REVIEW: AS LIONS – “Selfish Age”
As Lions’ studio debut, ‘Selfish Age’, is an album which has been in the making for a while now. Ever since the band’s surprising formation after the very public downfall of its predecessor, Rise to Remain, in January 2015, fans of Austin Dickinson and co. have been pining for their first full-length taste of this new melodic rock outfit. And even though there were hints in the form of the single “The Fall”, tours supporting the likes of Trivium, Five Finger Death Punch and Shinedown as well as, most recently, October’s ‘Aftermath’ EP, it isn’t until the first weeks of 2017 that eager fans will finally become aware of what the quintet is capable of.
Or at least, that’s the theory, since the main problem with ‘Selfish Age’ amasses even as you just take a quick gander at the track listing: of the 11 songs on this album, five of them have already been released. The previously stand-alone “The Fall” returns towards the end of the record, while “Aftermath”, “Deathless”, “White Flags” and “World on Fire” are all ripped directly from the Aftermath EP. As much as it can be appreciated that this debut album is intended to introduce a much wider audience to As Lions, it must be said that expecting die-hard followers to pay for an album that they have already heard half of is at least somewhat shady.
But, questionable track listing aside, does ‘Selfish Age’ actually function as a full-length debut? Well, that honestly depends upon what the listener is after. Anyone who has heard even one As Lions song knows what they’re going to be in store for: an abundance of soaring, melodic choruses and catchy, driven hooks. It’s safe to say that diversity is not Selfish Age’s forte, with most of this record following this formula, with the exception of one or two emotive, piano-led verses on “Bury My Dead” and “World on Fire”. But other than that, very little about this record will be surprising to established fans. So, if the listener has that preconception in mind before experiencing Selfish Age, they will probably find a great deal of this enjoyable and just, simply, fun. But if anybody out there is expecting a new, never-before-heard style of hard rock that will reinvent the wheel, they will not find it. Musically, this album can probably be likened to a Pixar film: everyone with half a brain knows what to expect and what’s going to happen, but it is the charisma and likeability of its individual parts that pulls them through.
Because yes, there is a great deal to like about ‘Selfish Age’. Frontman Austin Dickinson lays down a pitch perfect vocal performance, ditching the screams of his Rise to Remain days in favour of an entirely clean delivery. And with the power of his pipes as he hits impassioned wails on cuts like “White Flags”, it is very easy to see why. Furthermore, the songwriting of the album gives it something of an edge, with entries like the title track, “Aftermath” and “World on Fire” clearly having a blatant, socio-political edge. While the anti-war and anti-media saturation sentiments are far from revolutionary, they do showcase a lyrical maturity and overt honesty from the band that is, honestly, missing in the modern melodic rock scene.
So, overall, what’s the final takeaway from Selfish Age? Truthfully, the album would be infinitely more enjoyable if it was just a six-track EP, cutting out the tracks that fans have heard before. The repetition of songs that have already been released feels needless and even lazy, coming across as a desperate attempt to pad out the running time to 40 minutes. Whether the band or their label is to blame for this choice is a mystery, yet what new material is present on the record is actually quite promising. While it may be the polar opposite of progressive, it is plain, simple fun that is, above all, honest and true to what As Lions wants to be. It would have been so easy for the former members of Rise to Remain to band together and try to remake Rise to Remain, but they used the opportunity to reinvent themselves and ask “What do we want to do?”, instead of “What do the fans want us to do?” This album is a risk and, apart from the rehashing of old Rise to Remain material, it seems to pay off.