Those who have followed the musical arc of All That Remains might have picked a certain pattern over the years, where the Massachusetts metal heroes gradually veered towards mainstream metal territory from their metalcore beginnings. Overcome was a solid mix of the two styles, giving ATR their first 100,000+ selling record, and For We Are Many largely kept to the same formula while cranking the brutality up a slight notch. A War You Cannot Win, though, contained songs indistinguishable from each other, except for ballad “What If I Was Nothing” that sounded tailor-made for the Rocklahoma segment. The Order of Things didn’t fare much better, making a ballad its first track and filling the rest with autotuned vocals and generic riffs. Which brings us to Madness, All That Remains’ first album with producer Howard Benson – and a pop record dressed up in heavy metal clothing.
Things start okay enough with first single “Safe House”; Phil Labonte growls the chorus like he’s ready to step into the Octagon, and the band churns out something that wouldn’t be out of place on Devildriver’s setlist. Then, things get weird, and never quite pick up: the title track switches gears to something that sounds like… well… a Breaking Benjamin song, and Madness has few redeeming moments after that. “Halo” and “Trust and Believe” sound like leftovers from the Overcome sessions, but at least they harken back to the trademarks that ingratiated the band to the modern metal public: double-kick flourishes and single-string riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on The Fall of Ideals. Aside from that, these are mostly hard rock songs with electronic enhancements and little staying power. I have a hard time picturing how any of these tracks will translate well in a live setting, especially when stacked against the band’s classic material.
Phil Labonte’s voice, to his credit, is among the most flexible in his genre; he can roar with the best of them before switching to a soulful croon. His lyrical topics are one of the few things on Madness that are consistent from their other albums: breakups, civil unrest, military themes, Libertarian empowerment, etc.
Turning to the production though, it’s gotta be said: Howard Benson is not a good fit for All That Remains. The drums are overly sampled and sound like the mids were completely scooped out of the mix (especially the snare), robbing them of much of their clarity. He also favors what sounds like the same damned piano sample in at least three songs (speaking of electronics… is that an MPC drum machine on the verses in “Rivercity”?). That’s part of the problem with Madness: in its zest to take the sonic road less travelled, it mines that shit for more than its worth, repeatedly.
Even when All That Remains stood at the edge of utter cheesiness on previous albums (“What If I Was Nothing”), they were still able to step back before it was too late. With Madness, they’ve decided to lock arms and jump off the edge together, consequences be damned. If RMP used a ratings system, this would get a 4 out of 10; a 5 if we're being generous.
For diehard fans, exclusively.