Friday, February 8, 2013

All That Remains - A War You Cannot Win Review

All That Remains have existed since before the turn of the century. They've been around since before either of my little brothers were born. They were there at the start of the metalcore explosion alongside genre luminaries such as Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall. In their fourteen year existence, one would assume that over time they've honed their sound, tweaking and perfecting it until they can be considered nothing less than a force to be reckoned with in the world of metalcore and metal at large. Well a force certainly comes to oneself through listening to All That Remains, said force being the pushing on one's gut as he runs to the toilet to be ill. Almost a decade and a half and they're still pumping out this garbage. At least their earlier material sounded kinda interesting, if still quite run of the mill (save some stuff on The Fall of Ideals, which actually sounded *gasp* genuine!). A War You Cannot Win, the sixth release by this band, is so blatantly-appealing-to-the-lowest-common-musical-denominator that it's not even funny. It's damn near 2013, people; why are the masses still buying into this shit?

I'll tell you why, good sirs and dames. It's because All That Remains have perfected the musical model of "make every song sound pretty much the same sonic and structure-wise, but have a couple songs be more pop and radio rock influenced so that they'll be played on the radio". A War You Cannot Win especially exploits this model, as the radio friendly songs are more radio friendly than ever. This is due to a mixture of both more clean vocals and dumbing down the songwriting even more than they had on For We Are Many. Combine that with the fact that the general musical audience of this generation just eats up whatever overproduced, made-for-the-masses schlock they are handed, and you've got a record that'll appease all those that lack good taste in music. Tracks such as Stand Up feel like they belong in the live setting of a shitty hard rock tour like rather than on a purportedly metal album, while a song like Asking Too Much would not sound out of place on a Paramore album. I am not engaging in egregious hyperbole with that either; the song sounds like slightly more Swedish Paramore with male vocals. It's blatant pop rock and is nigh-unlistenable, and I actually enjoy Paramore! The heavier tracks are no less creatively bankrupt than the lighter tracks, as these too run through the proverbial motions by way of the overdone Gothenburg based riffing that's been a staple of ATR's style from day one. Would it really kill All That Remains to add just a little bit of variety into their sound? Hell, would it be so hard to sound like they actually give a crap? Just fake it if you have to; it works often enough in porn.

Performance wise the instrumentalists are sufficient, although they don't have much to work with. Oli Herbert's few leads on the record are good enough, but he's wasted talent here since there's not a whole lot for him to do aside from play the aforementioned generic Swedish riffing. Jason Costa is much the same, although since being the drummer allows for a bit more creative freedom with what you can put down in the studio, he's easily the best performer on the album. However, as mentioned with Oli, he doesn't have a whole lot to work with here, making him yet another great talent in a crap band. Mike Martin holds down the fort well enough on rhythm guitar, but he doesn't really stand out much here beyond that. Jeanne Sagan's bass is nonexistent, as has become the thing in modern rock and metal album production, therefore there's nothing to comment on with that aspect of the instrumentation. That brings us to one Phillip Labonte, vocalist and crazy loudmouth who seems to have made it his mission in life to out-insane Dave Mustaine (just read his Facebook posts about how the solution to gun violence is to give EVERYONE guns if you don't believe me). As with every other ATR record, he uses a variety of vocal styles, among them mid-ranged shouting, low death growling, high shrieking (those last two aren't used on this album that much), and crooning, strained sounding clean singing. There's quite a bit more clean singing on this record compared to past albums by the band, with a number of songs consisting entirely of clean vocals. Trust me when I say his clean singing gets grating after a while. Hell, I got sick of them within 3 minutes of first hearing Stand Up while driving to my attorney's office a few weeks ago.

It's kind of sad to see what's become of All That Remains. At one point they were among the better bands of the New England metalcore scene, namely around the time of The Fall of Ideals. Since then, however, they seem to have fallen into a deep, deep, DEEP rut that they cannot possibly get back out of. The fact that there are actual people spending actual dollars for this stuff is just disheartening when you think of all the bands that get no recognition that have poured their souls into the music they have created. It's even more completely pathetic that they've had almost 15 years to hone their craft, and they've merely resigned themselves to making dumbed down, consumer friendly crap such as A War You Cannot Win. It's like the musical equivalent of when Kevin Smith made Cop Out, only All That Remains only had one genuinely good record to their name and therefore had very little to live up to aside from a legacy of poor music, lack of passion, and legions of people willing to scarf this stuff down. It is completely possible to have a mainstream, radio friendly sound and not be so goddamn boring and lifeless that you wonder if actual people could have made something like this. All That Remains just refuse to both get with the times and give a shit to make something worth listening to.

P.S. Why in the world is the track labeled "Intro" the sixth track on the album? Sense this does not make.

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