Produced by guitarist Derek Miller, and written by Miller and singer Alexis Krauss, Reign of Terror
is the highly anticipated follow up to 2010’s Treats
’ deft, stylish combination of genres, sounds, and dynamics was simply unprecedented. The album’s own extreme volume was matched by the deafening roar of praise, putting the record on over 50 year-end lists for 2010. Sleigh Bells toured behind Treats
relentlessly, opening for the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, Yeasayer and Major Lazer before headlining their own shows, many of which sold out in mere minutes. They played lauded, exhilarating sets at festivals around the globe, confirming their status as a sheer tour de force on the stage. It is this intense live energy, coupled with the continued desire to carve out new musical terrain, which runs throughout their new album, Reign of Terror. Engineered by Shane Stoneback, who helped to record Treats
, songs on Reign of Terror
are as crushing and authoritative as their title suggests; they’re effortlessly robust and heavier than any of the band’s previous output, but more melodic as well, the sonic equivalent of a beautiful shotgun to the head. Packed densely with stomping beats, shredding Jackson guitar riffs, sinister ribbons of Alexis Krauss’ candy-coated vocals, and the cries of a pep rally gone terribly wrong, Reign of Terror
is a record that, like its predecessor, redefines everything you think music can be.
There are some interesting contradictions at play on Sleigh Bells' second album. For example, when Alexis Krauss purrs her way through Road to Hell, the pointed language she uses is disconnected from the delicate way in which she delivers it.
The manner in which Krauss' vocal chords remain calm in a crisis is a key characteristic of Sleigh Bells' canon. She sings serenely even during the most intense periods of background bluster created by co-conspirator Derek Miller. It's all a far cry from his former band, Poison the Well – a hardcore act whose vocalist's guttural roar dominated proceedings for much of the time.
The way this Brooklyn duo whisks together loud and quiet elements is compelling. The best moment on Reign of Terror comes during a lull halfway through Comeback Kid, where Krauss sweetly intones that "You're gone away but you'll come back someday". The words are layered over a sugary-sweet melody which sounds like it could soundtrack the opening titles to a very gentle sitcom. The momentary solitude immediately gives way to synthesised, super-powered beats and shredding guitars that wouldn't sound out of place on an Atari Teenage Riot track. This juxtaposition drags you into the world of Krauss and Miller, an odd couple who claim to have met purely by chance at a Brazilian restaurant in Williamsburg – he was waiting tables and she was dining (with her mum).
Throughout the record there's a constant craving for loudness, yet all the while the end result is pure pop that – as in the case of a YouTube video of small kids rocking out in the back of their parents' car to breakout single Infinity Guitars – clearly has mass market appeal far beyond the hipster shtick that forms part of the duo's slightly tiresome marketing campaign.
Miller says he was hung up on AC/DC when making this record – and the pumped-up riffs and echo chamber wobbles here are a love-it or hate-it feature. That said, Reign of Terror still showcases boy-girl group pop-rock that's polished and pleasing, and so much better than fare from the likes of The Kills or The Tings Tings. End of the Line and You Lost Me are touching efforts which feel like songs on which Krauss has had more input (her writing credits were limited on debut LP Treats), while the enjoyably bolshy Crush sounds like it was specifically designed to accompany a particularly brutal hazing session down at the sorority house on Main Street.
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