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Killswitch Engage and Redemptive Suffering

September 2, 2019


Killswitch Engage, the metalcore titans from Massachusetts, recently put out their eighth album, Atonement, and it is brutally amazing. Killswitch has long been one of my favorite metal outfits. Their music has a profound depth for those who enjoy heavy riffs and screamed lyrics.

Admittedly, metal music is a bit of an acquired taste, but is listened to be a vast diversity of people. Despite the heavy and dark facade, Killswitch has been known to be a beacon of hope to the metal world. Killswitch’s songs tend to reinforce positive ways of being and thinking. This effort should not be easily shrugged off, especially in a music genre that is filled with a lot of self and societal loathing and tends to promote evil and destructive behavior.

In their video documentary (Set This) World Ablaze, the band’s bassist Mike D’Antonio explains, “You don’t have to put on the mean faces and pump fists in the air and pretend like you hate the world.” Later, Björn from the Swedish band Soilwork states, “Not everyone who listens to metal music hates their life and the world. They listen to metal just because they like heavy music.” I would consider myself one in the crowd.

Two of the bands members, frontman Jesse Leach and guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, have been considerably influenced by Christianity. For those who may find this to be questionable, see their side project Times of Grace.

I also found it interesting that the artwork of Killswitch’s previous record, Incarnate, was markedly Christian. The album cover boasts a scene of a pelican fighting off snakes. Indeed, it’s an image that’s pretty metal, but the pelican is actually a powerful ancient symbol for Christ. The pelican was known to tear its own flesh in order to feed its starving chicks.

Read through the lyrics of “Rose of Sharyn,” “My Curse,” “Breathe Life.” “Arms of Sorrow,” “Just Let Go,” “Triumph Through Tragedy,” or tracks off Atonement like “As Sure As The Sun Will Rise” and “Take Control.” These are the songs of men who strive for redemption amidst darkness.

“I Am Broken Too,” another track off the new album, struck me as inherently Christian. The song simply could not have been written without the revelation of Christianity. I need to share a good amount of the song’s lyrics to illustrate my point:

You carry this weight trying to cover your mistakes

To make it seem like nothing could ever break you

But I see right through, ’cause I am broken too

In all the same places as you

And if you needed proof, I’ll reopen my wounds

Reopen my wounds, yeah

I see myself in you (in you)

I know you can make it through

If you needed proof, I’ll reopen my wounds

In all the right places for you

So now you see the truth that you are broken too

I’ll reopen my wounds for you

Certainly this song could be addressed by a friend to another friend who is struggling, but I don’t think the fundamental truth of the song makes sense without the Christian revelation of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ—the cross and the empty tomb. How would opening one’s wounds for another make any sense apart from Jesus Christ, whose open wounds actually have the power to heal and save?

Christians believe in redemptive suffering—essentially, that meaning can be found in suffering. This profound Christian intuition is almost totally contrary to our individualistic and pleasure-centric Western society. Further, redemptive suffering is not just an ethereal message. In Christianity, it is truly embodied. It was the broken, bruised, and wounded body of Jesus that was able to be resurrected from the dead.

This brings us to a point that I think the song tries to illuminate: the Crucifixion and Resurrection are events that both happened once historically and yet also continue to unfold here and now. Hence, it is correct to say that Christ continues to open his wounds for his people today. God allows this unfolding to happen not because he is the ultimate sadist, but so that the one who encounters his open wounds will come to know the healing of his Resurrection.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul exclaims,“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). Again, in the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains, “Continually we carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed”(2 Cor. 4:10). (Emphasis added.)

It is not that Christ’s cross did not destroy the power of suffering and death once and for all. It certainly did that. Yet, life after Jesus’s physical presence meant living in the world that was nonetheless plagued with further worldly suffering and death. Ultimately, for the early Christians especially, growing closer to Jesus didn’t mean that all suffering would immediately disappear. In fact, they endured great persecutions. Growing closer to Jesus meant that the power of his cross and empty tomb would be more intimately with the one who drew close to him and his open wounds.

What does this unfolding of the cross—the wounds of Jesus—and empty tomb look like today? The person who is caught in addiction, yet strives to reach sobriety. The family that is torn apart by division, yet includes some members seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. The child who has been bullied at school, yet seeks to be peaceful instead of acting out in revenge. Or the person who struggles with suicidal thoughts, yet has people around them to acknowledge and support the beauty of their life. Christians know that these struggles don’t define them or dictate their future.

The power of the empty tomb is present when peace and healing are able to be found in these situations, no matter how great or small. The situations themselves may not be fully resolved, but through grace and faith, the disposition of those who are amidst them could transform considerably. The power of the empty tomb is present when the suffering and the abandonment to hopelessness no longer remain the sole focus, but a hopeful disposition is graced upon the one suffering.

The wound of suicidal ideation is actually one of the main reasons why the song was written. In speaking about the song and in promotion of Hope for the Day, a suicide prevention nonprofit, lead singer Jesse Leach explained, “There is always someone there to help, to listen, and to be there for you. Don’t lose hope and don’t let your brokenness consume you. Broken can be fixed, or at the very least, maintained. No one is alone in this fight.”

Not all of Killswitch’s songs fit perfectly theological from the Catholic perspective due to the significant amount of self-reliance—rather than complete reliance upon God—that many songs hinge upon. But should we absolutely expect them to be theologically perfect? For a band that is not approaching their work as explicitly evangelizing, Atonement offers an opportunity for God to speak to an audience that may not typically be open to listening.

Ultimately, I would consider the band’s work as pre-evangelization. It is not the fullness of the Gospel, but their music is undeniably working to help open people’s hearts from the darkness, addiction, and depression with which they may be struggling. Killswitch’s songwriting has certainly come from some of the band members own struggles, which gives their witness an even greater credibility to the audience for whom they address.

I think that Killswitch’s new song “I Am Broken Too” especially speaks something very true about the Christian mystery of redemptive suffering and the unfolding of Jesus’ cross. I pray that their album and its message works in the culture to bring about a greater sensitivity and appreciation for not just the many people in our world who heroically open up and lay down their own lives for others, but also for Jesus Christ who ultimately provides for all people strength and hope in their darkness and suffering.