Review: Sleigh Bells – ‘Reign Of Terror’

s lp sleighbells 12It’s not often in this age of endless internet buzz that a band arrives with an ambitiously inventive sound that is as fully-formed as the hype surrounding it, but that is exactly what Sleigh Bells managed to do when they took the indie-sphere by storm in 2010 with the release of their razor sharp debut ‘Treats‘.

The Brooklyn duo of singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist/producer Derek Miller rose a little too rapidly through the ranks following a breakout performance at the CMJ Music showcase, only to back it all up with an album that somehow fused heavy jackhammer riffage, crunked-out breakbeats, and sweetened melodies into a solid cohesive statement.

The end result was an infectious in-the-red party that held your attention long enough to test the strength of your struggling computer speakers.
So it seemed only natural that there would be an anxious level of anticipation surrounding their sophomore effort, as it was easy to wonder whether their streamlined style was just too simple to stretch out into any sort of staying power.

It turns out that those wonders were well-deserved, in that this year’s ‘Reign Of Terror‘ doesn’t spark and crackle quite like its predecessor. Part of the reason is conceptual. Whereas ‘Treats’ was a compressed sugar rush of songs that thrived on the adrenaline of immediacy, the follow-up is a far moodier affair that weaves introspective themes of death and regret into slower and more spaced-out compositions.

The effect is an added layer of emotion that was missing in their early work; it’s just unfortunate that it often comes in place of the urgency that used to corral their car-crash of influences in the right direction.

The new approach doesn’t necessarily signify a step back in sound. ‘Reign Of Terror’ has been billed as more of a guitar record, and in certain sections it is.  The faux-live intro of ‘True Shred Guitar‘ is a nod towards the stadium-sized cock rock of the 80’s that Miller continuously leans on throughout the album, while the Sabbath chords and searing feedback that surrounds ‘Demons‘ creates a no-punches-pulled performance worthy of the Def Leppard-like arenas that they are referencing.

Then there is ‘Born To Lose‘, which pits Miller’s slugfest progressions against Krauss’ eerie aping of suicide, all under a machine-gun roll of drum sequencing that really captures the two at the height of their creativity.
If anything, the main sidestep taken here comes during the exploration of the pop side of their noise-pop equation.

Krauss was a de-facto side player in the production of ‘Treats’, but her role in the songwriting process has clearly grown in the interim. The vocal emphasis works well in some parts, particularly on the catchy bubblegum bounce behind ‘Comeback Kid‘, but the prom dance ballads of ‘End Of The Line‘ and ‘You Lost Me‘ end up feeling somewhat thin and lifeless.  While the contrast of hearing Krauss and her schoolyard innocence carry morbid dirges like ‘Road To Hell’ does have its charm, the charm begins to run ragged after it’s relied on over and over again on the final four tracks.

Despite the hit-or-miss quality at the core of ‘Reign Of Terror’, Krauss and Miller have to be commended for pushing back at the boundaries they inherently built around themselves with their own aesthetic. Attempting to recreate the sense of now that permeated their ascent from anonymity would have assuredly set them up to fail, and at the very least their endeavor to twist their formula inward is a testament towards their boldness of vision.

That boldness alone can still bring an admirable amount of thunder, even if the lightning has long since left the bottle.

(Beau De Lang)

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