"Down Through The Ages" sounded like a good pace-setter for the new album. It's catchy, it's fast, and it features the hallmark of a good ATR song: a simple, nice-sounding chorus that's easy to sing along with, backed by intense, growled vocals in the verses. It wasn't the best song I'd heard by the group by a longshot, but I figured it was a good sign in terms of setting the bar for the rest of the album to be measured from. The theme of the song - vaguely about defending a legacy that has been passed down through the ages- combined with the announced title of the album, made it sound like it'd be full of stuff that'd be appropriate to chant while marching into war or something. This was going to be awesome! And then this came out:
So, the opening guitar riff is good...and then Labonte opens his mouth, and a continuous stream of "Look at how successful we are!" comes out. I hate this song. I have never, ever hated an All That Remains song before - of the 54 of their songs I'd listened to, dozens of times, before the "Stand Up" lyrical video came out, I'd been neutral on some, but I'd never disliked them. And I hate this song. Here's a sample from the chorus:
We were right
We can't be more justified
And they can't deny it
The point gets a bit obscured by vagaries like "We're stronger than you think", but the main message of the song is "There are people out there who don't like our music and didn't think we could hack it. Well CHECK OUT OUR SALES NUMBERS, BITCHES!" And I hate that mentality. Despise it. To make things worse - and to tell the truth, this is the first thing I noticed about the song, before I took a closer look and actually paid attention to the lyrics - there's no fire to Labonte's singing during that annoying as hell chorus. It's more spoken in a taunting, sing-song manner. Which could be one of the least metal things put in a metal song ever. The rhyme structure is so nonsensical in places it really comes off as more of a declaration of superiority than a song. It's just overall terrible. The only part of it I like is parts of the instrumentation, the rest is just unpleasant to listen to. But hey, maybe it was an anomaly. Maybe the rest of the album will be about this War I Cannot Win or whatever it is.
Goddamn it this song has the exact same fucking sentiment behind it. "I'm great, you suck. You hate me because I'm so great and you could never measure up to me." Fucking hell, Labonte. At least the first half is far faster, more intense, and more passionate than Stand Up, but the second half reverts to an endless repetition of how "you can't fill my shadow," which gets annoying pretty quickly. It's like Labonte just wanted to reiterate the feeling he'd spent an entire other song establishing and gave up writing lyrics halfway through in favor of holding his middle finger up at every internet review that ever had mean things to say about him.
By the way I'm not even making that last bit up. Apparently ATR isn't all that popular among metal fans on the Internet and Phil Labonte fucking hates them. He specifically stated that he hoped the new album would send them into conniptions. Yes, he got pissed off at anonymous people on the internet harassing them, so he wrote several songs insulting them hoping that it'd piss them off. Okay, look, I love All That Remains. I really do. But I love them as a band, I don't have to love them as people - I don't know anything about any of the other members of the band, except that Jeanne Sagan is my bass-playing goddess.
Metal-playing glasses-wearing women are proof in the existence of Heaven
On the other hand I know more about Labonte than I am really comfortable with. The guy's incredibly vocal and, shall we say, colorful about his views on political candidates, gun control, other metal performers, and his critics, and he excuses his complete lack of a filter by bragging about how honest he is (read: how big of an asshole he is). I dislike this stuff about him, so I ignore if for the sake of being able to enjoy the music he is partially responsible for making, because I really really enjoy that music. And now he's bringing all that shit I hate directly into the only shit I care about. Damn it Labonte, fuck off so I can enjoy your music again! I'm not a hater, I LIKE your music, I am a FAN of your music. Why are you writing music for your haters and not your fans?
There isn't even anything good enough on the album to balance out that anti-critic message. Granted, there are a few decent songs to be found. "A Call To All Non-Believers", oddly enough, doesn't continue the anti-critic theme but is instead an unexceptional, but alright, call for rebellion. "Asking Too Much" is a catchy, fast-paced song about coming to terms with a failed relationship, and it sort of seems like it could provide the opposite point of view to accompany "The Last Time" from For We Are Many (although "The Last Time" is by far the superior song). The best song on the album is the title track, "A War You Cannot Win", which features a good use of mixed harsh and clean vocals, the best (but woefully short) guitar solo on the album, and a great opportunity for fan participation (lots of screaming "No! HELL NO!"). That said, it really doesn't stand out all that much in comparison to the major tracks from previous albums ("Hold On", "Two Weeks", "The Air That I Breathe", etc.), and it bums me out a bit to say that kind of thing about my favorite band's latest album.
The five songs that I haven't mentioned also aren't all that good; in fact "Just Moments In Time", "What If I Was Nothing?", and "Sing For Liberty" are all pretty grating and I doubt I'll come back to them in the future. So half the album is absolute crap and the other half isn't worth wading through the crap to get to. The album is an incredible disappointment to me as a fan of All That Remains' previous work, and I hope that Phil Labonte has enough time before the next album to pull his head out of his ass long enough to give me something worth headbanging to.