It’s a weird way to sell out.
Asking Alexandria’s fifth album, its first with original vocalist Danny Worsnop since 2013’s From Death to Destiny, is self-titled, a marketing maneuver to suggest some sort of rebirth. Rather than a return to their hard-charging metalcore roots, the band has leaned into their historic penchant for polished production and soaring hooks to pivot into poppy stadium rock. It’s a sound that suits their cumulative skill set, but going into 2018, it’s a weird way to sell out. Rock, pop-oriented or otherwise, just isn’t moving units like it used to, so if this isn’t a commercially-minded evolution, why the shift?
Well, for one, it’s a reinvention that works surprisingly well for them. The melange of sweet riffs, sharp synths and more melodic song structures doesn’t detract from their ability to rock out, but it does ever so slightly increase their chances of being in a summer action movie trailer or being the theme song to a new WWE Pay-Per-View. It feels less like a hollowed-out cash grab and more a well-oiled unit writhing from out the restrictive coils of expectation. On the opening track, “Alone In a Room,” Worsnop sings in a cadence distinctly reminiscent of Destiny’s Child on “Say My Name,” an out of place vocal reference that makes an otherwise run of the mill track quake with charming idiosyncrasy.
That formula doesn’t always work, however. “Under Denver,” the album’s big power ballad, is a little too on the nose, and ticks all the boxes of the sell-out narrative that otherwise doesn’t quite fit this release. It’s saccharine in a way that is more amusing than engrossing. If you’re going to go full power ballad, it’s best not to have the bombast overpower the sincerity. Instrumentally, the band is stretching themselves in a way that feels logical, but lyrically, Worsnop is still grafting rote, angsty lyrics to melodies that merely highlight how tired his brand of outsider solipsism has grown. The only thing that holds his words back from being the cringiest on the album is a truly baffling feature from Seattle-based rapper Bingx that comes closest to openly swerving into the Twenty One Pilots lane.
Even the songs that don’t land are built on strong enough structures and peppered with glittering production touches to get a little radio play, and what they lack in Billboard potency, they’ll surely make up for on the road. The hip hop drum patterns and halftime chorus on “Into The Fire” are going to pair well with the beastly indignation of “Rise Up” in venues across the country, so maybe for a band that’s gotta tour to eat, releasing a merely decent project chock full of arena bangers wasn’t the worst idea. It’s a little disappointing to see them turn into a pale shadow of whatever the fuck Fall Out Boy has been doing the last few years, but maybe this new wheelhouse is the only viable option left for them in today’s landscape. At least they seem to be having a good time.