Posted by Will Eldredge
Sleigh Bells' newest album, "Reign of Terror," is a record with big shoes to fill.
The two piece's debut LP, "Treats," was an enthralling mix of singer Alexis Krauss's bratty vocals and guitarist and producer Derek Miller's arena-rock riffs and monstrous beats. "Treats," however, owed as much of its success to its novelty as it did to the album's musical accomplishment. With "Reign of Terror," Sleigh Bells demonstrates its ability to refine and improve upon its signature brand of noise.
The album starts out with "True Shred Guitar," whose introductory applause and stage banter flash back to '80s hair bands and sold out stadiums before Krauss's shouts and Miller's brash guitar section kick in. The album then moves into "Born to Lose," a phenomenal combination of spacey vocals and pounding double-bass drums. The track gives an early taste of how the band has evolved, as "Treats'" hip-hop heavy production gives way to a more varied beat selection.
Sleigh Bells also doesn't rely as much on sheer volume as it did on its debut. While "Treats" sounded like it was going to blow out your speakers at half-volume and was full of clipping, "Terror" is more atmospheric and does not have to be blasted to achieve its full effect. Krauss' jagged cries on songs like "Infinity Guitars" and "Riot Rhythm" have given way to her airy and melodic singing voice, and Miller's guitar work is more technical, focusing more on interwoven progressions than on power chords and bass drops.
That being said, "Terror" still sounds awesome at high volume and the duo is still as effective as ever at writing loud, hook-filled noise pop. The sing-song chorus of "Crush" and the high hats of "End of the Line" show that the band hasn't forgotten its roots. The meandering, poppier riffs of "Leader of the Pack" and "Comeback Kid" lack some of the thump of "Treats," but more than make up for it with their variety. The songs also succeed in bringing the album to its peak, which crescendos with the thump and energetic call-and-response of "Demons."
After "Demons" fades out, "Terror" shows its maturity, and the album's last four songs convey a somber introspection that was not present in the band's earlier work. "Road to Hell" has airy, yet frustrated vocals that flow nicely into the soft sorrow of "You Lost Me's" chorus; "Never Say Die" brings together the goth and art-punk of the two previous tracks with a more subdued version of the double bass and hair-metal riffage present earlier on the record. The album concludes with "D.O.A.," a glacial buildup that ends with Krauss declaring "remember who you are," and drops off into a beautiful echoing nothingness.
"Reign of Terror" shows that Sleigh Bells are more than a one-album wonder. From the screeching guitar of "Born to Lose" to the spacey and plodding finale of "D.O.A.," the Brooklyn duo builds off of the successes of "Treats" while adding some of the pace, subtlety and maturity that their debut lacks.
This album is absolutely worth the listen.