Alive or Just Breathing is the second studio album by American metalcore band Killswitch Engage. It was released on May 21, 2002, through Roadrunner Records. Alive or Just Breathing was Killswitch Engage's first album on Roadrunner and was recorded from October 2001 to February 2002. Produced by drummer and guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, this was the band's first album on a major label, which prompted them to write and record the album to the best of their abilities. The record was among the first of the metalcore genre, which combined elements of heavy metal and hardcore. Alive or Just Breathing is viewed as a defining moment for the genre and was well praised upon its release by fans and critics. The lyrics, which were all written by vocalist Jesse Leach, were aimed to bring a positive message through the music.
Shortly after the release of Alive or Just Breathing, Leach left the band for personal and health issues. Killswitch Engage quickly recruited Howard Jones to replace Leach. Jones would stay in the band for nearly ten years, until his departure in early 2012, which prompted Leach to rejoin the band on the ten year anniversary of Alive or Just Breathing. This is also the last album to feature Dutkiewicz on drums, as he would switch to guitar before the touring process. The drumming position was filled by Tom Gomes.
Critical reception of Alive or Just Breathing was generally positive. Erik Thomas from Metalreview.com said "while this album certainly is responsible for the vast amount of saturation, it stands as a pretty trendsetting, stellar must-own example of metalcore." Jason D. Taylor of Allmusic stated "This is a pure metal album that seemingly has ignored any fashionable trend and instead relies solely on skill and expertise to sculpt some of meatiest heavy metal since the glory days of Metallica and Slayer." Taylor also expressed the impressiveness of the band's "do-it-yourself" work ethic as Dutkiewicz handled all production and D'Antonio "took the time to give much thought on the album's packaging and art direction." Dom Lawson of Kerrang! magazine gave the album five "Ks" (or five out of five stars). He praised the album's unique new sound, music, and vocal performances from Leach. Amy Sciarretto of CMJ said "This album is more addictive than crack cocaine that's been smothered in caffeine and nicotine and drenched with chocolate. Starting with the track "Numbered Days", this 12-track platter never takes its foot off of the throttle." Sciarretto also stated her favorite song from the album was "My Last Serenade", and applauded "Just Barely Breathing", comparing parts of it to Metallica's Ride the Lightning. .