For Fans Of
Another two years, another All That Remains record is untethered into our world, once more keeping the cogs of this metal giant turning. This bi-annual year’s edition comes in the form of the group’s eighth album; the 13-track, 50-minute offering, ‘Madness‘.
Now, let’s be real for a second here, despite their many releases, this Massachusetts-based quintet has never really surpassed their damned good third record, 2006’s ‘The Fall Of Ideals’. Sure, that record isn’t some untouchable classic, no, but it’s a fuckin’ solid album from 2000’s metalcore era is what it is. It features some of their best material (‘This Calling’ still rules to this day), is what helped them become the widely known mainstay act they are today commercially, and showed a departure from their early, decent-enough melodic death metal style towards that of a more affecting, relevant metalcore sound no less. (Well, relevant for that time in metal, anyway.) But just like 2012’s okayish melody-driven ‘A War You Cannot Win‘ and 2015’s sing-heavy, easy-on-the-screaming ‘The Order Of Things‘ before it, ‘Madness’ falls deep into the shadows of their previously high-reaching ideals. As this new “effort” just provides more All That Remains for us to throw on the decent at best but seemingly never ending pyre that the band continues to build.
For both the jaded detractors and diehard fans alike, ‘Madness‘ is All That Remains right down to the very T. The record features their typical album structure of late, presenting a couple bone-crunching heavier songs to appease the metal purists out there (‘Safe House‘ mainly); a few radio friendly, ballad-like tracks that may eventually become the big singles down the road (‘Far From Home‘, ‘If I’m Honest‘ and the sappy, acoustic track, ‘Back To You‘); as well as a handful of cuts showing off both their metal savagery and melodic sensitivity (‘Halo‘, ‘Madness‘,’Open Grave‘ and ‘Never Sorry‘, among others). And look, ‘Madness‘ isn’t necessarily a bad record but it’s also not a great one either, and nor is it anything different for All That Remains. For some listeners, this will be exactly what they wanted, but for others, this album will merely provide 13 new reasons as to why they should continue to stay the fuck away from Phil Labonte and co’s music.
Furthermore, when you break this record down to its specifics elements, again, this is just the usual approach for Otep’s favourite band of all time. You’ve got those strong undeniable vocal hooks, melodic guitar harmonies, solid enough solos, big choruses, occasional electronic samples, rhythmically tight, pounding drums and of course, the truly awesome clean and heavy vocal deliveries from Phil Labonte. Repeating myself again here, that’s just the thing – All That Remains have been writing and producing this exact same sound practically since ‘The Fall Of Ideals‘, and apart from focusing more on guitar melodies and singing more here and there over the years, little else has changed or progressed forwards for them.
With ‘Madness‘, the diminishing returns of their rather repetitive approach has just become far more noticeable.
Musically and thematically speaking, All That Remains and their residential shitposter/“self-confessed contrarian” Labonte weakly tackle a variety of political issues across this album; all with the singer’s usual disregard for what anyone else thinks about his half-conservative/half-Libertarian stance. A great example of this is the fourth song, the slower, dynamically restrained ‘If I’m Honest‘, which shows the frontman unapologetically talking about how he’s “Not afraid to die/not afraid to cry“, his personal attitudes, the perception he’s got in the media’s eyes, and how he’ll always call it how it is and boy, does it come off as incredibly obnoxious!
Elsewhere, the by-the-numbers title track deals with the repetition of bad ideas, with the band having apparently attributed this to the US government and socialism, but I find that that thematic intention also ironically describes All That Remains musical output – a repetition of ever worsening ideas – best. Opener ‘Safe House’ tells the tale of a murder-hungry man who lures robbers into his humble abode and then kills them… because he had nothing better to do? I don’t know, but this is well and truly the heaviest and most aggressive song off album #8 – and the heaviest thing they’ve done in years too – complete with zero clean singing, pummelling and chugging guitar riffs and “brutal” breakdowns in the choruses. (Spoiler: they’re not even that brutal.) The acoustic guitars and soft forlorn vocals of the ballad ‘Far From Home’ is about one being lost and feeling alone in this world, but via a mid-tempo yet uplifting melodic rock passage, the light in the dark is revealed and blah blah blah. It’s obligatory, it’s overly simple, it’s quite cheesy, admittedly kind of catchy, but still isn’t a high point for the album. All that ‘Far From Home‘ is missing is an “inspiring” emotionally-tinged music video featuring a montage of hardships to go along with it for full cliche points.
However, there is one main exception here (bar the band’s heavy metal adaptation of Garth Brooks 1991 country song ‘The Thunder Rolls‘ that concludes the record), and that is the standout track, ‘River City‘. ‘
‘River City’ (which I misread as Rivet City initially because I’ve played far too much Fallout 3 in my time) was apparently one of the most difficult songs for Labonte to write out of this whole record, and it’s all in the name. The title sounds innocent enough, right? No! See, “Rivercity” actually stands for ‘reduced communications,’ and the term comes from when Labonte and his ex-wife would be talking over the phone when her military base that she was stationed at in the Middle East would come under mortar fire. The term is used so if personnel are killed during a base attack, communications are severely reduced or maybe even shut off completely until the families of the deceased can be notified accordingly, and so some poor family doesn’t have that horrible news unceremoniously dumped on them by another military personnel’s spouse or family. Man… when you consider the origins of this song, that gives it’s opening telephone ringing sample and the lyrics of “Can’t tell you to be safe/Can’t tell you to be strong/Can’t tell you that I love you/So don’t put down the phone” some real fucking weight!
Of course, countless metal bands over the years have covered the war in the Middle East to some degree – whether it’s focusing on the soldiers themselves or the utter political and economic clusterfuck that it was and is – All That Remains have created one of the strongest war-related songs of not only their musical demographic but also of their contemporaries in recent memory. And while I’ve been bashing ‘Madness‘ heavily throughout this review, ‘River City‘ is the most heartfelt and the most impactful track of the entire record and it’s an absolutely wonderful standout overall. From the strong, pleading emotions fully conveyed, the galloping guitar solo, the long yet necessary length, to the deeply personal lyrics Labonte delivers that perfectly echoes the thoughts and fears of military families the world over; it’s just a great song, through and through.
However, despite that one bright, shining diamond in the overall average rough (a description that fits at least one song on the band’s past three records) I confidently anticipate that we’ll never see any real musical change or variation come from All That Remains in the future. Why? Well, if they haven’t done it now, they probably won’t anytime soon, and also because in the very long press release that my stream of ‘Madness’ came with, this new record is being pushed as “the band’s most musically eclectic, provocative release to date”, to which I can only say:
On top of that, Labonte said that with ‘Madness‘, the band wanted to “really push ourselves and push the boundaries of what we’re allowed to do. We’ve always pushed that envelope, but we wanted to push it more.”
Fuck me! I wasn’t aware that pushing one’s self forward and that breaking boundaries simply meant writing a couple extra acoustic tracks, doing a so-so country cover, and simply churning out the same album that your band has written nearly every two years for the past decade. I mean, at this point if you’ve heard one All That Remains album you’ve heard them all, and man, the buck has got to stop somewhere and soon.
In the presser I mentioned above that came with ‘Madness’ (which Blabbermouth happily copied and pasted for a whole article of theirs last month, as they often do), Labonte stated that “I want to be the guy that really challenges people’s ideas. I’m fucking punk rock. Punk rock hasn’t been punk rock for 30 years. For too long metal has been bullshit, milky pandering crap. [Oh, the irony.] What happened to metal? What happened to punk rock? What happened to being anti-establishment? I wanna bring that all back.” Well, Labonte, I’m sorry to say that you’ve failed in that regard. For all that has been “brought back” here with ‘Madness’ is merely another All That Remains record, and not even a good one at that; one that only has a handful of songs, at best, that are worth revisiting. (Such as ‘Trust And Believe’, ‘River City’ and ‘Never Sorry’, for example.)
However, All That Remains are nothing if not a commercial success. ‘The Order of Things’ reached #3 on the Billboard U.S. Hard Rock Albums chart and #5 on their Top Rock Albums chart in the States, and they’ve sold a million plus albums worldwide, with each album seeing moderate success. Thus, by looking at their previous successes and seeing patterns in their release history, this new record is bound to serve the band well sales-wise, keeping this machine well-oiled and moving ever forward. It also means that we’ll probably get another lacklustre album from All That Remains come 2019 to continue this bi-annual ritual.
1. Safe House
3. Nothing I Can Do
4. If I’m Honest
7. River City
8. Open Grave
9. Far From Home
10. Trust And Believe
11. Back To You
12. Never Sorry
13. The Thunder Rolls
‘Madness’ is out April 28th. And yeah, it’s…okay. At the very best.