Your late teens/early twenties probably included its fair share of adjusting to adult life Monday to Friday and then subsequently taking advantage of your adolescence and throwing complete reckless abandon at your weekend. It’s equally likely that these formative adult years have played as large a role in who you have become as a person as anything else; and the balance between work and leisure was a difficult one to strike at first – but you got there in the end.
For Asking Alexandria guitarist Ben Bruce though, that balance was a whole lot more leisure than work, and his youth was spent enjoying a mixture of touring the world with his peers, a heap of sleepless nights, and a cocktail of substances making their way into his body more often than not.
2009 saw the release of Asking Alexandria’s debut record; Stand Up And Scream, with it they growled and bounced their way into becoming almost instant major players in the metalcore scene, as Bruce recalls fondly: “It was just a lot of fun creating that [Stand Up And Scream] we were just young and naive making that record, we had no bar set, we were just five young lads that loved making music, I’m very, very proud of that album”.
Anchored by anthemic scream along bruisers such as ‘The Final Episode’ ‘A Candlelit Dinner With Inamorta’ and ‘Not The American Average’ the instantaneous success that the record bought along with it could be potentially seen as damaging in hindsight. Having all the glitz and glamour you could want surrounding you before you even hit real adulthood has been seen to be damaging to those within all forms of the entertainment industry time and time again, but even looking back, Ben wouldn’t have taken AA’s growth any other way.
“You know what, I think because we were very successful very quickly, it actually helped us grow, not because it was in any way, shape, or form ACTUALLY helpful to us but because it was petrifying – it threw us into the deepest darkest places we’ve ever been to. It quite literally was sex, drugs, and rock n roll for us for a very long time, we were all teenagers and we got handed everything on a silver platter. Ultimately it lead us into a downward spiral, but I feel like if things were slower and took more time to build we may not have wrote the records that we consequently wrote”.
The records that Ben is referring to here are 2011’s Reckless And Relentless and 2013’s From Death To Destiny and while both albums saw the bands progression in song-writing and craft; it was the latter that truly showed what the quintet were capable of, and remains the bands crowning moment to this day. It was here though that AA truly hit a crossroads, despite being at the peak of their creative powers; the years of unforgiving tour schedules and drinking habits had finally started to really take their toll – and their collective world started unravelling because of it.
Years worth of papering over the cracks of spending more than 300 days a year away from home became increasingly difficult for the band, tensions began rising between members, and it became a matter of time until something had to give.
“That is literally the reason Danny [Worsnop, vocalist] left the band, we were on tour for like 330/340 days of the year with no breaks; you live with each other on a metal tube and it gets tiring. People think you’re ‘living the life’ but you’re actually like no, this is not ‘THE LIFE’, an hour of each day when you’re on stage is amazing but then there’s 23 other hours where you’ve been on the road for over 100 days without a break, and it just builds up and tears you down. Ultimately someone was going to break, especially doing what we were doing with the drugs and the alcohol, and it just so happens that it was Danny”.
By 2013 Asking Alexandria had morphed into a behemoth of a metal band, selling albums at an impressive rate, filling venues and climbing the ranks of festivals worldwide. However, their moment in the sun was marred by a feeling that the life of being a part of AA itself had taken its toll on the members as a unit – and before Worsnop’s eventual departure; Asking Alexandria had already begun to feel like a day job.
“It’s sad because no one goes into this thinking: ‘this is gonna be my job’ everyone starts a band because you enjoy hanging out with your mates and you want to make music together. Somewhere along the road we were pushed, and pushed, and pushed to the point where it wasn’t really enjoyable for us anymore like I said; being on stage was great, but that’s the smallest part of being in a band. It’s almost embarrassing to say it but it definitely got to that point for a little while.”
Asking Alexandria’s turmoils with vocalists over the last three years have been well documented, with Danny now returned to the band following the departure of his replacement Dennis Stoff, whose exit from the band seemed to hit with a one-two punch of confusion and shock. Stoff’s time in the band saw the release of 2016’s ‘The Black’ which nodded heavily towards Asking Alexandria’s routes of high voltage metalcore after the record’s predecessor took a successful leap into rock and roll swagger.
In truth, something felt like it was missing here. Was it Danny? Was it the slight disappointment of the band not following on from the foundations laid in the successful From Death To Destiny? It’s tough to say. But what can be said is that despite the sudden departure, Ben looks back on that time with nothing but positivity: “I think it was great, and it was absolutely necessary, it gave everyone a chance to refocus and regroup, and it gave us time to breathe. At this point now it feels exactly how it felt when we were writing and recording Stand Up And Scream, we feel reinvigorated, excited, and like five best friends again.
Musically the Asking Alexandria of 2009 might be dead and buried – but the unity within the band has made a complete U-turn since the return of Worsnop, and this new found love inside brotherhood created a whole new atmosphere during the recording process of the new, self titled record: “We were like kids at Christmas recording this album, it was so much fun. We didn’t have a care in the world, we weren’t gonna be told what to write, we didn’t care how long it would take, we were just five guys having a blast again; and that meant more to us than any amount of money or incentives anyone could offer us”.
The past two years have seen the AA camp pump out two albums, with two different vocalists, and two opposing styles – with the recently released self-titled record seeming to have much more in common with From Death To Destiny than anything else that the quintet have released. But this isn’t the band completely waving goodbye to their days of metalcore, instead, the new record is a snapshot of where Asking Alexandria stand in the current climate.
“I just see this as the next chapter, if you go back through our discography you’ll see that we change with every record, we always like to push the envelope; try new things, create different records because what’s the point in creating two of the exact same thing?”
“The Black was a very scary time for us, we didn’t have Danny, we had a new vocalist [Dennis] who had his own style and we just thought lets just go back to our roots stylistically and try and rebuild the brand, we didn’t really know what we were doing. But when Danny rejoined we thought okay, we can go back to experimenting again and pick up from where we left off with From Death To Destiny”.
As with every other band that has ever graced a recording studio; Asking Alexandria have had their share of critics along the way, it’s just part and parcel of the industry. But AA can never be regarded as a band that like to play it safe, one of the first tasters of this was bought in the way of ‘Someone Somewhere’ found on Reckless And Relentless, it was a straight up chorus lead metal banger from a band that had already made their name by sounding like the musical equivalent of a bull in a china shop.
It’s this ability to take risks and throw themselves in the deep end which continues to motivate the band to this day: “It’s funny, because people are like ‘oh they sing now, where are the breakdowns?!’ when actually, since 2011 we’ve been writing songs like Someone Somewhere. I pride myself on that, I love that we’re willing to take those chances. We’ve been on tour with bands like Slayer, Slipknot, A7X, Guns N Roses, and Stick To Your Guns, we can slot into a wide variety of touring opportunities, a lot of bands can’t do that, and it allows us to broaden our fanbase and broaden our horizons”.
The story of Asking Alexandria curves from five reckless teenagers with the world at their feet, to five adults that could barely stand to be around each other, to five grown men ready to continue their assault on the music industry. It’s a story of naivety, aggression, and eventually redemption. The flame within the band at one point seemed to have a short few moments of flickering light left, before being reignited with authority.
In the present day, there’s a lack of 6 AM booze and drugs binges, but the band find their motivation and pride within their kids, their fans, and each other. It’s been a gruesome roller-coaster of events over the last 8 years, but for the first time in a long time things seem quite clear for Asking Alexandria; the Brotherhood has been reborn, and you can’t possibly guess where it might take them next.