Sleigh Bells ‘Reign of Terror’ – Review

15 Mar

Did anyone expect Sleigh Bells to still be popular in 2012? Maybe it was just me, but they seemed to be too of the moment, too current and too tied to their image; I didn’t hold much hope for them in the long-term. Not that I wasn’t a fan; they are one of the few bands to emerge in recent years who have done something genuinely fresh and exciting with guitars. Their combination of Hip Hop Beats, pop melodies and glam-metal axe heroics makes them a unique proposition. And despite the distinctively un-commercial sounds the group produce, their debut was a hit, and not just critically; their work has been sampled by the likes of Beyonce and M.I.A and their music has been used in adverts on TV, and in trailers at the cinema.

There’s no doubt that much of the thrill of their debut was the thrill of the unknown. Now that we are used to their unique sound, have they lost some of the magic? The answer is probably. Which isn’t to say that album number two, ‘Reign of Terror’ is a bad album, far from it, it’s just that now we’re no longer gushing over the sound we can focus more on the songwriting, which is not their strongest selling point. I was hoping that maybe they would have some fresh tricks up their sleeves, more wizardry to dazzle us with, but that doesn’t really seem to be the case; instead there is an emphasis on more of the same, turned up to 11. The guitars are grittier and increasingly Van Halen-esque, whilst the vocals are stickier and sweeter, which means their sonic clash of cultures is even more intense on ‘Born to Reign’ than It was on ‘Treats.’

So on to the songs themselves. Simply, they aren’t as good as the collection of tunes on album number one. ‘Comeback Kid’ was a decent first single, but it was no ‘Tell Em’. ‘End of the Line’ is a fantastic ballad, but it’s no ‘Rill Rill’. The record is let down by too much filler; album opener ‘True Shred Guitar’ is an embarrassingly bad opening statement, whilst the final trilogy of songs are all instantly forgettable. Somewhere in the middle there are songs that fight a good fight. ‘Demons’ is frantic and furious, and utterly brilliant, whilst ‘Leader of the Pack’ is as heavy as any metal song I’ve heard recently.

This time the vocals are more exposed in the mix, which allows the listener to zoom in on the lyrical content. Their debut never drew attention to itself in this respect, focusing on simple and direct messages that were often chanted on repeat. ‘Reign of Terror’ begins in the same way with the simple  mantra of ‘Push it, push it, push it/ true shred guitar.’ Things break down when the lyrics get more complicated than this. Kraus seems to think she is some kind of agony aunt, offering opinions to hopeless friends, ex-boyfriends and even her fans. My alternative theory is that she’s actually psychotic and self-loathing, and these lyrics are about herself. On ‘Born to lose’ it sounds like she’s taken on the role of her shoulder demon when she sings ‘Heard you say suicide in your sleep/ Just get on with it, you were born to lose’. Then later on she says ‘No one loves you, up above you, no one hears you.’

Ultimately these negative feelings are repressed, and the overwhelming final message is one of support and consolation. The main theme is about finding out who you really are inside, and forgetting the person you have somehow become. The final line of the album is ‘Remember who you are’, and the first single is called ‘Comeback Kid’, a song about taking with the punches and starting again. ‘Reign of Terror’, against the odds, is a triumphant album. However, It’s not a classic album – their debut is better in almost every respect. But whilst there are no musical surprises, the real surprise might actually be that Sleigh Bells are in this for the long haul. There is enough evidence here to say that this band have staying power.

6.5/10

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