All That Remains seem like a fairly easy band to judge right. They've seemed to be at the butt of various jokes made by the "more-metal-than-thou" community in the face of some brilliant albums that have displayed much passion, soul and nothing more than some textbook American metalcore, while serving as a great gateway band for those just getting into metal in a missing link between Bullet for My Valentine and Lamb of God sort of way. And if having well-crafted songs makes you a joke in the world of metal, then I guess the naysayers have a lot to laugh about. And in a world where you can jump the shark in music as well as TV shows, I''m going to take the side of the naysayers when looking at their sixth album A War You Cannot Win.
I think this album is a valuable lesson that when you are dealing as a melodic metalcore band that write songs with big choruses mixed with breakdowns there really is a limit on how far you can take your music before you're unable to wow anyone anymore, no matter what you try. Because that is definitely the case with All That Remains and it's made all the more tragic as they're clearly aware that they've so far made very similar albums so far and are trying to do some things differently, yet the only good parts of the album are the furious breakdowns of You Can't Fill My Shadow and Sing For Liberty and you have four albums for better breakdowns you can look at.
The most ironic thing about the performance of frontman Phil Labonte on this album is that looking at tracks like A Call to All Non Believers and Just Moments in Time, it's clear that Labonte is trying to stamp out his very own identity on these tracks to a greater extent than he's ever done before and these tracks come off as being the All That Remains tracks with the least personality ever displayed. This is quite possibly the sound of commercial heavy metal at it's blandest.
I can only go on to say that this album is officially the sound of a band becoming officially watered down. You probably officially recognise that sound when you heard Killswitch Engage's second self-titled album from 2009 and know that Killswitch have always been heavier than ATR. Some of the signs of the band being watered down is unreal, with Asking Too Much sounding less metalcore and more like Stone Sour. Of course when considering House of Gold and Bones, Part 1 that remark should be nothing but a compliment but it even makes the Iowa quintet's Through Glass sound like Sepultura in terms of heaviness and extremity. And then of course, they have a shot of writing a ballad in the form of What If I Was Nothing, which listening to reminds me of the first time I listened to Def Leppard's Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad. Yes, painful.
With those two songs being powerful examples of All That Remains' venture into more commercial territory, most other parts just make you ask why of them like the immense poppy intro of Not Fading and the album's title track trying to build up a post hardcore influence in it's intro. It's so needless.
And I'm afraid to say that this is the ultimate impression this album leaves on me. I do love All That Remains and firmly believe they have a stellar back catalogue and this album does some some good moments. Even in it's poppiest, there are some good hooks and when they do nail out the metalcore performance we know them so much better for it's still solid. But I really don't know what's gone on with this band overall. Are they really becoming another band that will rely on getting their songs played on the radio to make it big? It certainly sounds like it on a lot of these songs and their attempts to venture into crafting post grunge melodies and balladry. It goes on to make me worried about so many of these gateway metal bands in a similar vein of All That Remains and if they can survive this gateway band territory with six albums. Probably not. They either need to get heavier again or concentrate more on writing hooks because right now they're in an aimless middle section and the naysayers are pissing themselves with laughter.
All That Remains' A War You Cannot Win is out now via Razor & Tie.