Reign of Terror. Has there ever been a more apt name for an album?
Reign of Terror
Mom + Pop
After releasing Treats in 2010, Sleigh Bells has gotten a little scarier. Singer Alexis Krauss cautioned NME magazine that the album’s sound would be “immense,” though that’s pretty expected after the riot rhythms and infinity guitars of the group’s first LP. But the real reason for being scared of Reign of Terror isn’t its loudness or its gloomy nature. It’s that almost everything that made Treats such an infectious success is completely absent in this album, so all that’s left is screeching, thrashing noise pollution.
There’s a slightly acceptable explanation for Reign of Terror’s angry tone. Guitarist Derek Miller explained to The New York Times that the album served as an emotional catharsis to help him cope with his father’s death in a motorcycle accident. He told NME that, unlike Treats, this album is not intended to be “party” music. But given the story behind Reign of Terror, the album seems rather emotionally static. It’s an unremitting onslaught of power chords and predictable melodies.
The album begins with “True Shred Guitar,” a song that includes a roaring crowd in the background and Krauss greeting the audience with “What the fuck’s up?” Miller fiddles around on the guitar and Krauss continues to instigate for a while until eventually they start playing actual music, but only for about a minute — and then the song ends. The track is meant to be a warm-up for the following 10, but it feels like it’s stalling the album more than anything. Sleigh Bells should have stuck with the Treats approach, which involved putting some of their best work first and letting the excitement come naturally. While Krauss is screaming “There we fucking go,” listeners just want her to shut up and make music, not noise.
“Born to Lose,” a single off the album, is actually a slight winner, but just barely. The track involves furious guitars combined with Krauss serenading about nooses and shotguns. But the best part of the song comes when it stops trying to rupture your eardrums. There’s a much-needed interlude of phaser and quietly growling guitars, but unfortunately, that doesn’t come until the last minute.
“End of the Line” is another rare moment when Sleigh Bells quits trying to massacre its listeners’ ears. It’s still pretty busy — and, of course, loud — but it demonstrates how the band doesn’t need to scare you into liking its music. It’s tempting to call “End of the Line” sweet, but that would feel inappropriate given it’s coming from an album called Reign of Terror.
Sleigh Bells is actually quite skilled at utilizing the sugary sound of a female singer. The band follows a pretty standard method of combining cherubic vocals with demonic instrumentals, creating an attractively eerie juxtaposition. This technique first appeared in Treats, and it’s prevalent once again in tracks like “Leader of the Pack,” which begins with a gun-like explosion immediately followed by a dainty tune consisting of pings. “Comeback Kid” is another example, combining hammering, hot-blooded guitars with Krauss’s vocals hovering above the instrumental warzone. The lulling chorus is, more than anything, a relief from the ambush that comprises the majority of the song.
But the novelty of these contrasts begins to disappear quickly, and unlike Treats, the melodies are less memorable, or even less likeable. Treats had an aggressive side, to be sure, but its power derived from its ability to be simultaneously evil and danceable. With songs like “Demons,” “Road to Hell” and “D.O.A.,” Reign of Terror is aggravating. A full listen of the album will leave you wanting, more than anything, silence, some Advil and maybe a shotgun.