Album Review: All That Remains – THE ORDER OF THINGS

Matt Albers

There’s no question that we are in the midst of a metal music/loud rock paradigm shift. Within the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in popularity of subgenres like deathcore and djent, as well as the musical and demographical spanning out of contemporary, progressive stoner/sludge metal. But just as the wax and wane of musical success and popularity has shown in the past, the arrival of these new trends push existing bands or genres away. With this present state, we’re seeing bands of the “New Wave of American Metal” break up or go on hiatus as they struggle to compete with the new blood, such as the recent cases of Bleeding Through, God Forbid, Shadows Fall, and Chimaira. Groups like Unearth, Darkest Hour, and The Black Dahlia Murder also continue to fight for relevance in their dwindling markets. Meanwhile, bands like Lamb Of God, Killswitch Engage, and Trivium have been maintaining their success with little to no change to their respective sounds or musical identity. But out of all of the bands categorized into this class, All That Remains stands out.

Formed in 2000 by former Shadows Fall vocalist Phil Labonte and guitarist Oli Herbert, All That Remains was one of the bands that helped revolutionize the success of metalcore, beginning with their 2002 melodic death metal debut Behind Silence and Solitude. Amidst lineup changes for several years, All That Remains gained respect and a following with the strong follow-ups, 2004’s This Darkened Heart and 2006’s The Fall Of Ideals, both expanding on diverse metal musical elements and tasteful dual vocals. It was the radio success of 2008’s Overcome where All That Remains saw their biggest spike in popularity, as the album contained their catchiest and most accessible songwriting yet, while still retaining most of the band’s heavy drive. This continued on the stronger and more diverse composition of For We Are Many in 2010. But the band’s last album, 2012’s A War You Cannot Win, showed a drastic change in direction. With anthemic song structure and ballad-esque melodies dominating most of the tracks, it seemed like All That Remains was changing their style to an overall much more toned-down approach.

Released on February 24, 2015 through Razor & Tie, The Order of Things is All That Remains’ seventh studio album. It continues the band’s accessible, radio-friendly style from A War You Cannot Win, but through various influences takes on a different identity depending on the track. However, the vast majority of the first half of this twelve-track album stick to the formula of melodic hard rock. Opening with “This Probably Won’t Sound Good” “This Probably Won’t End Well,” catchy clean vocals once again dominate just about every track, with almost any and all harsh vocals turned down and pushed back in the mixing, laid under the singing and yielding little to no dynamic result. Musically, there’s plenty of technical composition from drummer Jason Costa and rhythm guitarist Mike Martin, but are also nearly drowned out by the pushed-to-the-front vocals. Thankfully, lead guitarist Oli Herbet never disappoints; even if the song is not heavy, his talented solos fit the mood and tone and are impossible not to enjoy.

Cover art for THE ORDER OF THINGS by All That Remains (courtesy of Razor and Tie)
Cover art for THE ORDER OF THINGS by All That Remains – image courtesy of Razor & Tie

The Order of Things does include songs that are both different and unique from the radio metal formula. Most of these tend to be saved for the second half of the album. “Tru-Kvlt-Metal” (you’re right to think that title sounds ironic, more on that later) shows that vocalist Phil Labonte is still capable of those raspy screeches comparable to Randy Blythe. “Bite My Tounge” and “Criticism and Self-Realization” feature undistorted guitar duels almost reminiscent of jazz noodling. “Fiat Empire” goes the ballad route, but is focused into more of a sorrowful, ominous atmosphere, with those underlying vocal screams actually adding a touch of flavorful tone. After four back-to-back boring songs with poppy vocals and melodies that sound like radio singles, “Victory Lap”  offers a much-needed jump of fun, familiar groove, including a welcomed bass line from Jeanne Sagan. Speaking of, she is easily The Order of Things‘ biggest surprise. Her playing adds more to those musical interludes in songs like “Bite My Tounge,” but her clean vocals are utilized greatly to harmonize with Labonte’s. While those clean vocals throughout this and previous All That Remains albums may not be entirely welcomed, that harmony at least makes them more fleshed-out. She even has a vocal solo on “Pernicious” which, featuring progressive timing and structure, easily makes it the best song on the album.

All That Remains’ recent success has led to front man Phil Labonte’s political opinions being made the subject of many a headline. His unapologetic tones – and honestly, why should he apologize? They’re just his opinions, divisive though they may be – particularly in politics are clear in his lyrics. The Order of Things’ closing track, “Criticism and Self-Realization,” showcases this, as does the traditional American values-tribute “The Greatest Generation,” which refreshingly does not harshly criticize following or current generations (at least not blatantly, anyway). Though it’s a strange to hear an outspoken atheist say: “My father’s father, may god rest his soul…” Especially after one of only two good songs on the last All That Remains album testified to that effect. I know it’s just a saying and I’m nitpicking here, but maybe that’s why he didn’t capitalize “god?” It almost sounds like pandering to people of that political mindset, but I digress.

Labonte’s military experience and love of firearms is also evident in the metalcore-chuggy, all-harsh vocals of “No Nock,” which vividly – almost graphically – depicts a violent and ultimately fatal raid. Labonte has always written lyrics about relationships since All That Remains began, and even before when fronting Shadows Fall. But the band’s earliest, heaviest material seemed to make those topics much more acceptable to metalheads than those on both The Order of Things and their previous album A War You Cannot Win (maybe extending back to Overcome depending on who you ask). To fans of less heavy forms of rock, and maybe even underground metalheads too, these relationship topics may be better suited to the more toned-down style of the band’s later material.

All That Remains lineup (from left to right): Jeanne Sagan (bass, backing vocals), Oli Herbert (lead guitar), Phil Labonte (lead vocals), Jason Costa (drums), Mike Martin (rhythm guitar) - photo courtesy of Blabbermouth.net
All That Remains lineup (from left to right): Jeanne Sagan (bass, backing vocals), Oli Herbert (lead guitar), Phil Labonte (lead vocals), Jason Costa (drums), Mike Martin (rhythm guitar) – photo courtesy of Blabbermouth.net

If there’s one lyrical theme on The Order of Things that stands out among the rest, it’s Labonte’s criticism of the dichotomy within metal and loud rock’s community and culture. This can be heard on two songs in particular. The first is “Tru-Kvlt-Metal” (see? Told you I’d come back to it). It’s directed to those who voice displeasure with All That Remains’ current sound. The second is “Victory Lap,” which includes lyrics such as: “Well, there’s no more big time / No more bright lights / Just a guy who’s drinking alone tonight… Nothin’s lost, we just don’t abuse it / We’re seven deep, we been caught up writing hits… I’ve heard it all before / The murmers and the whispers / I don’t listen anymore / Every time I rise, you fall away / Your voice is like poison / You can’t be me…” Both of these songs are reminiscent of when Labonte made metal headlines in August 2014 for commenting on some of those band breakups and hiatuses mentioned earlier. While “Tru-Kvlt-Metal” focuses on how fans can be fickle (hard to argue against that claim), “Victory Lap” sounds more like Labonte might actually be rubbing All That Remains’ success in the faces of his creative and industry peers. Though with some of the choice words, it’s suggested that maybe those peers had become competitors through their own criticism towards All That Remains.

Bands change up their sound all the time for a multitude of reasons, some of which are more familiar to fans than others. But sometimes, bands or artists just don’t want to keep playing or be known for the same style of music. There are plenty of cases of this in metal. Like Phil Labonte, Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt isn’t afraid to admit that he has other musical interests including pop. That is not to say that Opeth sounds like All That Remains, that would be stretching it. If they have one thing in common, it’s they’re both metal bands (or at least they both were at one point) and that’s it. I’m playing devil’s advocate here. It all depends on the musical subject and their own respective style(s), as well as how they incorporate various sounds and influences throughout their career. Although, unlike All That Remains’ Overcome, I don’t remember hearing anything from Ghost Reveries on the radio after Opeth allegedly “sold out” when they signed with Roadrunner Records.

The bottom line is, The Order Of Things continues the path that All That Remains has been on for several albums now. From the perspective of this here primarily heavy metal-oriented website, the album is, at best, only marginally better than the band’s last. And the only reason for that is, out of all of the repetitive, uninteresting radio anthems, A War You Cannot Win only had two songs appealing to older All That Remains fans: “Just Moments In Time” and “You Can’t Fill My Shadow.” While the musicianship continues to be solid on every All That Remains album, only a handful of songs on The Order Of Things are composed even remotely interestingly. And most of those songs aren’t even interesting throughout; they just have moments or elements that rarely last the entire track. Depending on your musical taste, you can decide for yourself whether the band is “selling out” or “buying in.” But if you happen to enjoy All That Remains’ earliest work out of their catalogue the most, or if the lyrical subject matter comes across as preachy and/or douchey to you… Well then, listening to The Order Of Things “probably won’t end well.”

Rating: 2 out of 5 (D+/C-)

Recommended if you like: Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet For My Valentine, Five Finger Death Punch, In Flames

All That Remains will be touring North America this spring, opening for In Flames on their “Charming America Tour”, along with Periphery.

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