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Oli Herbert (left) with his Ibanez Xiphos and Mike Martin with his PRS Custom 22. Photo by Justin Borucki
Evolution can be volatile for a band. How do you continue to evolve without alienating the fans who were there at the beginning? It’s a serious question in light of the tough economic times that have put concert ticket and album sales at an all-time low. Do you continue the recipe that guarantees success, or risk failure and pursue your changing vision with the confidence that your fan base will follow?
All That Remains chose the latter. Their new release, For We Are Many, is their fifth studio album and it continues their legacy of reaching beyond their metalcore beginnings. Guitarists Mike Martin and Oli Herbert offset their brutally synchronized 6-string assaults with lyrical melodies and cascading counterpoint, all in service of tuneful compositions. We recently caught up with Herbert and Martin to talk about the strong hooks, clean vocals, and dynamic playing that works hand-in-hand with jackhammer rhythms, death growls, and hammer-fisted riffage on For We Are Many.
How do you divide guitar duties between yourselves?
Oli Herbert: I usually come up with a lot of the guitar riffs. Mike has good judgment when it comes to what’s too much. He’ll say, “That’s a little crazy—maybe you should tone it down a little bit.” He’s good at arrangement. He’ll say, “How would that sound with the drums,” whereas I’m thinking about putting it with a string section. I kind of orchestrate, but we all contribute to creating the songs. Mike also has a really good right hand—especially for the fast, rhythmic triplet stuff. He has an excellent sense of timing that I don’t possess. My hand is not as clean as his, so in the studio Mike takes care of all that stuff. Things that involve more left-hand finesse and chord switches, I’ll take care of.
Mike Martin: We’ve done it enough times that it’s pretty easy to sort out. If someone has a riff, we can tell right away who’s going to record it. Whoever records the first part of the riff has to record the harmony to it, just to keep the tightness with the hands. If it’s a really difficult righthand riff, I’ll usually track it. If it’s something really difficult with the left hand, Oli usually takes care of it.
I understand you and your bandmates have very different influences. Does that make it difficult to write parts that everyone is happy with?
Herbert: The disadvantage is that it does make it difficult to get people to agree—trying to work around everyone’s completely different take on what the music should sound like. But it’s an advantage because I think we have a unique sound. Obviously, we’re not a groundbreaking band—we’re not trying to be like Frank Zappa or something like that—but I think all our elements combine to create something unique that you don’t hear in any other bands.
Martin: It’s easier than you may think, considering the differences in what we all like. There’s a lot of clashing personalities with music in this band, but everybody understands what variety will bring to the song. There are a lot of bands out there that, to me, sound really flat. A lot of straight thrash-metal bands bore me to tears.
When you say there are differences, are you talking polar opposites—like, there’s someone in the band who wants more of a Dixieland jazz sound?
Martin: But I don’t come into practice saying, “John Mayer would play it like this!” [Laughs.] I would never come in with a riff inspired by John Mayer—it wouldn’t fit. I don’t do too many leads, but when I do play them, you can tell they’re a lot bluesier. I like a lot of blues guitar players. Oli plays such technical guitar solos— he’s a note festival—so I like to do something completely out of the norm. Phil and I are basically there to create some air. It’s a cool contrast and it works out really well.
Compared to your previous record, For We Are Many has more dynamics, more melody, and more hooks. In my mind that’s a good thing, but some of your fans are like, “They’re trying to be more pop and mainstream!”
Martin: That crap has been happening for the last six years now. As soon as we had one part that had actual singing—which came out seven years ago—people started running their mouths. Those black-T-shirt metal kids are just scared to death of melody. I never got that. I never came from that whole school of thinking where it has to be screaming and brutal, and if it’s not it’s “gay.” Ever since we’ve had singing, there’ve been people who are just like, “Oh, they’re going more pop.” It’s just annoying. We’ve had singing on the last four albums now, and people keep talking about it. It’s stupid.
Herbert: We’re trying to create music that is musical and listenable. We’re not a death metal band. We never have been. We have some heavy stuff on this album, but we’re not going for that. We’re a melodic metal band. That’s the best way I could describe it, so we’re going to piss some people off.