"It's hard to think about this kind of stuff with it being so fresh," says Phil Labonte.
Revolver is on the phone with the All That Remains frontman as he pauses to remember late his bandmate, founding guitarist Oli Herbert, who died on October 17th. He was 44.
It's two days before the release of the Massachusetts-based band's ninth album, Victim of the New Disease. Herbert had been with All That Remains since its formation in 1998 was the only consistent member besides Labonte. And in a short amount of time, he had became one of the most iconic shredders of the New England metal scene and played on every All That Remains record.
Back in mid-September, when the metal mainstays started playing a new track, "Fuck Love," live, fans went wild. The single is easily one of, if not the, heaviest song the group had released in years. It evoked the early-era ATR metalcore that was just straight-up brutal and earned them the status of leaders of the wave of bands creating that sound in the early 2000s. When compared to last year's Madness (which included a heavy take on a Garth Brooks single) and 2015's The Order of Things — albums that departed from that sound and expanded into more melodic, modern rock territory — it was a refreshing and surprising for those fans. And "Fuck Love" was just a sample of the sounds on Victim of the New Disease — it goes back to their metalcore roots and is as easily as heavy as the famed 2006 LP, The Fall of Ideals.
Here, Labonte remembers his fallen bandmate and Herbert's swansong, a record he was very "excited" about.
MADNESS CAME OUT LAST YEAR. RELEASING VICTIM OF THE NEW DISEASE NOW SEEMS QUICK.
PHIL LABONTE Well, we wrote Madness in 2016. So for us we were like, "It's time to record again." We didn't have any tours booked and it's been two years since we did Madness. Why don't we just go ahead and stay at home and put a record out? We are kind of on a two year cycle — or we were — on a two year cycle for writing. I don't know what's gonna happen now. Usually we [after] about a year, year and a half kind of get the itch.
WITH MADNESS, YOU BROUGHT IN ALL THESE DIFFERENT INFLUENCES AND STYLES. USUALLY WHEN METALCORE BANDS GO DOWN THAT PATH, THEY KIND OF STICK TO THAT PATH. INSTEAD, YOU GUYS DROPPED A BOMB.
[Laughs] I feel like hindsight being 20/20, I look back at Madness and The Order of Things, I feel like those two were kind of a bit of a departure, the strongest departure. We were leaning one way with The Order of Things and then we kind of really went and tried some stuff out with Madness. And we kind of felt like we wanted to do another record that was more like For We Are Many — which to us, For We Are Many felt like it was kind of like The Fall of Ideals. So we've heard people say, "Oh put out The Fall of Ideals again" and we feel like we've done it. If they didn't really get that vibe … well, that's not something we can do much about. I felt like we were kind of stepping out again because we were kind of going in the same direction with two records, you know?
DEFINITELY. YOU HAVE TO GROW AS AN ARTIST AND THERE ARE TOUCHES OF THE LAST TWO ALBUMS ON VICTIM OF THE NEW DISEASE, BUT YOU HAVE TO ADMIT THIS RECORD IS A LOT FUCKING HEAVIER.
Oh yeah. We intended for it to be heavier and it worked out pretty well! [Laughs] I just can't wait for people to hear it. I'm pumped about it. We were doing "Fuck Love" and "Wasteland" live in September and we're going to do "Fuck Love" and "Wasteland" and we might do "Everything's Wrong" when we go to Europe. But we're hoping to be able to do three new songs. I'm not sure how long our set's gonna be — that will probably dictate whether we do two or three new songs. We're on our ninth record, so it's so there's some certain songs we have to play that people are going to be bummed if you don't play. If you only got 45 minutes or whatever, it's starting to get to the point where you have to make some cuts and some serious choices.
I HAVEN'T HEARD YOU SCREAM THAT HARD IN A FEW RECORDS. WHAT LYRICALLY WERE YOU WRITING WHERE YOU FELT THAT WAS THE WAY IT NEEDED TO BE DELIVERED?
2016 for me wasn't the best year. 2017 wasn't so great, personally. I got divorced and went through a lot of garbagey stuff and it was kind of rough. It felt good to do, metal. Like there's some stuff on "Blood I Spill" where I did some layers that came out really cool and I'm really happy with the way the layered screams just sound really brutal.
WHO IS THE GUEST VOCALIST ON "JUST TELL ME SOMETHING"?
That's Danny [Worsnop] from Asking Alexandria. All That Remains toured with Asking Alexandria a bunch of times, they're super cool dudes. I just hit up Danny: "Hey we got a song that you'd be perfect. You want to do the chorus, the second chorus in the second verse? Have at it." He was like, "Yeah, cool. I dig it." He just nailed it. Hit a home run.
MOVING TO THE TITLE, IN THE PAST WE TALKED ABOUT MADNESS BEING A POLITICAL DEFINITION OF INSANITY: DOING THE SAME THING OVER, EXPECTING DIFFERENT RESULTS. SO WHO'S THE VICTIM OF THE NEW DISEASE?
I feel like it is actually another way to say kind of the same thing that I was saying. I mean, I'm sure you've noticed that the political climate in the U.S. hasn't calmed down, and so I think that the whole overall intent is kind of the same. It's like, we need to move away from the same old tried idea that did not work, or hasn't worked. We don't need to move towards, personally for me, authoritarianism. So it's the nationalism that's going on in the country and also the response of [that] and the really strong push for socialism. Those kind of big government things I'm always suspect of and they've had some really negative consequences in the past.
VETERANS DAY IS SUNDAY. FIRST, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. SECOND, WE FOUND YOUR SERVICE PHOTO, AND WHAT A BABY FACE.
Thank you. [Laughs] I was young, I was very young.
IN THE "MADNESS" VIDEO, YOU WORKED WITH THE 14TH HOUR FOUNDATION, WHO WORK WITH VETERANS AND FIRST RESPONDERS IN THEIR TIME OF NEED. OLI LIKED THE ORGANIZATION. WHY?
Oli had a lot of respect for people that served. He was the kind of dude that was aware of the things that he was good at and things that he wasn't and he never felt like he was kind of a dude that would fit in the military, which a lot of musicians don't. I totally get it because there's a structure in the military that just some people don't want to live by and can't get into and could never do something that a lot of the time produces a kind of structure that put up people that are gonna be all over them. That's kind of how Oli felt. He was a guy that really understood the sacrifices that some people have made. [When] my ex-wife was deployed, he saw what it was like for me when she was deployed and we were on tour. So it was something he really noticed and mattered to him. Also, he got along really well with Kris Paronto [founder of 14th Hour Foundation].
EVERY TIME I SAW OLI, HE WAS SUCH A KIND PERSON AND ALSO VERY QUIET, VERY RESERVED. WHAT WAS HE LIKE?
Now it's hard to think about this kind of stuff with it being so fresh… He was one of those dudes that would just … he'd do something that was very mundane and he had to make it like some kind of production and he was just hilarious. So, he was quiet. He was really reserved when people that he didn't know were around or when he was in the public eye. He was very concerned about looking a certain way and didn't want to come off badly because he was completely comfortable with coming off silly. Like, you've seen YouTube videos where he high-kicks or like casting spells or whatever and everybody would get a laugh? He was fine with people laughing, but he just didn't want to come off in a way that people didn't like. And it was one of the funniest things about him — how he was so reserved, but at the same time just could at any moment bust out like a big old karate kick in the air and you would go up and be like, "What the hell are you doing, dude?" And he would just go, "Ha, ha!" So he was interesting.
YOU TWO WERE THE ONLY ORIGINAL MEMBERS STILL IN THE BAND. HOW DID YOU FIRST MEET AND DID YOU LIKE EACH OTHER AT FIRST?
We first met because Mike Martin, our current guitar player, was taking lessons from Oli. And Mike came and tried out to be in All That Remains first, and Mike didn't quite have the chops. He had put guitar down for a little and he didn't have the chops to play the stuff that we were writing [at the time]. So he's like, "You should talk to my guitar teacher, this guy, he's great!" I was familiar with Oli because we'd been in bands around each other. We were familiar with each other, but we didn't know each other. So Oli came down and tried out, and me and Dan Egan, our first bass player, checked out some of his stuff. As to whether we liked each other, I thought Oli was hilarious. Like I said, he was a weird dude. I thought he was great.
DID YOU TWO GOOF AROUND OFTEN?
Goofing around with Oli is … again, it's weird. There are times where you'll make jokes and Oli just won't have any idea what you're talking about. Sometimes he was so straight laced unless he was making the jokes. He was hilarious because of all these quirks that is hard to pin down. It's hard to describe like what Oli was like. He was a great dude. He was hilarious and super fun.
HE DEFINITELY MADE A LOT OF INCREDIBLE MUSIC AND A MARK ON THE METALCORE SCENE. HE ALSO KNEW A LOT ABOUT GUITAR THEORY AND WAS JUST AN INCREDIBLE SHREDDER. DID HE HAVE A FAVORITE SONG ON THE NEW ALBUM?
I'm not sure what songs he was really passionate about but I can tell you he was excited about the record. You were talking about his musical knowledge — he was literally the best teacher ever seen in my life. He could sit down and articulate music theory in a way I've never seen any other person explain it. Like he knew his musical theory inside and out and his ability, his patience, to transfer that knowledge, because it's more than just saying, "Oh, this is what you do." It's more than just showing someone the scale. Beyond anything I'd ever seen in my life. It was the most amazing thing about him.
DID HE OFTEN TEACH PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE BAND OR EVEN ON THE ROAD?
Yeah. He would give lessons while we were on tour. He did it for a long, long time, like have people come backstage or setup on Skype. He liked teaching. He loved music theory and he knew he was really good at it, so he was constantly doing whatever he could to give some time teaching. He was amazing at it. So he gave lessons all the time.
THAT'S AWESOME. HE KNEW HIS GIFT, YOU KNOW?
Yeah, he knew it. He was great.
HOW DO YOU WANT TO REMEMBER OLI IN YOUR MIND?
The first time I met him. He came to my house and me and Dan were there and he came in and he had his guitar hiked up to his neck like just as high as the strap would get it, right? Because he was a shredder. And he had this B.C. Rich Bitch guitar with, what we call the "pizza maker," because it had all kinds of controls and knobs and stuff on it and no one knew what any of them did. He was just shredding away. We were kind of like, "Hey, me and Dan are going to talk about this a little bit." So he went and sat outside and Dan was like, "Yo, that's the dude!" And so we both kind of looked down the hall at my house, and you could see out onto the porch and Oli's out there doing like Tai Chi on my porch and I'm like, "Wait, is that the dude?" [laughs]. All right, let's go get him [laughs].
WITH DEEP RESPECT FOR OLI, HAS ALL THAT REMAINS TAKEN ON A NEW MEANING NOW?
Well, we're gonna go out and do as much as we can to get in front of as many people as possible and play these songs for Oli because that's what he would've wanted us to do. Oli was totally into the band and so pro doing whatever we needed to do to make it happen, make the show happen, make whatever happen. He didn't care. He would've wanted us to keep going. That was his thing. He would've been like, "Do it, go." So we're going to keep going, but it's just gonna be weird.