|When reality becomes fragmented, confusing and splintered; when life as you know it falls apart; when existence itself becomes a burden, there is hope.
Times Of Grace's debut album, The Hymn of a Broken Man, explores the depths of human misery with artful desperation, muscular dexterity, heavy aggression and gorgeous melody. The band's inaugural presentation is as rich and diverse as life itself, holding fast to the promise of strength through adversity. Jesse Leach's powerful, emotive, soulful, spirit-filled delivery - instantly recognizable - has never been stronger, backed by Adam Duktiewicz's trailblazing instrumentation.
Guitarist, drummer, producer, songwriter and backing vocalist Duktiewicz's unexpected reunion with his original Killswitch Engage vocalist surpasses even the weightiest of aspirations for such a monumental collaboration, delivering where most "reunions" or "projects" fail, with confidence.
Empowering and anthemic, Times Of Grace ignores genre parameters and forges its own beat, as only the Northeast could spawn. With imagery that engages the mind and soul, the pair have created a bold entity for the ages.
Where many heavy bands pay lip-service to difficult circumstances to establish credibility, Times Of Grace was truly born from the hearts and minds of two men who thought they had lost it all.
Riding high on the magazine covers, a Grammy nomination, gold albums and position of prominence in the American metal scene with Killswitch Engage, as well as a burgeoning career as an album producer, Dutkiewicz watched his world unravel when severe back problems sidelined him during a 2007 tour.
"I thought my career as a performing artist was over," he says soberly of his emergency surgery in a London hospital, smack in the middle of a European tour. "If I can't walk on my own, I can't play."
Dutkiewicz started writing what would become the Times Of Grace album, in his head, from his hospital bed. During his long and often uncertain recovery, the riffs and lyrics kept coming.
"I had a little tape recorder I would sing into once I got home. I didn't tour with Killswitch for quite some time. I would slowly get ideas down, just hum them or sing them, on that tape recorder." As a form of catharsis, as part of his healing, he decided to create a record about the experience.
Adam and Jesse had remained friendly, even after Jesse's exit from Killswitch following the release of the landmark Alive or Just Breathing album, but that didn't stop the singer from being surprised when his old bandmate contacted him about making this album together. "I knew he had been in the hospital. I remember the phone call like it was yesterday," recalls Leach. "He said, 'Dude, I've pretty much got a record written. I'm really excited about it and I really want you to sing on it.'"
The pair had long talked about exploring their love of bands like Radiohead and Travis together. But this? "It reminded me of a black metal record!" Leach says of the first three songs Adam sent him. "There were some blast beats and quick guitar riffing, which I ended up singing melodically over."
"One of the main themes with a lot of the stuff I was writing was about how easy it is to take life for granted and how easily you can lose everything you've worked for in a second," Adam explains. "It can be given to you and taken away at the snap of a finger. But I don't think I'm the best lyricist on my own, so the first person who came to mind for me was Jesse. We write together easily."
Leach has a strong lyrical point of view and takes pride in his message. The making of Alive or Just Breathing had included conversation about the words, but Jesse says the level of collaboration, comfort and chemistry was heightened here. "We were almost completing each other's sentences. If you were in the room, you could feel the energy between us. We were right on the same page."
"I was going through a personal hell of depression and dealing with really heavy personal issues," he elaborates. "I connected with Adam's pain even more. The songs we wrote from that point on, to me, are the the heaviest songs topic wise on the record. The energy took a whole new level."
As they worked on The Hymn of a Broken Man, they realized they may have to deal with some potential awkwardness with each of their respective bands, so they kept it under wraps, at first.
"I'd be listening to the CD that Adam sent me on my headphones, while on tour with Seemless, writing the lyrics," Leach remembers. "The guys would ask me what I was doing and I'd have to be really vague about it. We had a very punk rock attitude about me making a name for myself out of the umbrella of Killswitch. I didn't want them to know I was considering anything with Adam. We were all pretty close, touring in a van together, so it was awkward [not telling them]."
"I didn't want anybody in Killswitch Engage to think I was going to be jumping ship," Adam admits. "I'm not leaving the band. This is just something Jesse and I are doing because we are the best of friends and we love making music together."
"I almost felt like we had a dirty little secret," Jesse says, laughing. "It's really comical in retrospect, because when all was said and done, we got the blessing from everybody."
Leach's definitive proclamation of "one love, one truth, one destiny" in album opener "Strength in Numbers" couldn't sound stronger, with Adam's fretwork more fiery than ever. "Fight for Life" drags a heavy bottom end into a soaring pre-chorus that could light a fire inside the darkest of hearts. "Hold onto faith, hold onto love, hold onto who you are. You're not alone," proclaims "Hope Remains." "Fall from Grace," "Worlds Apart," and the title track, among others, help drive the point home. There's a diversity of emotion, but definitely a consistent thread on the album.
Times Of Grace plans to present The Hymn of a Broken Man to the world in a variety of ways, like on stage with a full band, but also, in some non-traditional fashions as well. The entire project emanates a specific vibe, a particular artistry, which Jesse in particular will work hard to preserve. "Adam has given me a lot of free reign to say what I want with [the visuals and image]," he says.
What comes across through the music, the lyrics and the overall vibe with overwhelming passion in Times Of Grace is the sense that hope is possible in any personal situation, no matter how dark.
"The cool thing with these songs is that they are about negative situations, but there's always a positive twist on it, talking about how you have the power to turn it around yourself," Adam says.
"There's always a light at the end of the tunnel," Jesse agrees. "There's always hope."