Some questions to ponder: At what point in a bands career is it too late to reverse a downward spiral? Should a band be obligated to release music that caters to the majority of their fan base, those that have been there from the beginning? When is it time to just stop? The reason these questions are all valid is because we are talking about the new All That Remains album; 11 years removed from their consensus ‘best album’ The Fall of Ideals, we are in the throes of 3 straight albums from ATR that really require fans to think about the above questions. Everyone will have a different opinion, but for this reviewer, after listening to Madness, the answers to the above, as relating to ATR, are as follows: Now, Yes, and Now.
Now 3 albums removed from their last ‘good’ album, ATR felt compelled to release new material that ‘pushes the boundaries’ of what metal is all about, per frontman and current liability Phil Labonte. These ‘boundaries’ should have been clarified, because the only ones being pushed are those established by the fan base: at what point does this band I once liked no longer get the benefit of the doubt. When is it time to give up on them? Sadly, as above, the answer is now; Madness is almost completely devoid of anything that once made ATR a great metalcore act, and it’s abundantly obvious that Phil does not give a shit what most of his fans want.
Oddly enough, the album starts out on a rather strong note, with the double bass percussive assault opening up Safe House, immediately preceding some of Phil’s finest vocals since FWAM. Lyrical hilarity aside, Safe House is actually a very strong track, as it establishes that ATR still does know how to harken back to TFOI days; while it’s plausible the strength of this track is predicated on their lack of quality tracks lately, it’s still undoubtedly one of their finest since Dead Wrong on FWAM, and a surprising way to start an album that had little in the way of hype or expectations. Sadly, those expectations, or lack thereof, rear their ugly head on title track Madness; Phil’s promise of more electronic elements is, sadly, where he spoke the truth as it’s obvious his vocals are electronically engineered, which coupled with bland backing music, a pathetically clichéd military music video, and a very strong ‘please play me on the radio’ vibe makes this song a failure in all but one way: it is catchy, and damnit that makes it memorable, for better or worse.
Among the strongest tracks on this album, those that have more in common with Safe House than anything else they’ve released recently are Halo, Louder, and Trust and Believe. The former is a frontrunner for best track on the album, very nearly a Two Weeks clone, with noticeably heavy riffs, pounding (bordering on headbanging) percussion, and no question one of Phil’s best performances in years, with some of his most ferocious screams since the aforementioned Dead Wrong, and a successful layering of harsh and cleans throughout. Louder, while continuing with the heaviness theme, musically and vocally, is undoubtedly a weaker track, one that, while still solid, unfortunately suffers from awful lyrics and noticeably forced electronic elements, ultimately ruining some of Phil’s screams. Nevertheless, to hear a solo from Oli, short though it may be, does bring back some good memories. Trust and Believe is just a straightforward hard rocker, with layered harsh vocals on top of cleans, and a consistent groove with little divergence: simply put, its lack of experimentation is its strong point, and it’s quite a good track: nothing more, nothing less.
Unfortunately, the above is all you’re going to get for good tracks, because Madness if rife with songs so tepid, so cliché, so goddamn boring that’s it is truly difficult to remember that these guys released TFOI. Perhaps the most egregious examples of this new direction Phil wants this band to go are If I’m Honest, Far From Home, and Back to You; Phil does not have a good singing voice, and his lyrics are far from inspirational or even thought provoking. Which is why when he feels the need to slow down, introduce acoustics guitars, sing about politics and his feelings, and eliminate any discernible trace of his metal past, the results are so hilariously awful that to finish the tracks would be an act of willpower most people don’t possess. This is not hyperbole: these are, quite frankly, 3 of the very worst tracks I have ever listened to (from a band I like) in my near 30 years, and not a single one of them has been played one full time. Barely half of total track length is enough to figure out if you’ll like or dislike them: I downright loathed them, and immediately deleted them from my phone. There is no excuse for anyone in this group to think these tracks were a good idea: listen if you dare.
For the most part, the remaining tracks stick to the sound established by their last 2 albums: in a few words, they’re only memorable insofar as you can say that they exist. They offer nothing in the way of importance or discernibility. But, there is one additional track, a “bonus,” as it were, that won’t be remembered for anything other than being an atrocious attempt to cover a damn fine country song, in Garth Brooks’ The Thunder Rolls. Not only does Garth have a far superior voice to Phil, the original track is far and away heavier and captures the essence of the lyrics with ease. The ATR version exists to do something, but what that something is apparently does not compute with this listener, because it sucks. just like All That Remains does now.
To be blunt, if the guys in the band somehow can’t convince Phil to stop going in this nonsensical, borderline embarrassing direction, there is no future for them. Madness, after AWYCW and TOOT (coincidence, I think not), is simply a medium from which they expect to make more money, and if they do, that’s great, because unfortunately they’re losing fans faster than they’re making money, especially with this garbage effort. Do yourself a favor: if you want to listen to any of this, buy the 4 noted tracks and skip the rest: it may be just enough to keep hope alive that ATR isn’t quite done. We’ll see.
Final Rating: 2/5.