The higher you rise, the greater the herd of naysayers—and that’s putting it mildly. Britain’s Asking Alexandria has certainly taken more than their fair share of criticism, from fans and the media alike. Last time around, on 2020’s Like A House On Fire, fans wrote the band off as “Country,” likely inspired by Vocalist Danny Worsnop’s bluesy solo efforts. So this time around, for album number seven, are they going to break out the slide guitars and harmonicas? Not likely, but we’ll all See What’s on the Inside on Friday, October 1, 2021 via Better Noise Music.
Admittedly, Asking Alexandria were quick to follow-up their aforementioned 2020 release, likely due to forced time off and the violently mixed reactions they received last time around. Again working with Producer Matt Good (Sleeping With Sirens, The Word Alive), they continue down the path that they have laid out for themselves: moving from Metalcore toward Stadium Rock, with anthemic choruses, show-stopping guitar solos, and just enough bite to remind you that, yes, this is still the same band that authored 2011’s Reckless & Relentless.
But they have been trying to put those days behind them over the past four years. Indeed, when Worsnop and his bandmates—Guitarists Ben Bruce and Cameron Liddell, Bassist Sam Bettley, and Drummer James Cassells—reunited to deliver 2017’s eponymous LP, Asking Alexandria, a new era was born and the quintet moved away from breakdowns and bangers, favoring soaring choruses and, much to the vexation of some fans, soulful, bluesy moments. It’s a shift that resulted in their most commercially successful single to date, “Alone In A Room,” a counterweight to the negativity that arose within some circles.
See What’s on the Inside, therefore, is the next (yellow) brick in a road that the Brits are hoping will satisfy their creative needs and guide them toward their musical niche. It’s not going to be Metalcore, and Country was never their aim, so can the band find something that soothes their sonic lust while holding onto their core fanbase?
At 10 tracks, with an additional one-minute introduction, the album attempts to draw from all eras of Asking Alexandria to create a cohesive and matured sound. There are definitely moments where they succeed (“If I Could Erase It”) in melting their entire oeuvre down to one offering, and others where they overshoot the mark and end up producing generic filler (“Never Gonna Learn”). Thankfully the bulk of the album leans toward the positive, displaying a band who, despite being well into their career, is self-aware enough to admit that they still have plenty to learn and continue to grapple with what exactly it means to be Asking Alexandria.
Their current state of mind appears to revolve around thinking bigger. We hear this most within the tracks that are meant to take the Brits into the headliner slot in stadiums: power ballad “Find Myself” and single/video “Alone Again.” The latter is already poised to be the band’s biggest hit by the numbers, no doubt thanks to its flexing of their ability to craft an infectious Rock track chock full of melody and killer, 1980s influenced guitar riffs. It’s blend of edge and sing-along is a perfect representation of what the future of Asking Alexandria appears to look like: Rock-n-Roll with a stinging Heavy Metal injection that sets them apart from the Bon Jovis and Dokkens of the world.
Not that there’s anything inside the collection that lends itself toward a Jon Bon Jovi or Don Dokken guest spot. Instead, there are rockers in all shapes and sizes (“Faded Out,” “Misery Loves Company,” “Fame”) that achieve mixed results, as well as a grand finale (“The Grey”) that fails to live up to some of its predecessors. Instead, it is those tracks that defy the band’s rocking roots that carry much of the power—particularly the titular track, “See What’s On the Inside,” with its gorgeous blues guitar work from Bruce.
But it’s not their only bright moment. They find themselves shining throughout the eclectic body of “If I Could Erase It,” where they seemingly boil down their entire musical catalog into one track. Then, on “You’ve Made It This Far,” they toy with words meant to inspire listeners, as well as themselves, to show gratitude for how far they have made it in life, thus far. These moments of insight into the men that Asking Alexandria are becoming far outweigh, and seemingly erase from memory, any instances where they stumble.
Perhaps this is because they have made it abundantly clear that they are no longer the bratty bad boys who felt it necessary to scream relentlessly. Leaving their former (musical) life behind, Asking Alexandria are searching for what’s authentic to their band in 2021. In this, one might say that this album is their Hail To The King: a deep dive into influences that have, as yet, remained more in the background than the foreground, marking a pivotal turning point in their overall approach to making music. And so bidding adieu to their Metalcore roots, they embrace a more pure and melodic Rock sound that puts them closer to Guns N’ Roses than Gojira. Some will love it, some will hate it, but what matters most is that it’s sincere. For this, Cryptic Rock gives See What’s on the Inside 4 of 5 stars.