Asking Alexandria are simultaneously standing with one foot in the past and one stepping towards the future with their fourth record The Black. Recently inducted frontman Denis Stoff leads the album through a whirlwind of aggressive moments with emotive death metal shrieks that rival anything heard on any The Black Dahlia Murder record, but it’s the mass array of soaring choruses that really show his chops and vast range. Opener “Let It Sleep” proves this best with a truly furious bridge and some welcome grit in the chorus. The confrontational title track that follows and lead single “I Won’t Give In” are already poised to become live mainstays, however it’s fourth track “Sometimes It Ends” that will really grab attention on all fronts with an opening and closing rant from guitarist Ben Bruce about the process behind this record before Denis charges forward through ferocious breakdowns and surprisingly substantial bits of ambience.
The middle of the record sticks with bigger anthems than ever heard from the band and ultimately ends up feeling derived from the Reckless & Relentless record. “The Lost Souls” switches up Asking Alexandria’s usual set of influences for a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, theatrical string sections, big rock riffs and all. “Not A Slave To Rock And Roll” provides a familiar sleaze and attitude that former frontman Danny Worsnop would have seemed right at home in, but Stoff pulls off the vibe well with a raging call of “Fuck yeah!” (preceded by more than enough cowbell) that proves him to be more than a suitable stand-in and a cheeky sample of “I need a fucking drink” spliced in at the end. Ben Bruce and Cameron Lidell’s riffs in this one will remind of Poison, but I don’t think Poison ever had James Cassell’s avid double bass nor any gunshot sound effects signaling the beginning of a verse. Proof positive that old and new can be blended in interesting ways when it comes to rock.
“Send Me Home” is to The Black what “Someone, Somewhere” was to Reckless & Relentless albeit with a more listenable, ambient gloss, wider chorus and a bridge that is straight out of the “Top 10 ways to get a song to rock radio” handbook. “Here I Am” is more infectious yet with an alt. rock sheen and prevalent bass from Sam Bettley, but “We’ll Be OK” is an absolute pulverizer. It’s led off by a memorable alternating chorus that surely has crowd appealing capabilities, but is maintained by a Killswitch Engage-esque thrash riff throughout that will remind of “To The Stage”. Several destructive breakdowns intervene, but they suit the desperate nature of the chorus. The only slight misstep of the record is mournful ballad “Gone” due to its odd vocal layering in the verses that makes the pacing feel a little off. Make no mistake that this moment, with Ben Bruce doing lead vocals, is downright depressing and heavy-handed though, a song about leaving behind loved ones. For all of the adversity represented on the record this is without a doubt its darkest moment.
The final two tracks pick it right back up however, with massive arena-filling choruses and some of the album’s most interesting songwriting. “Undivided” is the angriest of these and is a defiant yet venom-laced call-to-arms whereas “Circled By The Wolves” is a total party with some bursts of ‘tude that seem headed by Attila. And what more impressionable way to end a record with a chant of “F-U-C-K Y-O-U” and furious double bass? There’s even a nostalgic riff that sounds pulled from “Nobody Don’t Dance No More” off Stand Up And Scream.
Asking Alexandria have returned in fine form. Even if this wasn’t their best record (which it is) it still would contain the best moments of their career. It contains the beloved scream-a-longs of Stand Up And Scream that have earned the band a dedicated following and the raucous, bat-out-of-hell urgency of Reckless & Relentless. It’s a good thing Asking Alexandria did do the From Death To Destiny record too, because they clearly learned a thing or two about writing big songs that carried over into the process for this album. What The Black ultimately is, however, is a band of brothers at their lowest point utilizing their negative energy to create the most positive product of their entire lives. And for what it is, that catharsis is going to keep them around for quite awhile. Welcome back, Asking Alexandria.