Sound — 7
One of the most polarizing vocalists among fans of the metal/hard rock scene right now, is none other than Phil Labonte. Phil has always been a politically outspoken individual. Which makes it difficult for some reviewers to overlook his opinions and give his band's efforts a fair shake when it is judged for quality (I'm looking at you Metalsucks). Whether you agree or disagree with Phil's views, I just want everyone to understand I'm not here to write an editorial about Phil Labonte and his ideological points of view. I'm here to review his group's latest album, "The Order of Things."
"The Order of Things" is in some aspects, a vast departure from All That Remains melodic death metal classics, "This Darkened Heart," and "The Fall of Ideals." It does share a lot similarities with their modern metal classic, "For We Are Many" in terms of accessibility, although "For We Are Many" had a fantastic mix of styles that made it both an accessible enough album for casual metal fans to enjoy, and at the same was quite experimental and was composed well enough to appeal to committed metal enthusiasts. Unfortunately, "The Order of Things" caters mostly to casual metal fans and active rock radio listeners, which alienates the more die-hard metal fans. Clean vocals are a dominant presence in "The Order of Things." Phil's trademarked punchy screams are very sparse and his low-pitched guttural death growls are unfortunately absent. The screaming that is present for the most part, is used to complement the singing, which disappointed me to a degree. I found Phil's clean singing to be a little annoying at times. Continuing a trend from "A War You Cannot Win," some of the rhythm guitar work can come across as a little underwhelming as well. As you listen, you'll find a lot of elements in the guitar attack that is reminiscent of '80s pop metal and hard rock, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your tastes. At times the rhythm riffs are designed to be very percussive and simple in nature, which has always been present in their music and isn't necessarily a negative quality, as it adds a lot of aggression and punchiness to the drumming, but could be perceived a little boring to those who don't like frequent chuggy riffs. I may be a little biased in this regard as I've always preferred the more the technically proficient riffs and wonderfully colorful song structures from the albums that came before "A War You Cannot Win."
Now, don't get me wrong are a few songs in this album that do remind remind me of their melodic death metal past. The poorly titled "This Probably Won't End Well," actually features pretty delicious riffage. "Tru Kvlt Metal," which while I thought was a missed opportunity to create a deadly song in the vein of "The Weak Willed" and "Dead Wrong" that could knock down even the most staunch of metal purists, but failed, still managed to deliver some colorful riffs. The lead guitar presence from Oli Herbert is as strong as ever. His solos never disappoint, and deserve much more recognition that he actually receives. The guy could be a virtuoso is his own right. I would love to listen to him tackle other styles of music. Mike Martin who is a tight rhythm player, always does a great job of complimenting Oli's solos with great harmonies. The clean guitar presence is wonderful and very detailed. Jason Costa, another very talented musician who is overlooked often, delivered another good performance, while not as strong as previous performances, still managed to shake things up. There isn't a bad musician in this band, the rhythm section has always kept it neat and tight. While Phil somewhat disappointed me with the lack of screamed vocals he made up for it by giving Jeanne a chance to shine in both "Divide" and "Pernicious" on clean vocals. Together they both create beautiful harmonies that sound more authentic than Phil layering harmonies together with his own voice.
Lyrics — 6
While this album was a marked improvement over their last, I still find myself questioning Phil's lyrical decision making in some of these songs. It's strange at how much worse his writing has gotten over the past few years, as it used to be pretty good. This album suffers from much of the same problems as its predecessor "A War You Cannot Win." I suppose Phil is dumbing down his writing in an effort to appeal to the active rock radio audience, which I have to admit, is attracting more listeners and revenue, but in the process it is also hurting the overall quality of the music in the long run. His writing in "Tru Kvlt Metal," which could have been a great piece of social commentary in regards to the metal community, came across as silly. A song that focused more on his past relationships, such as "This Probably Won't End Well" was also quite lacking lyrically. I've always enjoyed ATR's political songs, but I found myself disliking the writing in "No Knock." I understand where Phil was trying to accomplish with this song, but what could have been a great piece of political commentary regarding the militarization of the police, and the lack of respect for property rights and privacy in the United States, ended up falling flat due to silly lyrics such as "I'm f--king superman, so come over and check my plan."
Not all of the pieces suffered from the handicap of terrible writing. "Divide" did a good job of combining accessibility with quality. Where "Tru Kvlt Metal" failed, "Victory Lap" succeeded. "The Epic Criticism" and "Self Realization," which was the focal point of the album in my opinion, along with "Pernicious," featured strong writing.
Overall Impression — 7
After the first listen, I can say that I actually found a lot of things to enjoy about All That Remains latest musical statement, and at the same time, some big drawbacks. For those of you who identify yourselves as "metal purists," or dislike melodic metal and heavy rock, I suggest you avoid listening to this album. Anyone who doesn't fall within these categories, I suggest you give the album a try, there might be a few songs in this release that you enjoy. I will warn everyone that "The Order of Things" is a far cry from ATR's earlier releases. "The Fall of Ideals," "This Darkened Heart," and the extremely underrated "For We Are Many" greatly overshadow the "Order of Things" in terms of quality. I found this album to be a definite improvement over the generic, bro-metal, boredom trip that was "A War You Cannot Win." I would personally rate this piece of work closer to 2008's metalcore-heavy "Overcome." It's an above average album with its share of advantages and disadvantages. While it pales in comparison to their best releases, it does makes for a fun listen if you're looking for something different to listen to at work or on the road.