A lot has been said about Phil Labonte, even as recently as the start of this year. He’s been called a homophobe, a misogynist and a gun-nut to name but a few, and his retaliations haven’t exactly painted him in the best light. But for as little respect as many believe the All That Remains frontman deserves, he and his band continue to truck on and embrace the mentality of not caring what the “haters” have to say. Even so, their intelligence-bereft radio metal isn’t exactly the most effective vehicle to get that across. Well, eighth album Madness wants to rectify that, supposedly All That Remains’ most diverse release to date, and the album where Labonte wants to rectify that “softness” of modern metal.
That’s the intention anyway, but Madness sounds like All That Remains have no idea what they’re doing. To give them credit, they’re at least beginning to develop some ideas; bookending the album are Safe House, which is apparently inspired by crime series Dexter, and a cover of Garth Brooks’ The Thunder Rolls. But between them is an album of pointless experiments and misaligned intentions that can’t even elevate itself above butt-rock with a semblance of a pulse.
Said experiments are at least the most innocuous parts of the instrumentals, in that they feel largely perfunctory rather than actively awful. A cleaner production job is abundant, along with the odd break of electronica on tracks like Never Sorry that don’t interfere too much and are fairly agreeable. It’s when they do that things head south in a hurry, like the layers of filters piled on Labonte’s vocals on the title track and Nothing I Can Do that aren’t even close to being smoothly integrated and just sound terrible. Granted, there isn’t much room for All That Remains’ base sound to deteriorate further; Madness still fills itself up with the typically nausea-inducing cocktail of shit-brown guitars and a meat-headed jock swagger that, eight albums in, they should’ve outgrown by now. It’s dull, insipid and quite frankly embarrassing.
The exact same thing can be said about the lyrics as well. The central conceit of Madness is that this is Labonte’s chance to give metal its stick-it-to-the-man attitude back, and to let all the haters know that he’s sticking to his controversial opinions and that he’s right to do so. The problem is that’s the greatest level of detail that’s given; considering that at least half of this album centres on that exact sentiment, it’s never said what these opinions are or why he’s in the right, a level of logic that’s skewed to the point of unrecognisability at best, and completely nonexistent at worst. Also, for an album that apparently wants to take metal back to its hardest, most uncompromising form, the number of cloying, sappy ballads feels counterintuitive to say the least. The tribute to Labonte’s ex-wife on River City gets a pass for at least being well-written, but Far From Home is a milquetoast Five Finger Death Punch pastiche, and Back To You is a piece of unctuous radio pap that couldn’t feel more generic. As basic as Safe House is, its metalcore riffs and genuinely effective screams at least manage to formulate some kind of response, and it’s probably the best song here.
But honestly, it’s not even worth getting worked up about this. All That Remains’ brand of metal is throwaway by design, and while the advent of some slightly heavier guitars and Labonte being a relatively decent singer puts them at least a few steps beyond their really derivative competitors, but that really isn’t saying much. That’s because Madness is anything but mad, rather tedious, overly long and without even a modicum of the ideas it needs to be even close to worthwhile.
For fans of: Five Finger Death Punch, Skillet, Wovenwar
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Madness’ by All That Remains is released on 28th April on Razor & Tie Records.