New All That Remains Album Partially Written by Musicians Who Aren’t in All That Remains
In 1987, Aerosmith released Permanent Vacation. The album is notable for a couple of reasons. First of all, even though guitarist Joe Perry had returned to the band for their prior record, Done with Mirrors, Permanent Vacation really marked the beginning of the band’s comeback — Mirrors sold okay, but Vacation produced three MASSIVE hits (“Ragdoll,” “(Dude) Looks Like a Lady,” and “Angel”) and got the public’s attention in a big, big way.
The second reason the album is notable is because it was the first time the band had worked with outside songwriters (save for a few covers, natch). Despite the fact that plenty of non-rock artists routinely, if not ALWAYS, record and perform music they didn’t write, and despite the fact that two of Aerosmith’s hired songwriters were frequent KISS collaborator Desmond Child and Jim Vallance, the decision to get help from people not in the band rubbed some fans the wrong way.
But money is the ultimate settler of all conflict. And so Aerosmith never went back to writing without outside help again; in fact, eleven years later, they scored their first #1 single EVER (hard to believe, right?) with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — a song written entirely by Diane Warren, who had previously composed hits for artists like Celine Dion and LeAnn Rimes.
Why am I talking about this? Because of a recent statement by Phil Labonte about the next All That Remains record (via The PRP):
“I went out and worked with some other people and other writers to come up with different ideas. With All That Remains, the three primary writers are all guitar players, me, Oli [Herbert] and Mike [Martin] and we wanted to do something different, which we try to do every record – so we were like if we want to really do something different we have to change things up.
“I went out came up with some ideas with some other guys, brought them back to the band and they wrote riffs for them. Basically we came up with some core progressions and they went ahead and wrote riffs around them and made them All That Remains songs.”
Now, just speaking personally, I don’t think this is a big deal (and not just because I don’t like All That Remains and think music written by someone else could be an improvement over their usual fare). Like I said, artists in other genres do it routinely, making a distinction between performers and composers without insisting that one must necessarily be the other. Yo-Yo Ma is famous because he’s a great cellist, not a great composer; people specifically pay to hear him play music he did not write.
Still, this practice has not been commonplace for metal bands. From Black Sabbath to Metallica to Slipknot to Lamb of God, metal bands have traditionally written all their own material (solo artists who can’t actually play an instrument, like Ozzy Osbourne and Sebastian Bach, notwithstanding). In fact, I’d wager that a lot of bands never even consider using additional songwriters. Part of this is probably because you have to pay for songwriting help, and as we all know, metal is not a cash cow genre. But part of it is likely just the fact that metal is an extension of rock n’ roll, a relatively new (in the scheme of music) genre that specifically grew out of adolescent angst and, therefore, put a premium on material that was, in theory if not necessarily in reality, wholly a reflection of the band and their vision. So it’s not unfair to assume that it simply never occurred to a lot of metal bands that hiring outside help was even an option.
To some degree, this helps explain the cult-like devotion fans often feel for their favorite metal bands. Like I said: rightfully or wrongfully, their albums are seen as a unique expression of the members themselves. Not only are the guys in Tool great performers, and not only does their music speak to their fans, because they themselves wrote that music, the fan feels a direct connection with the artists. Fans unconsciously say to themselves, “I understand and feel ‘Forty-Six & 2’ on a deep emotional level, and these guys wrote that song, so therefore they understand and feel me on a deep emotional level.” And that’s true even if you’re talking about something that isn’t as overtly philosophical as Tool music.
So will All That Remains fans get pissy about the band collaborating with other songwriters, the way Aerosmith fans got pissy in 1987? Or will they not give a damn? My crystal ball is in the shop right now, so I obviously have no idea. I will say this, however: not only is it possible that the decision to hire outside help will sever the “personal” connection between All That Remains and their fans, but it could be viewed as a cynical decision based purely on a desire for commercial success.
All That Remains’ album sales have been slowly declining as of late: 2010’s …For We Are Many sold 29,000 copies in its first week or release, 2012’s A War You Cannot Win sold 25,000 copies in its first week of release, and last year’s The Order of Things sold about 19,000 copies in its first week of release. That’s not unusual in this day and age, when music is selling less and less across the board with each passing year… but it’s easy to see how the band could find it worrisome. At this rate, their next release will sell somewhere around 14 or 15,000 copies in its first week of release — basically, a fifty percent drop from 2010. And The Order of Things, I’m aware, was met with mixed reactions from even the most loyal ATR diehards. So regardless of whether or not ATR’s decision is legitimately motivated by creative desire, it could feel to fans as though the decision was born out of some baser need.
So I’ll be curious to see how this plays out.
In the meantime, head to the comments section to debate whether or not it’s important for a metal band to write all their own music. Or hire a ghostwriter to compose those comments for you.