I’m pretty good at separating the art from the artist. James Woods’ political leanings aren’t my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to change the station whenever Videodrome or Casino comes on. I can ignore his tweets and enjoy the work. That’s the approach I took with All That Remains’ latest, Madness (Razor & Tie).
Vocalist Phil Labonte lives to play internet villain these days. Do I like the cut of his jib? Not really, but This Darkened Heart and The Fall of Ideals (Prosthetic/Razor & Tie) are still awesome. With that disclaimer, what did I think about Madness…? It’s not good. We’ve got a room full of talented players, a Grammy nominated producer in Howard Benson, loads of piss and vinegar and yet the end result is pandering and studio trickery.
The core issue is that All That Remains is determined to score another “Active Rock Hit”. However, in that pursuit they are deploying every radio rock cliché in the book. You like Five Finger Death Punch and Slipknot? Then album opener ‘Safe House’’is the jam you’re looking for. Linkin Park style samples and electronics? We’ve got those covered on title track ‘Madness’ and ‘Nothing I Can Do.’ How about some power ballads? Take your pick from ‘If I’m Honest,’ ‘Far From Home,’ or ‘Back to You.’
Mind you, lyrics are usually not high on my checklist when listening to metal or rock, but at this point I’ve issues with Labonte’s hard man act. Words like “I’ve been around the block and I know this game” and “You’re loud, I’m louder. You’re weak, I’m power” aren’t virile as much as they’re failed energy drink slogans. If you have to remind yourself that many times that you’re an alpha, then maybe you aren’t for real.
If anyone deserves praise on Madness it’s the under-appreciated guitar team of Oli Herbert and Mike Martin. It’s their constant solos and melodically tinged shred that saves ‘River City’ from reaching Hawthorne Heights levels of sap and elevates the metalcore of ‘Open Grave.’ ‘Trust and Believe’ speedy riff recalls would be right at home on The Fall of Ideals.
I can’t fault metal bands for seeking the greener pastures of radio rock. A musician has to eat just like anyone else, but there’s got to be better way. Killswitch Engage and Mastodon have tapped into it, without resorting to Garth Brooks covers. Oh, yeah, there’s a rendition of ‘The Thunder Rolls’ on here too. Maybe looking to expand to that Top 40 market as well.