Oct 062010

My comrades and I started this site in part as a protest against the watering down of metal, and metalcore in particular, by the infusion of  indie/pop-style clean singing. We wanted to focus on extreme metal. As we said in our description of the music we’d be covering here: “Mostly, we like it fast, punishing, cathartic.  Purely instrumental metal, if done right, fits the NCS bill.  But if someone opens his or her mouth in a song, what comes out better be growling, screaming, or squealing.”

But we also conceded that there would be Exceptions to the Rule — bands we liked despite, and even sometimes because, they punctuate their music with occasional clean singing. We listed Opeth and Mastodon as examples, but we could have included others, like Katatonia, Amorphis, and Soilwork.

Once upon a time, we would have included All That Remains. But the release of 2008’s Overcome was a disappointment to us. From Behind Silence and Solitude to This Darkened Heart to The Fall of Ideals, the band moved from a predominantly melodeath sound into metalcore, with increasing use of clean singing. Still, despite that progression, we were still big fans of The Fall of Ideals. On the other hand, Overcome crossed the line.

The aggressive instrumental backdrop was still there, and Phil Labonte still made use of growly howls and piercing shrieks, but the overall tone of the album was more radio-friendly than the band’s preceding releases, and the single “Two Weeks” seemed overtly calculated to achieve crossover success. With nothing but clean singing in that song, it actually broke into stratospheric territory on the mainstream rock charts and helped land Overcome at No. 16 on the Billboard 200 list with sales ultimately topping 240,000 copies. Given our peculiar tastes, however, for us the band’s trajectory was headed in the wrong direction.

And yet, when Razor & Tie offered us the chance for an advance listen to the band’s forthcoming fifth album, For We Are Many (scheduled for release on October 12), we couldn’t resist. Old loyalties die hard, and besides, Phil Labonte had been quoted as saying that the album would include “new twists and turns,” and we were curious. Would the strong taste of success lead the band further along its progression toward the forbidden lands of hard rock, or would we see a course change?   (more after the jump . . .)

At a high level, For We Are Many contains most of the same ingredients used in the making of Overcome — the alternation between harsh vocals in the verses and clean singing in the chorus, tightly integrated and hard-hitting rhythms as executed by drummer Jason Costa and bassist Jeanne Sagan, and attention grabbing guitar leads and solos by Oli Hebert and Mike Martin. And in the main, the songs are still defined by catchy melodies and infectious hooks.

But are there any “twists and turns”? Has there been a departure from what we thought was a too-formulaic approach to the song-writing on Overcome? Is there more in store for masochistic metalheads like us who enjoy being mercilessly punished by our music?

We are pleased to report that the answer to all these questions is yes. With the exception of the closing track, a mid-paced ballad called “The Waiting One”, which features acoustic guitars at the open and close, the songs are uniformly fast, with jolting rhythms and rapid-fire riffs, and in many identifiable ways, For We Are Many has spun the aggression dial up a pleasing number of notches.

The brief opening track “Now Let Them Tremble” foreshadows the changes to come, with bursts of sawing guitar and martial hammering followed by a throat-rending Labonte howl. The title track that follows includes Gothenburg-style chords and deep gutturals in the vocalization. “Some of the People, All of the Time” is marked by staccato rhythms and pulsating riffs, a screaming guitar solo (one of many on the album), plus a big breakdown that includes more of those abyssal gutturals.

The backward turns on the album reach their crescendo on “Dead Wrong”, a song that honestly can be labeled death metal: It’s fast and pummeling, with tremolo-picked sawing in the guitar leads, deep, resonant bass riffs that rattle the ribcage, and death-metal growls that sound positively evil. It’s downtuned, dissonant, and quite pleasing to our pointy ears. Yes, even on this song there’s some clean singing, but it’s a raspy, bluesy style that fits nicely with all the howling and growling.

There’s plenty of thundering drumwork and merciless pounding on the toms in songs like “Hold On”, which generally features a heavy-as-shit bottom end to accompany the catchiness of the melody. And did we mention the screaming guitar solos? Oh yes, Oli Hebert still delivers the goods, and you’ll get your shred prescription amply filled on this album, with particular stand-outs in “Some of the People”, “From the Outside”, and “Faithless”.

We are happy to report that there’s nothing on the album like Overcome’s “Two Weeks”. Every song on For We Are Many includes growls and howls, and nothing seems so overtly designed to infiltrate the ranks of active-rock radio. On the other hand, the album still includes offerings of metalcore-standard with high-pitched Labonte crooning that will appeal to Overcome lovers. “From the Outside” and “Keepers of Fellow Man”, in particular, sound like metalcore songs from 4 or 5 years ago. Of course, for us, they’re the least interesting offerings on the album.

We mentioned the closing track, “The Waiting One”. It represents a marked change of pace, with acoustic guitars, generally subdued clean vocals in Labonte’s middle range, and quiet interludes. Yet even “The Waiting One” builds in intensity, and it seems destined to become a sing-along magnet when performed live.

In a nutshell: Fans of Overcome will still find much to like among the 12 tracks on For We Are Many, but for those of us who’ve been pining for All That Remains to turn up the brutality dial, the new album delivers a satisfyingly amped-up dose of aggression, too. It’s a blend of metalcore and melodeath that continues to display All That Remains’ trademark brand of catchy melodies while inflicting plenty of hammer-blows to the head.

All That Remains is now touring with As I Lay Dying and Unearth, and we’ll be front-and-center when they play Seattle later this week. The band will be heading to Europe for dates in November and December.

All That Remains is continuing to make the title track from the new album available for free download for those who sign up for their e-mail list.  You can do that at this location. A bonus track called “Of the Deep” (which we’ve not heard) is also being offered to people who pre-order the album on iTunes.

Here’s the title track from For We Are Many, and below that is “Hold On”, the first single.

UPDATE: All That Remains has just released the official video for “Hold On”, so we’re now featuring that first, followed by the title track.

“Hold On”

All That Remains | MySpace Music Videos

  17 Responses to “ALL THAT REMAINS”

  1. Wow. Hold on and All that remains are completely different. The second I kinda like, the first one, not really…

    • I think you can guess why ATR (or the label) picked “Hold On” to be the first single — it’s pretty straight-up metalcore, pretty accessible, more likely to appeal to all the new fans the band picked up with Overcome. For all those reasons, “Hold On” is one of my less favorite songs on the album. “For We Are Many” (which I think is the other song you meant to mention in your comment) is one of the more aggressive cuts and therefore in the group I like best. It’s obvious from the review, but “Dead Wrong” is my favorite — and a song that isn’t likely to be released as a single. 🙂

  2. This is indeed a step in the right direction. Again Islander, I agree completely with your assessment of their albums and that Overcome was just too far over the line. I’ll have to listen to more of this album to decide if I actually like it.

    One other general note – I am glad that the pop-metalcore wave is finally crashing – I won’t name specific bands, but a lot of them just combined too many cheesy and predictable melodies into what could have been an otherwise tolerable song. I predict a similar fate for deathcore in the next year or two, since that genre is quickly reaching over-saturated levels as well. Both genres had some good bands that I like a lot, but by that same token, I’m also excited to see some new innovation.

    • Agree on your general note and your prediction. Some bands who launched themselves on the wave of these uber-popular sub-genres will survive, but only because they will evolve into something different and more interesting. And that’s not meant as a mass put-down of metalcore and deathcore — I like lots of bands in both categories. But I do think the super-saturation that’s occurred is in the process of leading to a mass winnowing-out, a separating of wheat from chaff. It will be interesting to see who’s left a couple years from now.

      • I think the same can be said of any genre, sub-genre or fan/hater generated label in our chosen umbrella of music. Nu-metal’s a great example. How many of those bands are still around now, and of those, how many are doing the same thing? Same thing happened with grunge. Or hair/glam metal. Folk metal appears to be headed in the same direction.

        Even the longer running styles have go through their phases. Death metal, power/progressive metal, black metal, thrash, they’ve all had a period of stagnation and come out stronger, perhaps due to metalcore, deathcore, rethrash and the like, with black metal branching off in a few directions, leaving the stubborn behind to make their troo albums.

        Some bands falter a bit in the eyes of their fans – which is sometimes very unfair to the bands – and manage to shake that off and come with with some solid releases, even if they aren’t their best efforts. Few bands can make several albums that stand on equal footing. It’s just too fucking hard to do, and with a band that enjoys a modest to widespread fanbase, it’s even harder.

        As for All That Remains, I can’t really say. I never got into the band in the first place, so I can’t relate to the progression of their albums, but based on what you’ve said, they’re going through the same growing pains that most bands do. Think of a band starting off as a child. With that perspective, you can tell where the adolescent phase comes in, sometimes accompanied by stupid decisions and succumbing to peer pressure, among other things.

        • Interesting suggestion that some of the longer-lived styles of metal may have emerged from stagnation and come out stronger precisely as a result of subgenres like metalcore, deathcore, rethrash and so on. I think there’s something to that, partly because those latter styles have generated masses of new fans, many of whom have gone on to discover those older styles and add to the demand for them, and partly because some of those metalcore/deathcore bands have themselves moved into the older styles and enlivened them.

          Analogizing a new band to a child also captures the phases of growth that some bands go through. On the other hand, some bands are permanently stuck in childhood, and some seem to leap from the womb as fully formed adults.

          • I’m not so sure about the perma-adulthood at a band’s inception, but to use children as a way to look at it, some children seem to be far more brilliant than others, child prodigies if you will. The early years in childhood may be awkward, but they also offer the greatest potential for learning. Some bands are able to change direction early and find something better suited for them, while others simply have used the best around them to forge a killer sound that they move forward with, which may be closest to emerging from the musical womb as adults.

            It should be interesting to see what happens within the next five to ten years.

            I’m sure there will be more sub-genres that take shape or labels that some people come up with for anything that sounds a bit different. The cookie cutter stuff of today will have (mostly) faded and the rest will join the ever increasing list of veterans. Just as 80’s bands seem to be getting back together with original lineups, we’ll probably see the same with 90’s bands doing the same, along with the first of the notable nu-metal reunions, while forum/blog trolls will bitch about how the band hasn’t put out anything good since 2006.

            In that time, Ozzy will probably still be on stage, Dan Swanö will have been involved in at least two more projects, Tool might have have released their fifth full length, Anthrax may have changed singers again, Nergal will kick leukemia’s ass and death metal bands (or rather, goregrind) will start to use readable logos. Well, okay, maybe that last one is less of a possibility than the others.

            • Your last paragraph has the makings of a fun post. Made me think of an old Woody Allen movie called Sleeper, in which Allen’s character is revived out of cryostasis in the future and learns how all sorts of things turned out while he was in the deep freeze (eg, chocolate and banana cream pie have become health foods). Would be fun to imagine looking backwards at the metal scene from 10 years in the future. But you’re right — unreadable band logos are probably here to stay.

              • Well, Demoltion Man offered a bit of a glimpse into the future, but maybe I should try to expand upon the possibilities of metal in the future.

  3. I had precisely the same emotions with their 2008 record. The only one I didn’t listen more than once. By coincidence I was listening to The Fall of Ideals and This Darkened Heart in my car yesterday and realized how I still like the stuff, despite that my tastes have generally moved far away from Metalcore. Main reason for that is that classically schooled lead guitarist. His licks and solos are incredibly delicious. Consequently, I’m pleased you like this one. I’ll give it a shot myself as well.

    • I did the same thing — over the last couple days, in between listening to songs on the new album, I went back and listened to some of my favorite tracks from The Fall of Ideals and This Darkened Heart for the first time in a long while, and I was reminded how much I liked them when they were fresh and (a bit to my surprise) how much I still like them despite the evolution in my tastes. There are some tracks on the new album that I like as much as my favorites on the old ones.

      • Problem with the tracks on the old ones is that I know them far too well. I can dream every single note on it, so it’s time to get my hands on that new one then 😛

  4. Do you remember that time that you discovered there was no Santa? Or that moment you first beat your Dad at football (etc) and realised he was getting old and wasn’t perfect?

    That’s what this review was for me. I’ve had all my illusions shattered as to the perfect track-record of NCS.

    Seriously, this album is just so generic… predictable solo-ing, stock “metal” drumming, boring riffs, ricocheting between bad radio-rock and forced pseudo-heaviness. Terrible lyrics and a completely dispassionate vocal performance.

    Although at least it’s not as terrible as “Overcome”. Although it’s arguably more forgettable (at least “Overcome” was memorably bad).

    I do agree that “This Darkened Heart” and “The Fall Of Ideals” still hold up really well though.

    • (Weeping silently.) On the one hand, your comment makes me beam with pride that you held us in such high regard. On the other hand, I’m crushed that we’ve let you down. Your comment will also lend renewed vigor to my behind-the-scenes collaborator IntoTheDarkness, who thinks I like everything I hear and am way too forgiving of bands to which I have old emotional attachments. (Sigh.) A stiff drink or two and a good night’s sleep, and I may be able to carry on tomorrow. But if this whole site goes black by sun-up, you’ll know why . . .

  5. I found that some songs on the album crossed the line into hard rock. While the album still maintains the main roots of ATR style, it just doesn’t seem to hold up to the standards that were set by This Darkened Heart and The Fall of Ideals. If you listen to “Passion” on This Darkened Heart, you’ll find a much more melodic and technical feel to the ATR style. They used to be more unique in the sense that if you listened to one of their songs you’d have the inner monologue “this is All That Remains”, but now it seems that they have lost that style. I enjoyed the album, and found that most of it was better than Overcome, but in some senses Overcome was better. Even though Overcome had softer areas to the album, the band could easily blend that into a more hardcore area (a.k.a. in A Song for the Hopeless). I do agree that this is a step up in brutality, but the worksmanship definately has taken a dive since the earlier works.

    • The general consensus of our comments seems to be that ATR’s most recent efforts, including the new one, don’t hold up to the earlier albums — and I’m not going to argue that point. There are songs on those albums that I still listen to, and probably will for a long time to come. It may be premature to say this about the new one, but I doubt there’s any one song on it that will have that kind of staying power (at least for me).

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