4/10 The answer to any second-album jitters seemed so easy for Sleigh Bells: stick to their modus operandi and add some new flavour without alienating those who love them. The bubblegum noise-rock or twee lo-fi – call it what you want – of their debut album Treats found Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller striking gold with a sledgehammer of hook-laden, approachable DIY music infused with a distinctive yet uncomplicated aesthetic: not too glamorous but not too dirty either. If there was to be a catch to whatever came next it would be that Treats was an absolute statement that didn’t need any appendix or second chapter. You breathed in, grew slightly more deaf from the overload of beats and basslines, and breathed out. Simple as that. Instant party.
Listening to Reign Of Terror it’s hard to determine what exactly went wrong in the process. A few listens in and everything seems to be in its rightful place: Krauss’s sweet vocals still connect with the abrasive, unpolished basslines and crazily hard drums. Maybe it’s the sense that the guitar and bass are searching for solos – autonomy as opposed to synergy – or maybe it’s just that the melodies aren’t quite as pleasurable as before. Krauss and Miller have professed that they wanted Reign Of Terror to sound rawer and louder, but wanting the music to sound more aggressive just for the sake of heaviness isn’t the same as letting it be so hard because of the lyrics or underlying philosophy requiring it that way. Treats was a work of relaxed fun and this ease has, for the most part, been lost here.
That’s not to say that Reign Of Terror is entirely lacking in enjoyment but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Krauss and Miller have taken too many cues from other bands in reinventing their sound – from obvious peers like Crystal Castles to The Kills, and there are even some provocative hints of their label-mother, M.I.A. The gradual building of tension on taster single ‘Comeback Kid’ proves that Sleigh Bells are still in the business of sinking their teeth into a good pop hook, while the album’s more evolved and daring songs like ‘Road To Hell’ and ‘Never Say Die’ hint at just how brilliant Sleigh Bells 2.0 could have been. The latter, in particular, goes even further into dissonance than Krauss and Miller have travelled before, the result being a wallop of thrilling, epic noise-rock.
Still, too much of Reign Of Terror relies on shallow motifs and carousel-like melodies that fail to stick. There’s a lack of variety, too, in songs like ‘End Of The Line’ and ‘Demons’, but a bit more diversity would not have gone amiss. More noise and harder guitars are fine for a bit of mindless fun, but Sleigh Bells have already demonstrated talent for more.