For Fans Of
Sometime during 2009, a good friend of mine in high school showed then 15-year-old me on our shitty school computers, that buffered harder than PUBG, a song titled ‘The Final Episode (Let’s Change The Channel)‘. It was from some band I hadn’t heard of before called Asking Alexandria. At the time, I truly hated the track – hell, I still do – and I just thought they were another generic, Myspace-era electronica-loving metalcore band who’d be forgotten about in a year or two’s time. (Sweet tight skinny jeans, I could not have been more wrong!) After telling him I didn’t like it, my mate persisted in showing me their whole goddamn debut record, 2009’s ‘Stand Up And Scream‘, which I wasn’t keen on after one song in but sat with him and listened to it all as he was a friend who was also quite clearly keen on this edgy metalcore trite. I clearly remember the two thoughts I had when it finally finished and he asked me what I thought about the album, which was “well, I legitimately only liked Hey There Mr. Brooks” and “I hope I never hear anything from this band ever again“. As you can guess, my friend was not all that stoked on my response, and thus, my hate-affair with Asking Alexandria began.
2011’s follow-up ‘Reckless & Relentless‘, while slightly better, was just more a balls-out and party-driven take on their low-tier metalcore sound and ended up feeling like a try-hard attempt from a band that wished they’d been born in the debaucherous 1980’s instead. The band’s third record, the at the time rather divisive ‘From Death To Destiny‘ (2013), showed a stronger emphasis on clean singing, anthemic choruses and a stadium hard rock sound that was slightly less about their heavier, breakdown and open-string chugging littered metalcore approach. Well, barring tracks like ‘Run Free‘ and ‘Killing Me‘, of course. Now, while not a bad record, I also didn’t feel it was a particularly good one at that and I was never rushing out to listen to it after my first listen. Yet my negative stance on the band really began to shift with ‘The Black‘ (2016), the one and only AA record to not feature longtime vocalist Danny Worsnop as he was off chasing his dream of being a rootin’ tootin’ rock cowboy. In Worsnop’s absence, one-off vocalist Denis Stoff swooped in to help the band out of a tricky spot, filled the former frontman’s big boots he left behind, and Stoff’s presence and vocals helped to invigorate the group’s sound; seeing them return to a slicker, sharper, and overall heavier metalcore style. And to my own surprise, I dug it a lot actually – it was generic-as-fuck metalcore, sure, but it was solid generic metalcore. I mean, due to the law of averages, Asking Alexandria were bound to eventually put out a record that I’d like and ‘The Black‘ was it. Of course, we all know the story with Stoff’s entry and his bullshit-riddled drama departure from the band not long after so I won’t wax lyrical on that any further.
However, I think that my own history with this band’s discography is important to note as I’ve come to really enjoy this record despite being a “non-fan”, but also because of how much of the core fanbase this fifth record has divided. What with it’s varied, eclectic stylistic change-ups as well as it’s chorus-driven, melodic hard rock/metal sound instead of just being a mere crabcore-suited breakdown affair. Seriously, the comments on YouTube and Facebook sections are all over the place in terms of opinions and receptions, more so than they usually are for the platforms. (This album actually scored it’s highest charting – a #5 spot, the only top 10 charting internationally – over in New Zealand) But it’s this polarizing new self-titled effort that’s by far my favourite Asking Alexandria work and one that’s a crucial turning point release for their career. It’s a record that shows how far they’ve sonically and musically grown, how their lyrical and emotional depth has really matured, (this a very intimate listen for Wornsop especially), all whilst offering their strongest set of songs to date.
Asking Alexandria’s titular record is just really bloody good is what I’m saying here and I fully expect grown ass scene kids to hate me for saying as much. For the band that wrote bottom of the barrel shit like ‘Not The America Average‘, this really is not.
Produced by From First To Last’s Matt Good (The Word Alive, Memphis May Fire), this eponymous record sounds undoubtedly HUGE, from its polished production, clean and clear instrumentals, and punchy yet buttery smooth mix. Much of the instrumentation, melodies, song structures, guitar riffs and textures here wouldn’t go remiss on either of Bring Me The Horizon’s last two records. But the only difference with that comparison is that Worsnop can actually sing unlike old mate Oli and his powerful vocal delivery and sky-scraping range lead the charge on every song as guitarist Ben Bruce and co. offer him rock-solid foundations to work off; whether they’re poppy and electronic or rock and heavy. Likewise, the songwriting present is easily the band’s best yet, with the riffs, breakdowns, choruses, and sing-alongs sections of these pieces being positioned in just the right place of the wider composition to ascertain the most impact out of them.
This eponymous AA album starts off spectacularly strong with the explosive, galvanised opening pair of ‘Alone In A Room‘ and ‘Into The Fire‘; two killer cuts that nail the perfect sweet spot between having energised riffs, massive choruses, and hard-hitting metalcore sections, with lyrics that also come from a real place. And I love them dearly so. From this damn fine start, the record quickly asserts itself as the most consistent, most memorable and the most instantly satisfying Asking Alexandria record of their catalogue to date. For real, this thing just churns out bangers like the idea of making barn-burning tunes was going out of fucking fashion. Cuts like ‘Eve‘ and the beastly riffage of ‘Rise Up‘ recapture the band’s heavier, more aggressive metalcore roots but also retain their updated, melodic rock sounds. The best of both world, really. ‘Where Did It Go?‘ shows a greater emphasis on pop vocal melodies (pitch-shifted vocalisations included) and R’n’B flairs a la Issues but it also finds time to give something back to the eager rock/metal crowd with its blood-pumping chorus. Whereas ‘Under Denver‘ forgoes any sense of heaviness and is the obligatory touching and somewhat cheesy melodious “ballad” of the whole record. Yet it somehow works in favour of the band and doesn’t feel too forced or too phoned in, thankfully. Similarly, the always-present cynic within feels that ‘Vultures‘ was meant to act as the obligatory acoustic track you’d often expect from run-of-the-mill rock records, and yeah, that’s basically what this song is. But goddamnit, it works as ‘Vultures‘ doesn’t fall into the cliche butt rock of We Are Harlot or the eye-rolling country acoustic sounds of Worsnop’s solo work. Plus, the frontman’s gritty vocals and rough growls are moulded so well with the acoustic strumming, backing atmospherics and rumbling percussion.
The core emotional moment of the entire record arrives in its home stretch: the final song, ‘Room 138‘. Written about a scary near-death experience where the vocalist almost OD’d in a hotel room a few years back is this incredibly hard-hitting lyrical moment about one of the worst experiences of Worsnop’s adult life. (“My ribs are breaking I swear/I’m only twenty-three Crawling/searching for a lifeline I just can’t reach Somebody hear me/someone open up the door Get me up off of this floor and stop the shaking“). The lyrics are dark and heavy and the song’s vocal delivery and songs follow suit. Not only that, it’s also one of the finer, more accomplished mash-ups of the band’s rock and metalcore sounds than any other track here, save for maybe ‘Into The Fire‘ and ‘Alone In A Room‘.
Now, I’m a real sucker for some good ol’ intermuscaility, with Enter Shikari’s ‘The Spark‘ arguably being the best example from last year. Here, the English outfit quotes themselves a couple times, like on ‘When The Lights Come On‘, there’s a lyric that goes “stand up and scream it loud”. Explains itself, I think. Then with the aforementioned final song ‘Room 138‘, the song shares the same melody as ‘If You Can’t Ride Two Horses At Once…You Should Get Out Of The Circus‘. (But the less said about that older track, the better). Moments like these see a band who’s keenly aware of where they’ve come from and by the sounds of it, also thought hard about this record and focusing on where they’ll be going next.
As for the negatives, some songs here do see their vocal melodies and choruses stray a little too close to the dude-bro heavy metal sound of Five Finger Death Punch or more recent All That Remains for my tastes; namely on ‘I Am One‘ or ‘When The Lights Come On‘ (whose verses also sound eerily similar to My Chemical Romance’s ‘The Sharpest Lives‘ to me). Though these moments aren’t complete write-offs nor are they a deal breaker overall. However, what is the one awful pitfall here is ‘Empire‘, which I am just not about – not in the fucking slightest! What with its overly bright melodies, sappy “feel good” lyrics about life, Bingx’s guest rapping that feels too forced and how it just feels like a poor Sleeping With Sirens‘ song. Which, if you’ve heard ‘their last album, Gossip‘, is really saying something.
To quote my own words from the above review, this is best Asking Alexandria album. No contest! Asking Alexandria took what worked well on past records, added in the slight experimentations of ‘From Death To Destiny’, pulled together the worst parts of their public dramas and Danny Worsnop’s personal life, then reshaped it all with a new energise and galvanised melodic rock sound. And I thoroughly enjoyed it! If you had told 15-year-old me that I’d one day listen to an Asking Alexandria album multiple times for my own leisurely fun, I’d have laughed in your face and told you where to go. Things really do change, don’t they?
1. Alone In A Room
2. Into The Fire
3. Hopelessly Hopeful
4. Where Did It Go?
5. Rise Up
6. When the Lights Come On
7. Under Denver
10. I Am One
12. Room 138
Asking Alexandria’s self-titled album is out now via Sumerian Records. Also, be sure to check out this brilliant acoustic rendition of ‘Into The Fire‘.