Metalcore, and increasingly so, post-hardcore, has adopted the sound of a very distinct fanbase. As is the case with Asking Alexandria, soaring clean vocals above heavy, djent-core guitars following heavy, near-death metal growls define a good portion of their music. The Black follows that suit, but with more grace and a lot more color (despite the record’s title). Unfortunately, with several songs following suit of that very description, this record won’t be taking off with flying colors.
Asking Alexandria tried especially hard to be as edgy and relatable to their fanbase as possible, which, in retrospect, is a good idea. However, if you don’t identify with that, this’ll be harder to grasp. On top of that, a lot of the tracks are almost blatant rip-offs of other bands who make that sound work for them. ‘Undivided’ has the edginess that feels like it was stolen straight from an Enter Shikari song, despite it’s admittedly catchy chorus. The title track, ‘The Black’ is basically a Bring Me The Horizon song, and in its defense, is a pretty good track. The vocals a very much Oliver Sykes during the choruses, and the dark piano and atmospheric background really elevates it. The bridge and ending of the track are fantastic, providing a short reprieve for the intensity of the song. What drags it down is the disgusting screaming on it. This song and opener ‘Let It Sleep’ have that issue - the growls comes straight out of the realm of grindcore. ‘Let It Sleep’ would probably do well as a Cattle Decapitation song. The BMTH comparisons take a cliché turn on ‘I Won’t Give In’ with the gang vocals in the background, which is funny considering that band borrowed from Thirty Seconds To Mars there. If Fall Out Boy had more guitars, the product would be ‘Send Me Home’, but this song is probably one of the best on the record, as it actually feels meaningful and uses that to elevate the song. There is some struggle with grasping meaning on this record, like ‘Sometimes It Ends’, which has just been baffling me with every listen. Is there a meaning to it? Musicianship? An inner struggle? The interludes seem to contradict the deeper message the song may have. ‘Just A Slave To Rock n’ Roll’ is probably the track that makes the least sense. The title literally offers nothing to the song, and it’s more of a bastardization of rock n’ roll, if anything. The intro to the closure track, ‘Circles By The Wolves’, feels wholly unnecessary, not that without it it would be any better, since those screams are back to close out the record.
This album needed more moments like the song ‘Gone’, or at least the desperation and disposition of it. The song is the most stripped back one on the album, featuring only the harmonies of guitarist Ben Bruce over a sweet symphony and piano. He feels very knowing in his delivery, making the song feel actually meaningful as opposed to a lot of the other tracks. A similar moment is found during the bridge of ‘The Black’, where there’s a break from relentless guitars and instead features a tense and clean atmosphere.
Asking Alexandria’s fourth album leaves a lot to be desired. The good moments are few and far in between, while the rest of it is filled by edgy screaming and whining. Maybe there’s something I’m missing, behind all the guttural screaming, but at that point, I just don’t think I care. The band clearly isn’t incapable of fantastic material, like ‘Send Me Home’ and ‘Gone’, there just isn’t enough power in a lot of the tracks. Their next record needs more substance to surpass this one, which truly won’t have to be too great of a feat.
Favorite Tracks: Gone, Send Me Home
Least Favorite Tracks: Just A Slave To Rock n’ Roll, Sometimes It Ends