Does anyone else remember when All That Remains kicked ass? Earlier in their career they kind of got lost in the shuffle of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal propagated by bands like Shadows Fall, Unearth, and Lamb of God. If anything the band was known for the fact that Phil Labonte was the original vocalist for Shadows Fall. When I fell back into metal I picked up the most recent albums from both band to see what the fuss was about. 15 years later I can’t tell you what happened to my copy of The War Within, but damn if I don’t keep coming back to This Darkened Heart, which I’ll always love no matter how much of a gun-toting right wing nut Labonte becomes.
Which is probably something we should be clear about up front: I’m not a fan of the man’s politics, and even mores not a fan of the band’s more recent output. I’ve read a little bit about some of the asshat things the man as said, and it’s a safe bet I won’t be financially support him any time soon. But we each have to reckon with where we draw the line: can I listen to and enjoy This Darkened Heart knowing the singer is, to put it mildly, a dill weed? Like anything it’s a judgement call, a personal one at that, and in this instance I’m going with it. The album does a fantastic job of embracing everything I loved about heavy metal as a kid, namely wicked guitar licks and riffs, killer solos (*RIP* Oli Herbert) and an earnest sincerity that came across with every roar and vocal hook. Although those vocal hooks, as in “And Death In My Arms” tend to be more than a bit “poor old me that dang girl done me wrong so now I must wallow in anguish and violence” for my tastes. So I’m not singing along so much as much inflecting with the same verve and vigor.
Tracks like “Focus Shall Not Face” “For Salvation” with their clean vocals that would becomes such an essential part of the band’s sound on future records are highlights, and never fail to get my blood pumping even though without a lyric sheet I’m pretty lost as far as lyrics (this is actually true for about 90% of my metal listening) so like everything I tend to make my own story, even if its about a guy struggling internally with whether he should stop at the post office on his way home (my stories tend to follow whatever I’m doing when I’m listening). The highlight all over This Darkened Heart is Oli Herbert’s guitar work. His solos really reflect a musicality and melodic tilt that’s straight from hair metal shredders, but incorporated into the heavy death/thrash the band churns out it becomes a bit of a revelation.
Wrapping this thing up, I love the music, don’t care much for the lyrics but I’ll definitely chant along to the clean parts. All That Remains certainly got a lot bigger later on in their careers (whatever happened to Shadows Fall, anyway?) but between this and tomorrow’s The Fall of Ideals I don’t know if they were every better.