In January 2012, Killswitch Engage announced that vocalist Howard Jones was leaving the group after nine years, countless tours and three acclaimed albums. The reason? “Basically, I went insane,” Jones admits with a smirk. “It had been happening for a while. I was driving myself nuts, and it was driving the rest of the guys nuts, too.”
Being in Killswitch Engage with Jones had been a struggle for some time. The singer was close but distant, choosing to withdraw from his fellow band members whenever possible on tour. “It was me by myself a lot on the road,” he admits. “I would choose to be alone for long periods of time in the back of the bus or in my bunk or by being alone on days off. I never understood why I was like that, but it just got worse and worse as time progressed. I was not fun to be around a lot of the time. My only answer to everything was, ‘I’m fine’ when the evidence suggested I was anything but.”
As the band set about working on album No. 6 they decided enough was enough. They excused Jones from his duties, and the singer promptly disappeared from view. He got rid of his cellphone, dropped contact with almost everyone who knew him and sought medical help. That help led to some startling answers that explained so much of his struggles on the road with Killswitch. “Discovering you are manic depressive and that you have social anxiety made sense of a lot,” he says. “I’ve always had trouble being around crowds, but I didn’t know why. Being away from all this was probably the best thing in the world for me at that time as I figured out my issues away from everyone’s attention. Bipolar? Oh, that’s where those massive mood swings were coming from.”
In 2012, Jones went from frontman of famed metal group to anonymous manic depressive (living almost off the grid) in a matter of months. He walked a lot, watched movies and spent three-and-a-half days in a coma after some hereditary issues with blood sugar levels knocked him sideways (a whole other story). He was gone from music and did not anticipate a return. “I disappeared, no other way to explain it. But you know what? It was awesome,” he says laughing. “In a lot of ways I enjoyed time to myself—to think. To experience me without responsibility to a bunch of external sources. It was very liberating to be honest.”
And liberated he would have stayed had it not been for ex-Fear Factory drummer John Sankey and All Shall Perish guitarist Francesco Artusato who sought Jones out as the perfect vocalist for the songs they were writing. Jones got word of their interest, sat on it, listened to the demos and sat on it again before his intrigue got the better of him. “I took another listen and decided to make a demo with them,” he admits. “I thought, ‘hey, just give it a shot.’ At most, I figured we’d write an album but never do anything with it. Well, things just happened, and here I am again.”
Jones gave Artusato, Sankey, bassist Ryan Wombacher (Bleeding Through) and guitarist Roy Lev-Ari a shot, and before he knew it they were in the studio, signing a record deal and walking back into the spotlight as Devil You Know. Next month, the quintet release their debut album The Beauty Of Destruction, a record that will endear Killswitch Engage fans and those from across metal’s broad shores. “It’s familiar for sure,” Jones says. “There are guitars, bass and drums, and it’s heavy, but it’s really diverse, and some of the songs are just outright moody. I can honestly say this is the most personal stuff I’ve written. Read the lyrics, and the last five years of my life are right there on paper.”
The idea of a cathartic and confessional record seems strange for a man who only became comfortable in his own skin once the spotlight moved away from him, but Jones sees it differently. He sees the gift of the situation.
“The lyrics sprung out, and it just worked,” he explains. “I had some close calls but I’m alive. There must be some reason for it. Maybe it’s to scream and sing about it all? I mean, do I have regrets? Of course, I think most people do, but I’ve ended up being able to do music again with a bunch of great guys. This makes me think the big guy is up there, staring at me, pointing the finger and saying, ‘don’t blow it this time.’”