Emerging from the ashes of Rise to Remain, As Lions impressed on their tour of the UK supporting Trivium back in 2016. Powerful and exciting, the band took to the stage and demonstrated a degree of stage presence that marked them out as ones to watch and so it was with some anticipation that we awaited the band’s first studio recordings. The first indications were good, with ‘the fall’ demonstrating that same sense of drama that typified the band’s stage show. With plenty of melody, it seemed clear that As Lions would focus on a more accessible sound than Rise to Remain whilst still maintaining the heavy riffs that sat at the core of their live sound. Unfortunately, the band fell victim to the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach with regards production and ‘Selfish age’ emerges with a glossy sheen that blinds at a thousand paces. Indisputably a bid for heavy rotation on the radio (and in that it may well succeed), the music suffers from sounding processed to death with nary a hint of the organic interaction that makes metal such a thrilling genre. It’s not all bad of course; the band remain proficient musicians and Austin is an excellent singer, but they appear to have lost their way on this debut placing a bid for instant gratification at the core of their sound rather than developing a more organic and unique sound for themselves.
Opening with ‘Aftermath’, an electronic-infused track that shows an unexpectedly commercial edge, ‘Selfish age’ gets off to a rather less heavy start than the band’s spate of live shows with Trivium might have suggested. Clearly distancing themselves from the more metalcore sound of Rise to remain, As Lions utilise clean vocals and heavily compressed guitars, keeping the emphasis very much on the layered melodies and studio-based enhancements, giving the music a very contemporary feel. A clear attempt at a marketable single, it is short and to the point but the synth elements do much to undermine the power so evident in the band’s live shows (you can check the video clip below). Things pick up somewhat on the surging ‘the suffering’, a song that sees Austin Dickinson allow a touch of grit to edge into his vocals, whilst the guitars gain much more weight in the mix. Boasting a chorus that is addictive enough to stick happily in your brain after the song has concluded, it benefits from a less polished sound, but sadly this is an approach the band frequently eschew in favour of the more overblown production of the opening number. Austin’s voice is given ample room to shine on the stripped-back intro to ‘bury my dead’. A melodic metal track, it bears similarities to the current crop of stadium-metal acts such as Alter Bridge and 30 Seconds to Mars with taut riffs and a quick leap to the hook all present and correct. It’s hardly anything new, but it does demonstrate Austin’s talents as a vocalist as he moves between sharp screams and melodic breaks with ease. The studio trickery that defined ‘Aftermath’ returns on the stuttering ‘deathless’ and it remains vexing. Whilst a gleaming, chrome-plated riff gives the song a tough edge, the unnecessary studio elements simply soften the blow and introduce the potential for the music to date far more quickly than a more organic approach. The title track is straight forward pop-rock and another firm bid for radio play. It’s far from a bad song (the band are indisputably proficient), and you can imagine it turning heads and hearts on a station such as Kerrang, but it certainly won’t tick any boxes for a more seasoned metal fan. The first half of the album concludes with ‘white flags’ and, by now, the formula is clearly set with all the same positives and faults holding sway – catchy melodies, electronic elements swirling through an overblown mix and, at the heart of it all, Austin singing his heart out. It’s clearly a style the band have set their sights on, but you can’t help but wish that a band with such obvious potential would be more musically ambitious.
The second half of the record continues in much the same vein. ‘Pieces’ switches from a synth intro to overblown singalong and back again with a certain degree of predictability and, whilst the chorus builds neatly to an explosive climax, the song never truly takes off despite hinting at a more metallic edge lurking in the shadows. ‘World on fire’ has a title that promises much only to head off into piano-ballad territory. It’s easy to imagine the song playing over the end credits of a movie with its faux-epic crescendos whilst a similar fate could easily be in store for ‘one by one’ with its slick melody. As we edge towards the end of the album ‘The fall’ emerges with considerably more promise than that which has preceded it. Tougher and with far fewer synth elements, you can’t help but wish that As Lions had gone with this approach more consistently across the album as the guitars fizz and burn and Austin’s vocals, once more, allow that grit to creep in. Alas, it’s a case of too little too late and ‘the great escape’ coats the band in a synthetic gloss that makes it hard to distinguish from any number of other bands playing contemporary metallic pop. It’s not without its merits, of course, and the chorus is both massive and anthemic, but ultimately it feels like a missed opportunity.
I’ve never subscribed to the notion that music can’t cross genres and there are many bands that have juxtaposed metal and pop elements to stunning effect (just check out the Wildhearts to see how it should be done). The problem, first and foremost, with ‘Selfish age’ lies in a production job that sucks the very soul from the music. It’s HUGE, but it’s also swathed in electronic elements that were almost entirely absent from the band’s live set and, it has to be said, the latter was all the better for it. Time and again guitars are muted in favour of unnecessary embellishment and both riffs and melodies are strangled as a result. In the end, it’s the musical equivalent of a Hollywood action movie – loud, dumb and full of explosions but ultimately lacking in character or depth. If this seems like a harsh indictment, it’s worth noting that the album is fun and that the band do show potential both as musicians and song writers. Certainly, if they can cleave away from the over-the-top production and focus on songs such as ‘the fall’ and ‘the suffering’, they will prove to be a more enduring prospect. It’s easy to imagine As Lions serving as a gateway band, initiating the unfamiliar into metal and gaining a considerable following along the way, but it’s hard to imagine them appealing to more seasoned metal fans in their current configuration. 6