Well, isn’t this a familiar sight? Not literally, of course, given that it feels like no one could care less about Asking Alexandria right now, but it just takes some basic pattern recognition to realise what they’re doing, given that they’ve done this exact ploy before. Just go back to 2017’s self-titled album, which saw the return of Danny Worsnop on vocals after hindsight deemed the shots taken towards him on the previous year’s The Black unproductive, and thus used its rapid turnaround time to effectively will that album out of existence. And so, when taking into account how soon See What’s On The Inside is coming after 2020’s Like A House On Fire—an album with a programmed, shallow approach to metalcore that couldn’t have been received more miserably if it tried—it’s hard not to view Asking Alexandria as on full-blown damage control mode once again. But it’s the clear lack of interest that really drills down into this one; for a band who were once the face of metalcore in the 2010s, their reputation has only plummeted further and further, to where they only been noteworthy in the past half-a-decade for their failures. That self-titled album was a marked improvement on The Black, but no one really cared about it; likewise, there’s a certain amount of positioning towards this album as rectifying the ill-gotten decisions made on Like A House On Fire, but there’s been next to no hype or excitement. Right now, this feels like a band on its last legs, scrambling to maintain equilibrium and ward off that fifteenth minute for as long as possible, something which they’ve been doing very poorly for quite a while now.
And even just from the first listen of See What’s On The Inside, this feels like the last Asking Alexandria album. Not in a triumphant, blaze-of-glory sense either, but in how pitifully nondescript and empty this is on every front, a return to their past selves in the sense that they’re playing with the most boneless 2010s metalcore clichés and expecting to get away with it. It probably is an improvement on Like A House On Fire, but only in the sense that there’s so little here to actually remember to be aggravated by. For a band who once tried to pick up the mantle of the new rockstars and inject danger into the modern scene, See What’s On The Inside is a calculated hard reset that might be the band’s form that’s most bereft of personality to date. That’s never really been a strong suit to begin with, but this could be literally any B- or C-leaguer and it wouldn’t make the slightest shred of difference; that’s how devoid of anything this album is.
Most of all though, Asking Alexandria just don’t seem to realise that the window for this sort of music has been closed for a good long time now. Once again, their attempts to split the difference between scene metalcore and American radio-rock come together rather smoothly, but not in a way that feels even remotely exciting anymore, especially when burdened by the chronic over-production that Asking Alexandria have always had to contend with. It’s the same old song and dance too—a big, booming mix that rubs out any definition in the guitars and bass, and leaves the entire thing sounding nowhere near as heavy or forceful as they want it ito. That’s throughout too, meaning that at no point does See What’s On The Inside approach a state of real metallic drive relevant to any of the sources it draws from; it’s just another example of bog-standard radio-metal that Asking Alexandria can easily rise above, but for whatever reason have chosen not to. There’s also the more blatant concessions made to classic rock like on Never Gonna Learn, but most of the time they find themselves melding with the general morass of the album’s sound anyway. There’s no opportunity for a unique or distinct idea to make itself known, because Asking Alexandria simply don’t give themselves one, and it’s frankly shocking how a band this big can sound so bland as a result. At least The Black and Like A House On Fire, for as a bad as those albums were, had a noteworthy badness about them; this has the sort of mealy-mouthed creative incompetence by comparison that’s far less worthwhile paying attention to, simply because the band themselves give no reason to even do so.
There’s also the lyrics here too, which, to give Asking Alexandria credit, have at least stayed consistent with how awful they usually are. It’s all the usual fare, where Danny Worsnop espouses his own depressive mindset with as little detail or intriguing features as possible, before trying to cast his net marginally wider on Misery Loves Company and Fame, and unsurprisingly missing the mark. No attempt is made the nudge up Asking Alexandria’s already low bar, or even compete with other metalcore bands in their field who are doing way more interesting things than this. It’s nothing surprising coming from Asking Alexandria, a band whose lyrical dexterity has always been comparable to that of a corpse afflicted by severe rigor mortis, but this feels lazy even for them. It gets to a point where opening a song with the line “How do I kill myself? / Or the parts that have been created to please?” feels like a means of catching attention rather than showing off any sort of emotional response, such is the bluntness and general lack of tact that it, or indeed any of the album, shows. That’s definitely the standard for Asking Alexandria, but it’s never felt quite as naked as this, and when the call to rise up out of the mire comes on You’ve Made It This Far (with a lyrical slate that’s just as nondescript, naturally), you can practically hear certain boxes being ticked off on a sheet marked ‘Ingredients Of A Safe Metal Album’.
‘Safe’ isn’t inaccurate either, but a more pressing description is, without a doubt, ‘cynical’. The cynicism is dripping off this thing after all, and Asking Alexandria seem perfectly fine with letting whatever vestige of a reputation they’ve got left tank in order to facilitate it. There’s no creative heart here, and nothing indicative of a band wanting to push themselves actually advance. Rather, See What’s On The Inside’s sole purpose is to wipe the slate clean, removing any possible glimpses outside of their own sheltered, insulated norm, and going back to what sells. It definitely achieves that too, but it’s not like the overcompensation can’t be recognised, nor can the fact that a band as willfully limited as Asking Alexandria have no business continuing on this train of thought in 2021. Metalcore has undergone numerous shifts since this style was prevalent, and to see Asking Alexandria attempt to cling onto it as a means of coddling themselves with little risk isn’t even worth giving the time of day to. It’s closer to the norm and maybe technically better than Like A House On Fire was, but digging even slightly below the surface reveals a worthlessness that doesn’t deserve anywhere near such praise.
For fans of: Memphis May Fire, I Prevail, Escape The Fate
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘See What’s On The Inside’ by Asking Alexandria is out now on Better Noise Music.