Sleigh Bells – Reign Of Terror
It has been stated time and time again that Brooklyn duo Sleigh Bells’ debut LP, Treats, was a tour de force of energy, a constant barrage of heavily compressed drums, clipped hair metal guitars and cheerleader-esque vocals piercing through the onslaught. With this in mind, second album Reign of Terror can only be considered a statement of progression and maturation. Retaining the constantly-in-the-red mixing and crisp, battering-ram production values, the record expands the emotional (if not dynamic) range of what the band have to offer.
Almost every second of Treats felt like the soundtrack to a street riot while the two cavalier protagonists drive straight through the middle of the chaos in a sports car, shades on and dripping with nonchalant abandon (in fact, the clip for Infinity Guitars could scarcely be a better embodiment of Treats’ overall aesthetic), Reign of Terror balances the barnstorming, incendiary anthems ( True Shred Guitar, -_Demons_ ) with counterpointing atmospheres – minor key anthems ( Leader of the Pack ), blissful, hands-in-the-air slices of radio pop ( Crush, Comeback Kid ), chugging, spacious hair metal odysseys ( Road to Hell ), darker expeditions ( D.O.A. ) and even ballads ( End of the Line, You Lost Me ). The record’s cover – a well-worn pair of Keds, the right shoe stained by blood presumably from a broken nose – is a perfect summation of the ideas behind Reign of Terror and the way the band have progressed from Treats; it’s still a great night out and the euphoria is still there, but this time there’s a reminder of the pain that comes in the morning.
Opener True Shred Guitar sets the pace from the outset, emulating a live setting as frontwoman Alexis Krauss urges revellers (‘I wanna see all your fucking hands in the air!’) to let loose, and inexplicably it doesn’t feel forced. Shortly after guitarist Derek Miller whips things into a frenzy with the titular riffs, the haunting, brilliant Born to Lose arrives on the scene, rapid-fire kick drums blasting beneath squealing guitars, cheerleader-style shouts and Krauss’ angelic, crestfallen delivery of “We were born to lose”. Crush is potentially the record’s most blissful moment, the chants of ‘Make you, or break you!’ working in perfect tandem with Krauss’ clever turn of phrase in the chorus (“I got a crush on/I gotta crush you”). End of the Line is perhaps the band’s first track resembling a ballad (though Rill Rill was borderline), lyrically dealing with a regret-tinged breakup flavoured by existential sentiments (“No one loves you/Up above you/No one hears you/No one sees you”), while Leader of the Pack conversely hints at something beyond the temporal realm (“When somebody dies/You see them lifting/But you know, you know/It’s not over”).
The victorious pop of Comeback Kid is quintessentially Sleigh Bells, resplendent with pulverising guitars and surging drums beneath Krauss’ saccharine motivational speaking (“You’re gone away but you’ll come back some day”, “You gotta try a little harder, you’re the comeback kid”), as is Demons, a powerful track which is probably bears the closest resemblance to the first record of anything here. Road to Hell is a hair metal epic featuring a palm-muted, stadium-sized riff, as is You Lost Me, a ballad-esque piece featuring some pure 80s guitar work that stands out as one of the record’s strongest highlights. The ominous Never Say Die possesses a sinister ambiance amplified by an eerie, twinkling chime progression, and closer D.O.A. is a primarily percussion-free piece that sees the duo at their most pure and melodic, free of the dissonance, distortion and squall that often accompanies their work.
Despite establishing an aesthetic of joyous, anti-authority revelling and a sound that consisted of quintessentially American elements like ‘shred guitar’ and college football game-style chants (the record’s cover paints an apt visual image), Treats lay down a dauntingly confining stylistic platform for the band’s follow up. Reign of Terror could have been a bland mess had it simply repeated the template or even become a nationalistic train-wreck filled with “U.S.A.” chants and Star Spangled Banner excerpts, or a total sonic redefinition which alienated fans of their previous work. But under the immense weight of expectation, Sleigh Bells have delivered a remarkably polished and varied second record while further establishing their musical identity, and Reign of Terror simply confirms everyone’s first impressions – this band are something special.