Denis Stoff has some abruptly abandoned shoes to fill.
The fresh-faced Ukranian has already been turned into a thousand GIFs by his multitudes of fans on social media, and has more than proved in his live performances and on singles I Won’t Give In, Undivided and The Black that he’s got the voice and the presence to seamlessly carry on where Danny Worsnop left off. But how does he fare on his first full-length with Asking Alexandria?
Kicking things off is Let It Sleep, which has the urgent, industrial fuzz of Stand Up And Scream, but is less schizophrenic than their debut’s wild pogoing between hard house and metalcore chants. Denis alternates between a booming, death metal-inspired roar and a frantic screech, and shows some gritty clean vocals in a yearning chorus. Title track The Black shows the electronica Asking Alexandria have dabbled with in the past has found a home, with arcade-style sound effects shooting through the chorus, before a gothic piano riff fades in to end the song.
Ben Bruce promised experimentation on this record, and two tracks in, he’s keeping to his word. First single, the aforementioned I Won’t Give In, is one of the softer tracks, melding multiple-tracked metalcore with the kind of anguished lyrics From Death To Destiny was full of. Their sound may well be drawing on earlier material, but the lyrics, thankfully, haven’t returned to the impotent ranting that Reckless & Relentless sometimes descended into. And in case anyone somehow missed the memo that Danny is persona non grata, Ben reminds us in a “candid” vox pop at the start of Sometimes It Ends, that he’s “fucking pissed off, man. The guy was my best friend, and turned his back on me.” He explains that Denis – like an anxious new partner worried they’re a rebound fling – sat him down and told him the record shouldn’t be about Danny. “So I rewrote most of it,” says Ben. It’s an odd moment. Are we supposed to take him at face value and assume The Black is not a litany of Danny-bashing, or is Ben’s insistence that all references to his former friend were removed a thinly veiled dig in itself? It’s all gone a bit meta.
Similarly, Just A Slave To Rock N Roll, with its woozy Crüe-esque riff, could be a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Danny’s current occupation: ‘It’s time to move on/just walk away,’ opines Denis in the chorus. Send Me Home and Gone are surprising, pop-tinged ballads slathered in sugary, radio-ready angst, while the visceral anger of Undivided and the thrashy riff of Circled By The Wolves end the record on a decidedly heavy note.
To be honest, it seems to be debatable whether Ben’s really moved on from his perceived betrayal by Danny – the insight into his mind here will delight fans, though. What’s abundantly clear, however, is that Denis not only filled Danny’s shoes, but outgrew them. It’s a new era for Asking Alexandria, and they’ve kicked it off with what is their best album yet.
When did you first realise you and Denis had great chemistry?
“It was straight from that first song. As soon as we had that we knew we had a strong working relationship. We think the same way and can bounce ideas off of each other really easily, and I’m not being smug about that – if anything it was a relief to find someone that was on the same page as me again!”
How did that feed into the music?
“Denis was a fan of the band, and when he joined he said, ‘You lost me as a fan on From Death To Destiny.’ I wondered how many people thought we had pushed too far in the wrong direction. Without someone breathing down my neck asking me to write country songs, it made it easier. Once I heard Denis screaming with that rawness and aggression, I realised how much I’d missed it.”