The UK has an ever-growing post-hardcore and metalcore scene, and emerging from it is one of my first musical discoveries of the new year – Manchester’s very own Asleep At The Helm. The quartet debuted with their album Dissonance back in 2018, and have started 2022 off on a strong note with the long-awaited release of their sophomore effort, Keepsake.
“Sanctuary” kicks the album off with a huge burst of energy and sets the scene for what’s to come on the record through the contrast between the heavier verses (led by technically impressive instrumentals, might I add) and the melodic chorus with vocal and guitar leads that won’t leave your head. “Inadequate” keeps that aforementioned energy going, with lively drum fills driving the rhythm. Overall, it’s one of the most aggressive found on the record, so fans of that sound are in for a treat here. There are quite a few tracks that feature guest appearances from other vocalists in the genre, and this is one of them, welcoming Jimmy Dahmer, the frontman of fellow UK up-and-comers Shores.
“Fear” is a haunting interlude that brings a softer dynamic to the record, but the volume gradually crescendos as the song continues on. Eventually, the brutality heard in the previous two tracks returns, shaping the transition into the following, “What Lurks Within.” This is a song that once again shows the band at their heaviest with the numerous layers of screamed vocals and the virtuosic instrumentation that shows just how much talent they have as musicians. Those elements aside, the song also contains another massive chorus, which incorporates clean vocals from Our Hollow Our Home’s Tobias Young (who also happens to be the band’s manager).
Watch: Asleep At The Helm – Altered State (feat. Ben Ville of InVisions) – Official Lyric Video
“Altered State” is another fast-paced track, and it tackles the topic of addiction and substance abuse (“This volatile substance has got me by the throat / My head’s gonna explode any fucking moment”) as well as wanting to recover from it (“I will not be a victim of this addiction”). The synths leading the intro instantly draw you in, preceding captivating guitar riffs and one of the catchiest choruses found on the album. The album’s first half concludes with its titular track, “Keepsake,” which brings just as much energy and riffage as the track before it. The lyrical topic is more focused on relationships—namely, aftermath and heartbreak—and the clean vocals in particular portray that emotion clearly, especially during the chorus and the line preceding the breakdown (“I don’t know why I still hold on to the keepsake you gave / It only brings me pain!”).
“Outsiders” ventures into the world of melodic metalcore and post-hardcore, bringing a strong combination of soaring choruses and brutal screams. The lyrics share a message about feeling like an outcast (or, as the title very fittingly hints at, an outsider), which is something that many will resonate with. “Black Skies,” much like the earlier track “Fear,” is another brief interlude led by delicate instrumentals (primarily a string section) before transitioning perfectly into the next track.
Watch: Asleep At The Helm – Outsiders (Official Music Video)
That track is “Your Presence,” and it’s one of the major highlights of this record. The guitars opt for cleaner tones in the intro to provide some ambience, and the bass and drums come in shortly afterwards, leading a tempo that’s much slower in comparison to those of the previous tracks. The lyrics of this one discuss dealing with grief after the loss of a loved one. The opening lines touch on this topic right away (“An empty space where you lingered, a shallow memory of what once was / This pain of losing a loved one is damage way beyond repair / The veil of death that surrounds me won’t allow me to see”).
All of the lyrics are hauntingly honest and will easily connect with those who have also dealt with the passing of someone close to them (with another strong example being, “Death has come and shook your hand, taken away a soul so gentle”). Musically, the track combines the band’s primary influences of metalcore with hints of melodic hardcore throughout. The addition of instruments such as piano and strings bring some extra drama to the song throughout its duration and end it on a beautiful note.
The outro of that track was very fitting, as a sweeping piano lead opens up “The Wire,” a track that hones in on those elements of melodic hardcore. Mental health is the overarching theme of this track, with quite a few of the lyrics displaying someone feeling hopeless and dealing with thoughts of suicide. The opening lines initiate this discussion (“Is this the end of me? So cold it burns my soul”), and other lyrics later on in the song (“Death is breathing down my neck again, ever calling out my fucking name / My mentality circling round the drain, finding myself back on the wire”) continue it.
Watch: Asleep At The Helm – The Wire (Visualizer)
“In Vain” is second to last. Thematically, it’s lyrics are close to those of the title track, once again reflecting on a past relationship that has come to an end (“Knowing from words unspoken, I wasn’t enough for you / Say the bitter truth, don’t shroud it with a sweet lie / You left as quickly as you appeared. Was I ever worth your time?”) This is by far the most melodic track on the whole record, which adds a bit of extra variety and versatility to it. “Detached” wraps the album up, and does so very well. It shows the duality between the melody and aggression within the band’s sound, from the melodic opening hook (sung over the lines, “Detached from all we know, do you feel like you never belong, so used to bathing in our misery, it’s all normality, it’s how it’s always been”) to the much heavier vocals and instrumentals that immediately follow it.
Each track on Keepsake contains lyrics that spark honest conversations about important topics and impressive performances that strongly display the band’s talent and prowess as musicians. Altogether, these twelve songs create a brilliant sophomore album from Asleep At The Helm.
You can stream Keepsake in its entirety below.