from a hungry independent act into a ravenous metal beast that is ready to begin devouring all in sight, and should certainly accomplish that and much more in years to come.
AllMusic Review by Jason D. Taylor