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This review is from: Reign Of Terror (Audio CD)
Sleigh bells wet our appetites with their self-titled EP in 2009 and then promptly burst onto the music scene a year later with their delightfully titled thrills a minute debut Treats garnering positive reviews aplenty. Understandably there's tonnes of excitement and buzz surrounding the release of this album Reign Of Terror, so why did I feel so apprehensive about it before I'd even heard it?
Derek Millers overdriven guitar and Alexis Krauss confidently sweet voice proved to be a killer combination on Treats, but they'd be hard pressed to outdo that record by simply repeating themselves on this one. Many have tried and failed to follow up distinctive and original albums by providing more of the same, only to be accused of making the same album twice or more (strokes, oasis anyone). The group could've reinvented themselves as to avoid that plight, but they'd carved out such an obvious niche with their previous album that a 180 would seem abrupt and nigh on impossible to sell without them sounding like a couple of dilettantes with little to no identity.
Having listened to Reign of Terror I feel Sleigh Bells were mindful of this dilemma, which goes someway to describing the bands subtle and unremarkable evolution. "Born to Lose" has the usual Sleigh Bells Trademarks heavy beats, distorted guitar and Krauss's Syrupy vocals but it aims for a less innocuous quality than their previous work with the addition of what sounds like a Robin Guthrie-esque dream pop reverberated guitar sound, that then lingers in the background making the band sound a little more self-consciously menacing.
"End of the Line" and "Road to Hell" continues this foray into 4AD/dream pop territory evoking the pixies and slowdive in equal measure but sadly lacking the formers serpentine intensity and the latter's Dissonant Beauty. "Comeback Kid" is fortunately the exception to the rule, where sleigh bells find the sweet spot between bombastic beats and dreamy effects with the ethereal sounds playfully counter balancing the excessive giddiness, instead of deviating from it (theirs a great video accompanying it to).
The mood on this album is more ambiguous this time round, it's difficult to know how to respond to "Never Say Dies" sugary yet ominous opening, should we settle down and pay more attention to the lyrics or consider it a cool down before we go back and blast out "crush" and "true Shred Guitar" again? That's the fundamental problem with this record; its sonic developments are on balance aesthetically pleasing but they ultimately expose the music as being shallower than any of us wanted to admit by forcing us to take them a little more seriously. Sleigh Bells appeal laid in their novelty and unapologetic playfulness and one can't help feeling that this album's faux serious pretensions result in this being simply less fun and actually more vacuous. Treats was a rare example of style triumphing over substance and I feel it stands a good chance of being remembered fondly, whereas Reign of Terror is likely to please existing fans for now but will probably be forgotten by the end of the year.