There’s a lyric on the track “Here’s To Starting Over” which reads: “I’d rather fail as me than succeed as someone else.” Coming out of the dulcet pipes of frontman and lead vocalist Danny Worsnop, it’s a line that represents a clear mission statement for British rock outfit Asking Alexandria as they set out to navigate the tumultuous terrain of this new decade.
On Like a House on Fire, their sixth, full-length album and second after Worsnop returned to the fold in late-2016, the quintet have wholly abandoned their side-fringed, v-necked, Myspace metalcore days of old. As a stylistic transition, it’s not entirely unexpected; the shift was heavily signposted with not-so-subtle hints on the group’s previous self-titled record.
However, this level of commitment to abject, radio-readiness might still be jarring for long-time fans yearning for those seismic breakdowns, electronic glitches, and music videos filmed in the rain. The thematic tone and overall vibe of Like a House on Fire is ultimately one of personal growth: Asking Alexandria have moved on, and you should, too.
Across their career, throughout numerous interviews, features and lyrical detours, Asking Alexandria have cultivated an aesthetic that desperately craves ‘real metal’ validation, aping the leather-studded, stadium rock pathway laid down by contemporaries in Avenged Sevenfold or elder statesmen like Metallica.
And yet, the listening experience involved with Like a House on Fire is more akin to recent pop-flavored efforts from Falling In Reverse, Papa Roach, or Fall Out Boy. It’s a solid, 50 minutes of squeaky clean arena rock packed with over-the-top, preachy posturing, formulaic song structures, lyrical misfires, and overzealous self-aggrandizement.
Things start strong with the catchy title track, which pairs moody and introspective verses with a soaring, alt-rock chorus from Worsnop. This momentum then boils over into the call-and-response chaos of “They Don’t Want What We Want (And They Don’t Care)” and “Down to Hell,” which act as two of the strongest (read: heaviest) cuts on the record. Both tracks feature bone-shaking rhythms from James Cassells and Sam Bettley, shades of nu-metal in the bridges, and solid riffage from Ben Bruce and Cameron Liddell.
Things quickly descend into the derivative, however, as the promise of diminishing returns sets in against a truly bloated and over-stuffed tracklist. “Antisocialist,” “I Don’t Need You” and “All Due Respect” are by far the worst offenders when it comes to blatant radio-rock pivoting, dealing expressly in tired lyrical clichés and weak songwriting. Signs of life briefly return on the Southern stomp of “One Turns to None,” as Bruce’s flashy solos bounce off harmonized leads from Liddell. Meanwhile, “It’s Not Me (It’s You)” adds a dash of bright post-hardcore to the mix and sounds like the best song Issues have never written.
By the time Like a House on Fire approaches the final stretch, the main question becomes ‘Who is this record for, exactly?’ The band have made it pretty clear that this new sonic evolution is here to stay, so old school fans and only-metalcore crew need no longer apply. As for their desire to fill packed-out stadiums, some of these alt-rock ballads might just get them there. (When that’s likely to eventuate is another question altogether.) Either way, Asking Alexandria seem more than determined to reach their goal—whether fans are along for the ride or not.