This past weekend, I attended the New England Metal & Hardcore Festival at the Palladium Theatre in Worcester, MA. While the 3 days brought us some amazing performances and moments (which we’ll recap in this week’s Top 5), the most highly anticipated and buzzed about set from the weekend came from one headliner: Killswitch Engage.

There were many reasons for the hype about one of Massachusetts’ most beloved metalcore bands’ performance, but arguably the biggest was the return of Jesse Leach. Not only did it mark KSE’s first show with the frontman in about nine years (two if you count the surprise encore sets), but it also marked the first time Leach would be given the task of performing songs his predecessor/one time replacement Howard Jones made famous.

So how did Killswitch Engage do last night (April 22)? Well, to say the show was a success would certainly be an understatement. Even though Peaches & Cream’s “Reunited” was played on the speakers before they took the stage, at points it felt like Leach had never left the group. The second KSE opened with “Numbered Days,” Leach had the crowd in the palm of his hands. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! You’re what?!,” guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz joked after Leach told the crowd it was great to be back in the band. But indeed, Jesse’s presence onstage was awe-inspiring, and also gave the band exuberant energy. And anyone afraid that two years away from KSE and recording with Times Of Grace would kill Adam D.’s signature humor need not fear, for he was his silly self (showing off his pecs and talking about his huge boner plenty).

But now comes the other big question on everyone’s mind: did Leach pull off singing Jones’ songs? Well, I personally am tempted to go as far as to say that Leach sounded just as good, if not better at some points, than Jones. However, to avoid debate I’ll simply say that without question, he did them justice. He sang songs like “My Curse,” “A Bid Farewell,” and “The End Of Heartache” with the same emotion and soul Jones once sang them with. Yet somehow, Leach was able to add his own unique flair to them, as heard in his own songs “My Last Serenade” and “Self Reflection.” But of course, the night wasn’t about outdoing anyone, as Leach made clear when he dedicated an early song to Jones and wished him well.

And it’s without question that the members of Killswitch Engage were not the only ones with wide smiles on their faces. In fact, the New England Metal & Hardcore crowd may have actually sang louder than their hometown heroes for most of the night. There wasn’t a single moment when the audience took a minute to breathe, eating up every moment KSE offered the hungry fans. And the band’s infamous rendition of the Dio classic “Holy Diver” (which Leach also did incredible justice to) was not only the perfect way to end the night, but also the entire 3 day festival itself.

All that is really left to be said is simply “Welcome back, Jesse and Killswitch Engage.” We had the chance to actually speak with bassist Mike D’Antonio hours before taking the stage at New England Metal & Hardcore Fest, which will be posted right here shortly. For now, check out fan filmed footage from the band’s first show with Leach back in the fold, including a video collage we ourselves made, down below.