Interview: All That Remains’ Phil Labonte on Oli Herbert and “Victims of the New Disease”

American metalcore outfit All That Remains have been a staple band of the scene for the last two decades, helping to mold a new generation of extreme metal fans with seminal albums like 2006’s The Fall of Ideals (this writer included). When All That Remains successfully unleashed their ninth full-length, Victims of the New Disease, in November, its release was marred by the sudden passing of founding guitarist Oli Herbert on October 16, 2018.

While details remain unclear about the circumstances surrounding Herbert’s passing—an ongoing investigation seeks to determine whether his death was accidental or if foul play was involved—his bandmates made the decision to soldier on in his memory. Vocalist and founding member Phil Labonte spoke with Decibel about Victims of the New Disease, Herbert’s passing, fill-in guitarist Jason Richardson and touring.

Read that conversation below. Victims of the New Disease is out now.

You released the new album at the end of last year. Have you guys heard a lot of feedback from fans about it?
I haven’t heard a ton of feedback. I don’t go out looking for it, really. They say never read the comments, but what I have heard has been really good. The bigger reviews and stuff like that, from some of the bigger blogs or from the bigger magazines is stuff that I hear and it’s been really, really, really good. People have been talking about 9, 10, or 8, 9, 10 reviews, so that’s all you can ask for. It’s been great so far.

You’ve been around for a long time, All That Remains has a lot of albums and some very influential ones. When you’re writing and recording and releasing these albums, do you feel a lot of pressure to live up to peoples’ expectations or are you at the point where you’re like “This is the album we want to make and we’re releasing it and we hope that people like it,” but you’re not actively considering while recording?
It’s definitely us deciding more “this is what we want to do,” “this is the kind of record we want to do this time.” Yeah, we put it out, we hope people dig it and that’s the best you can hope for, in my opinion.

We will talk about what type of record we wanna do, like we’ll sit down as a band beforehand and talk, “I’ve been kinda diggin’ this,” or “I wanna do this kind of stuff, what do you think of this?” but it’s definitely a situation where we decide what we wanna write and then we go ahead and do it. It’s gotta be from us and it’s gotta be genuine, you know? At least, that’s my interpretation of it.

So you’re not actively trying to think like “We had a record that was super influential like The Fall of Ideals” or “our last record before this one sounded like this, so we have to make it sound a certain way.” It’s just what you guys want to write.
The things that you mention, I feel like those go into the equation, but that’s not what you base your decision on. You can’t help but think about both things when you’re deciding what you want to do, but you don’t base your decision on one dynamic or one aspect or one vector. There’s a lot of things that go into what makes you feel like you want to do something now or do a type of record or a record the way you do it at the time.

A record’s really a snapshot of where musicians are in the journey.

Building off that, it’s a snapshot of where you guys were at the time. Were you trying to incorporate new things? What was going through your minds then when you decided to write a record that sounded like Victims of the New Disease?
We kind of just realized the last two records weren’t really our heaviest stuff and we just wanted to do something heavy. It was real simple, it wasn’t something that we took a lot of time contemplating.

Personally, I feel like …for We Are Many is kind of what I want All That Remains to kind of be and so when the guys were like “Hey, let’s do this,” or maybe I think that’s the best representation of All That Remains.

Either way, when the guys were like “Hey, let’s do a heavy one,” I was like “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do something like …for We Are Many or whatever,” so it was an easy decision for us.

Was it a pretty straightforward record to write and record if everybody was on the same page?
It was really easy. We got together and did like five demos in February, maybe January of last year and we did them with Dan Laskiewicz, the guy that produced the record, and we were excited about the way they came out, so we were like “Let’s just go ahead and hammer ’em out” and it came really fast and it came together pretty easily.

When we started writing, with doing those demos, it was in, I wanna say at the beginning of March, halfway through February, but say the beginning of March and then we were done with the record by the end of July. It was pretty fast to go ahead and go from writing to mixed and mastered and ready to go.

Is that how all your records go or was that an anomaly?
It was a little bit of an anomaly, but no, our records don’t go that fast usually. We have done them that fast, like The Fall of Ideals came together really fast, but [This] Darkened [Heart], we were working on that for two years before that record was ready to go. I think Overcome we did fairly quickly, but we spent a lot of time writing and trying to get the music right before we got into the studio. They’ve each kind of been their own animal, but it’s definitely not a typical thing for us to go ahead and bang out a record in four or five months.

Your European dates and UK dates that you just finished, how did those go? The album had just come out pretty much, so did people know the words to those songs? Were you playing a heavy set from the new album?
Well, we weren’t playing a set from the new album. For us, going and doing that tour was trying to do multiple things: obviously promote the new record, but also get back into Europe. We had a worldwide deal with one record company and they didn’t really have an office over there, so we never really got a lot of support and a lot of oomph over there, so we were talking and we just wanted to go back and hit it again with a new label that’s got offices in Europe and stuff, kind of has a more global package together for the business side of it.

We were like “Look, we wanna go and we wanna make a serious effort at making a career in Europe.” We went ahead and booked a tour and it went way better than I actually expected. It’s been a couple years since we’ve been over there and I didn’t know what to expect at all, but some of the shows were really, really cool and they were better attended than I expected. We played places that we’d never played; we’d never played Poland before and we played there and that was cool, so it was a really, really good tour considering what my expectation was.

Did you play those dates with Jason?
Jason Richardson, yeah. And he knocked it out of the park. He was amazing.

How did you end up linking up with Jason to do these shows? Obviously he’s a known guitarist in the metal, metalcore scene but how did he end up becoming the guy to step in and do these shows with you?
Well we had toured with Born of Osiris when Jason was in that band and him and Oli had hit it off and become buddies. I’m not sure exactly how much they stayed in contact, but I knew that they would hang out and talk guitar and listen to music and stuff, so when Oli passed away, Jason did a cover of him playing “Chiron” and then Aaron [Patrick], our bass player, reached out to Jason and said “Hey, you sounded really good. Would you be interested in filling in if we went and needed you to come aboard?”

He was like “Yeah, dude, I’d love to” and he did an amazing job. He came in and nailed everything and really kind of saved our ass. He made it easier on us when it comes to the grieving side of it. It relieved pressure about this stuff, the business side that we had planned.

The personal side is easier to handle and cope with. The more pressures you can relieve on a situation, the better.

What have your performances been like without Oli in the band now? Obviously they must be incredibly hard, but have you felt like your performance on the stage is different?
I don’t know. It’s tough for me to answer that kind of question. It’s still really new. In the 20 years’ time that All That Remains has been a band, there’s only been one tour where Oli wasn’t ever playing lead guitar. I don’t know how to process that yet, I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.

I can imagine it’s a big adjustment.
It was one tour and we don’t have someone that’s actually “the guy” yet. We haven’t discussed whether Jason wants to join the band full time, we haven’t discussed whether or not we want to have Jason join the band. We’re not even at that point yet, so I don’t know. [At the time of the interview, Jason Richardson was not a full-time member of All That Remains. That has since changed and Richardson is an official member.—ed.]

I saw in an interview that you had said that Oli would’ve wanted you to just have the band carry on. That would’ve been what he had wanted, so is the name of the game just to do these live shows and figure out the rest when you’re further along in the process?
Yeah. The band’s gonna stay together, the band’s gonna keep going, and as for anything else, I guess I can’t really… I can’t shed any more light on that situation. It’s not something that I have really any more information. We know we’re gonna keep going, but I don’t know what that means.

You’ll do the US tour with In Flames in a couple months. I know you said when you were in Europe, you didn’t necessarily focus on the new album so much as just getting into Europe again; in the US, will it be a much more new album-centric tour or what should people expect for that?
The In Flames shows, we’re probably only going to have about 45 minutes and there’s a couple songs that we have to play, so we’ll probably get two, maybe three, new songs in there.

We’ve got something else booked that, by the time this comes out, will be announced, I believe. [All That Remains announced a co-headlining run with Attila for March].On the tour after that, it’s gonna be a co-headliner and so we’ll have like an hour, maybe a little bit more.

To be flat-out honest with you, when it comes to getting the guys to play new songs, they don’t like to play new songs early in the record cycle. They want the record to be out and people to know stuff. Two, maybe three, I think four is pushing it, so probably three new songs.