Music Reviews
Reign of Terror

Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror

(Mom & Pop) Rating - 7/10

Last weekend Sleigh Bells became one of the most unlikely Saturday Night Live guests, ripping it up with a wall of Marshall stacks in front of millions of Americans. From their lo-fi origins they’re emerging into the pop culture perhaps more because of their projected identities than their music: Alexis Krauss is a sort of parallel-universe tattooed bubblegum pop singer, and Derek Miller the leather jacket and shades-clad post-ironic hipster; the contradictions were even more obvious in this live TV setting (which hilariously omitted all the bass tones, the main subconscious drive of Sleigh Bells’ music). A quick Twitter search illustrates the repulsion of 80% of SNL viewers.

In fact, I’d be giving myself an easier job if I were to hate on this. Subtlety is a quality I value highly in music and for Sleigh Bells it is nonexistent. Their debut, Treats, was designed to sound better the louder it’s played and the drunker you are – and in that respects it succeeded invariably. The thing is, while they can sound like a one-trick pony (more so on Treats), I’m struggling to locate them in a myriad of genre references – they’re not exactly straight-up noise pop; in spite of distorted guitars and choruses, there are heavy drum machines, and Krauss’ warped cheerleader vocals. Sleigh Bells are simplistic, but at the same time very inventive in terms of their influences. And yet I expected to dislike Reign of Terror – their wilfully two-dimensional songwriting did not bode well for a reinvigorating second album.

The first half is as loud and brash as Treats, but it’s even more metal than before. It seems most influenced by the sort of music that Sleigh Bells’ hipster following would ordinarily find absolutely cringe-inducing, actually, the power-chord driven hair-metal that gave us Kiss and Mötley Crüe, but overdriven to noisier extremes, imbued with bursting drum machines. Krauss even imitates the cheesy showmanship of these stadium-fillers for opener True Shred Guitar, a song that sounds like someone failing at the easiest Guitar Hero track.

But in spite of this unsavoury introduction, Reign of Terror evolves into something more thoughtful. The highlight is surely End of the Line – it may only be track four, but it feels like an album closer, squeezing out angst with a yearning reminiscent of Weezer at the height of their powers, spine-tingling in a way you’d never have expected of Sleigh Bells. Comeback Kid and Born to Lose are the two obvious singles, effortlessly catchy and replayable, if not as brilliant as Treats standouts Crown on the Ground or Infinity Guitars.

Perhaps the most interesting moments are the most laid-back songs; on the final four tracks in particular, Sleigh Bells take a more intelligent, sample-based approach, as if their aggression is spent after the incendiary, orphanage-burning rampage Demons. You Lost Me in particular features evocatively soaring guitar glissandos illustrating the downfall of the lyrics – and if Road to Hell and D.O.A. begin to drag, it emphasises the ambivalent pessimism of the album’s ending. A twinge of unprecedented subtlety, indeed.

Reign of Terror pulls enough punches to match the pure entertainment of Treats, and manages to be emotionally engaging too. While it can feel like juvenilia, it’s in a very endearing way, a catalogue of the catharsis of a high-school misfit.