Alternative Press - "Stoff and guitarist Ben Bruce man the fort like Roman generals on THE BLACK as it pairs roaring riffs with digital distortion to create an ambient, edgy, even warbled sound, all while still holding up the beloved Asking Alexandria aesthetic."
Personnel: Ben Bruce (vocals, guitar); Denis Stoff (vocals); Cameron Liddell (guitar); James Cassells (drums).
There's something to be said about letting go. In 2015, after a period of internal turmoil and divisive creative differences about the band's direction, Asking Alexandria vocalist Danny Worsnop left the band. Founding member Ben Bruce describes it as a dark time -- for both morale and creativity -- that would inform the name of the metalcore quintet's fourth official album, The Black. After recruiting Denis Stoff -- an avowed fan and the former vocalist of Ukrainian band Make Me Famous -- the revived Asking Alexandria got to work on an album that would mark a return to form. Rather than writing a collection of diss tracks to trash a former colleague, the band chose to refocus and tap into the energy of the new creative unit, which resulted in an album that they could all support. Unlike their previous effort -- 2013's From Death to Destiny, an album weighed down by a heavy dose of '80s hair metal influence and a big change in Worsnop's vocal delivery, which rendered the band's signature sound almost unrecognizable -- The Black resurrects the hunger and passion of their debut, as well as the focus of its follow-up, Reckless & Relentless. Much like contemporaneous efforts by Bring Me the Horizon and Hands Like Houses, The Black presents Asking Alexandria at its most streamlined, melodic, and accessible. It also opens up the band's potential and shoots for the arena rafters with the addition of triumphant singalongs and cathartic lyrics (the rousing "The Lost Souls" stands out). Sure, the ferocity and energy are still here: explosive album-opener "Let It Sleep" bridges the gap between the Worsnop and Stoff periods, calming fan fears with a healthy dose of wild screaming, demonic bellows, and breakneck pacing that pummel like a street fight, while the wild pair of album closers "Undivided" and "Circled by Wolves" are energetic and breathless. Hints of the drama behind Worsnop's departure are present, but they are whisked away as quickly as they are introduced. So while the cathartic "Sometimes It Ends" opens with a scathing confessional from Bruce, it ends with the decision to focus on the band's future with Stoff, rather than dwelling on the past. Indeed, the album artwork -- which features a young girl holding her ground against a looming dark presence -- is Bruce's visualization of facing the scary and overwhelming and forging ahead. That renewed thirst benefits the band on blazing tracks like album highlights "The Black" and "I Won't Give In." There are moving moments of beauty here too, like on the plaintive "Gone," the uplifting "We'll Be Okay," and the wistful "Send Me Home," a metalcore millennial version of Seger's road-weary "Turn the Page." At one point, Stoff sings, "it's time to move on and just walk away." For a group who once presciently sang "the music's dead. let's wake it up," the sentiment rings truest on The Black. They've emerged from a quagmire that could have ended the band and ended up writing their tightest album yet. ~ Neil Z. Yeung