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Alive or Just Breathing
Studio album by Killswitch Engage
Released May 21 2002
Recorded October 2001 - February 2002
Genre Metalcore
Length 44:56
Label Roadrunner Records
Producer Adam Dutkiewicz
Professional reviews
Killswitch Engage chronology
Killswitch Engage
Alive or Just Breathing
The End of Heartache
Alternate Cover
Roadrunner 25th Anniversary re-release cover

Alive or Just Breathing is the second album by American metalcore band Killswitch Engage. The album reached No. 37 on Billboard magazine's Heatseekers chart. This is also the final album with vocalist Jesse Leach.


Musical style

The album's style is best characterized as melodic metalcore, combining both clean and screaming vocals with the melodic dual guitar sounds made popular by bands in the Scandinavian metal scene. A number of the tracks, including "Fixation on the Darkness" and "Life to Lifeless," also feature the infectious rhythmic dynamic commonly associated with groove metal.

The record is a striking blend of both brutal and melodic sounds. The additional financial resources offered by a major label enabled the band to bring a new richness to the attacking dual-guitar riffs and bottom-heavy rhythm section which characterizes its music.

The album's impact was also fueled by a frenetic and desperate energy. Vocalist Jesse Leach explained: "I want people to feel the urgency and desperation I feel. I want people to stop and think about what's going on instead of walking through life. Hence, the title: are you alive or are you just taking in the air?" [2]

Production and marketing

Alive or Just Breathing was recorded over a period of 7 months. Guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz explained that production of the record was an "on and off" rather than continuous process. The extended recording sessions gave Dutkiewicz the opportunity to devote a greater attention to song-design than had been possible on the band's first record. Dutkiewicz's intention was to take a less "technical" approach, with increased emphasis upon the design of each song as a whole rather than its individual parts.

The band took advantage of the increased production budget to re-record "Temple from the Within", "Vide Infra", and "In the Unblind", the opening tracks from their debut album.

Alive or Just Breathing was recorded and produced in Massachusetts, USA and mixed in Britain with metal producer Andy Sneap, who had previously worked with Machine Head and Stuck Mojo.

A music video was initially released for "My Last Serenade." Upon the replacement of vocalist Jesse Leach, a second, live video was produced for "Fixation on the Darkness," which featured studio recorded vocals by new frontman Howard Jones. Both videos saw significant airplay on MTV2 and Fuse.


Leach has emphatically denied that the album's lyrics are religious, claiming that the subject-matter of the songs is "spiritual." Leach has explained that although he has religious beliefs, his lyrics were intended to deliver a positive vibe using a "broad brush approach" which avoids alienating listeners with different beliefs.

Leach wrote "Fixation on the Darkness" about his idea that the human soul contains both darkness and light and that a balance must be struck between the two. In the song, Leach focuses on the dark side of humanity and the hope that it can be overcome. Pete Cortese (of Medium, Overcast, and Seemless) had joined Killswitch Engage and wrote the main riff to this song, but had to leave shortly thereafter as his girlfriend had become pregnant. He is credited in the album's booklet.

Leach explained that the track "My Last Serenade" was essentially about "burning bridges." He explained that there comes a time some people must be left behind and that there's only so much love you can give somebody until they drag you down with them.

The song "Vide Infra" is about realizing true equality among all human beings, regardless of "race or creed or gender." The title is Latin for "look beneath."

Track listing

  1. "Numbered Days" – 3:35
  2. "Self Revolution" – 3:08
  3. "Fixation on the Darkness" – 3:37
  4. "My Last Serenade" – 4:13
  5. "Life to Lifeless" – 3:17
  6. "Just Barely Breathing" – 5:41
  7. "To the Sons of Man" – 1:57
  8. "Temple from the Within" – 4:04
  9. "The Element of One" – 4:08
  10. "Vide Infra"– 3:27
  11. "Without a Name" – 1:44
  12. "Rise Inside" – 5:54

Bonus Disc on 2005 rerelease

  1. "In the Unblind" – 2:48
  2. "When the Balance Is Broken" – 4:35
  3. "Untitled and Unloved" (Instrumental) – 3:20
  4. "Numbered Days" (Demo) – 3:37
  5. "Transfiguration a.k.a. Fixation on the Darkness" (Demo) – 3:38
  6. "Just Barely Breathing" (Demo) – 5:13
  7. "Fixation on the Darkness" (with Howard Jones) – 3:37
  8. "AOJB Studio Out Takes" – 1:17


Killswitch Engage
Additional musicians
  • Becka Dutkiewicz - Backing Vocals on "My Last Serenade"
  • Philip Labonte - Backing Vocals on "Self Revolution" & "To The Sons Of Man"
  • Daniel Moss - Photography
  • Mike Gitter - A&R
  • Andy Sneap - Mixing and Mastering


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