[6 September 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It took some time, but at last, the oversaturated American metalcore scene is now starting to separate the wheat from the chaff, as the lesser-talented pretenders are quickly giving way to their more creative peers. So insane has the trend become over the last couple years, that young bands are starting to copy other metalcore bands while completely ignorant of the genre’s melodic death metal origins, and with every debut release, the cheap imitations of At the Gates, In Flames, and Morbid Angel have become more and more diluted. While some bands like As I Lay Dying have tried hard to bring a little accessibility to their music by employing melodic (or “clean”) vocals, it’s been the acts who have been the most audacious in their approach that have been able to successfully transcend what has come to be known as “kiddiecore” and “mallcore”. Avenged Sevenfold’s gonzo approach to combining epic power metal and pop punk choruses connected big time with younger audiences. Trivium brings songwriting flair to the sound, and has left the hardcore screaming behind for good. Shadows Fall continue their ascent up the American metal ladder. And in what has to be the most pleasant surprise of 2006, All That Remains has made the kind of stylistic leap that most bands can only wish they could pull off.
A product of the astonishingly talent-rich New England metalcore scene (along with the likes of Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, and Unearth), All That Remains turned in a semi-respectable effort with their second album, 2004’s This Darkened Heart, which was highlighted by guitar duo Mike Martin and Oli Herbert, who in between faux-Pantera riffs and Hatebreed-style breakdowns, brought in slick dual harmonies that sounded indebted to Scandinavian metal, but smartly managed to sound genuine. For all his onstage charisma, though, lead screamer Philip Labonte merely delivered the same kind of melody-free lead vocals as every other band. He did show promise on “Tattered on My Sleeve”, but aside from a few glimpses of originality, the album was little more than a drop in an overflowing bucket.
With The Fall of Ideals, however, that all changes, and Labonte deserves much of the credit. A student of noted vocal coach Melissa Cross (who is quickly becoming one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in modern metal), Labonte has made an astonishing adjustment, bringing a wide array of vocal styles, the most impressive of which being a clean singing voice that soars over much of his band’s competition. We hear it instantly on “This Calling”, as his melodic chorus grabs us instantly, finding a comfortable middle ground between old school bombast and emo whinging, his assertive, commanding style setting Labonte apart from the usual screamers out there. The band is obviously aware of their newfound asset, and they put it to good use, especially on the first half of the album, as Labonte dominates such memorable tracks as “Not Alone”, “It Dwells in Me”, “We Stand”, and “Whispers (I Hear Your)”. So good is the first 20 minutes, that all five tracks all have the potential to go over huge with the Hot Topic set.
Labonte does take a back seat to his other four mates on “The Weak Willed”, a monstrous slice of death metal, providing guttural accompaniment to the sinewy licks and taut picking of Martin and Herbert and the furious blastbeats of drummer Shannon Lucas. “Six” starts off with a hair-raising, Gothenburg-inspired intro before giving way to a stately breakdown that drips with melodic solos and E-bow harmonies, while the swaggering “The Air That I Breathe” beats Shadows fall at its own game, blending an old school gallop, aggressive mid-tempo verses, and melodic choruses like a band of seasoned pros.
Produced by Killswitch Engage’s Adam Dutkiewicz, arguably the most ubiquitous producer in American metal today, the 39-minute The Fall of Ideals knows exactly how much is too much, the band coming in, tearing our collective faces off (hyperbolically speaking, of course), and leaving us wanting more. It’s invigorating from start to finish, and could very well be the metalcore album of the year.