REVIEW: Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

When Sleigh Bells emerged in 2010 with their debut Treats, they were a breakaway success – securing a wide-spread appeal, while making very loud and very unique guitar-pop. The term noise-pop is used quiet flippantly these days, but Sleigh Bells are probably the band that exemplifies the genre truly. Musical duo Alexis Krauss and Derek E Miller couldn’t be from more different musical directions. Miller was formerly the guitarist of post-hardcore band Poison the Well, while Krauss was in an all-girl pop group as a teenager. Together, they combined their experience to do something a little… different.

Taking full advantage of the odd dynamic they have, Sleigh Bells create music that really is like nothing else coming out at the moment. It’s filled with riffs that would be well suited in a metal album and blends them effortlessly with pop sensibilities, forming bizarre, noise-filled mayhem. In anyone else’s hands it may well have sounded horrendous, but Sleigh Bells manage to take this bizarre concept and make it interesting and addictive.

Originally planned to release on Valentine’s Day, Reign of Terror is a surprisingly high-spirited album, given the title. The track titles follow example, with names like ‘Road to Hell’, ‘Demons’and ‘Never Say Die‘.  It may sound a bit morbid, but they take to it with the attitude of, say, a grindhouse horror movie. It’s filled with dark imagery but it’s executed with just the right amount of self-awareness needed to not drag it down. The lyrics cover themes of winning, losing, and death in a more personal way than Treats, but they never delve too deeply. With a band likeSleigh Bells, lyrics aren’t really a core component to the listening experience but they do the job fine.

The record takes many cues from contemporary pop and R&B while layering them over AC/DCinfluenced guitar slabs. Miller creates some of the biggest-sounding riffs in alternative music currently. ‘Demons’ highlights the sheer power of his guitar work, with a riff that would feel at home on a Black Sabbath album, while Krauss shouts “DEMONS, COME ON” excitedly. It shouldn’t work, but it does. The tracks come quick and heavy, with Krauss‘s vocals as fierce as the music itself, at times.

The album opens with the sound of crowds cheering, and a Queen-esque guitar line, before launching into the familiar sound of Sleigh Bells. ‘End of the Line‘ provides a nice contrast to the rest of the album. It’s a relatively quieter affair, with Krauss whispering “I wish it didn’t have to be this way / but it’s the end of the line / so goodbye” in a confessional manner. The change of pace is welcomed, but the next track, ‘Leader of the Pack‘ begins with a gunshot, signifying brilliantly that things are coming back into full-force.

For all the steps forward it takes, I can’t help but feel like they haven’t done enough to differentiate the album from the debut. It lacks the immediacy and novelty of Treats, and that leads to it having a slightly tired feel to it. It’s certainly an interesting album, but it treads territory too similar to the debut.

It was hard for Sleigh Bells to follow-up their debut in a way that didn’t come off as cheap, but they’ve managed to get past that hurdle in most senses. With Reign of Terror, they’ve developed their sound and it definitely feels better off for it, but they haven’t managed to escape the trappings of their debut entirely. Reign of Terror is an apt title for the album, with it feeling like a constant onslaught on the senses. If this is a pop record, it’s one of the heaviest pop records I’ve ever heard. Turn it up. Loud.

7/10
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