Sleigh Bells did not arrive on the indie music scene quietly. From the first pounding rift on its 2010 debut Treats, the band thrust a defiant fist — or middle finger — in the air, demanding attention with a unique brand of rock that prided itself on being loud. On its second studio effort, Reign of Terror, the group’s sound succeeds in growing up without getting boring.
While Sleigh Bells was originally the brainchild of guitarist Derek Miller, this release comes off as the work of a cohesive and visionary band. Alexis Krauss, who quickly became the indie man’s pinup of choice, actively contributed to the production and songwriting of the newest album, and the collaboration shows. While the tone of the album is markedly darker, the two produce an album that can still pump up the volume at a party without feeling vapid, one of Treats’ main failings.
Terror also succeeds in allowing the band enough proverbial room to grow, which can be a painful undertaking when an established band changes a successful formula on its sophomore release. Miller, who is responsible for many of the band’s lyrics, has spoken out about his personal struggles since the release of its party-hard debut, including the death of his father in a motorcycle accident and his mother’s diagnosis with cancer. This sense of everything crashing down in an instant is a sentiment Terror hinges on. The single “Born to Lose” talks of witnessing a friend’s suicidal thoughts, while “Leader of the Pack” depicts a motorcycle crash and is a far cry from a Shangri-Las cover.
But it isn’t all gloom and doom: Sleigh Bells manages to achieve catharsis through expertly proportioned ’80s metal sounds (a la Def Leppard), and Krauss’s airy vocals and the tearing guitar chords that were the band’s main gimmick on Treats. The studded leather jacket defiance that drew fans in the beginning remains, but reappears with a new sense of soul and a well-defined identity.
While this album contains no equivalents to the infectious hooks of “Tell ‘Em,” “Crown on the Ground,” or “Infinity Guitars” off Treats, several of the newest releases are unforgettable, mostly for packing a punch that resonates. “End of the Line” attempts to articulate the breathless feeling of losing someone important, and “Comeback Kid” is the rallying cry for a washed-up underdog. Another standout, the hair metal ballad-channeling “You Lost Me” envelopes and expands as Krauss intones, “Don’t run away from me baby/ Just go away from me baby” in a line that is equal parts raw plea and resigned defiance before building to a familiar thrashing.
The album draws to an end with “D.O.A.,” a song that, with finger snaps as a dominant sound, feels threadbare by Sleigh Bells standards. As Krauss sings, “How come nobody knows/ How the chorus should go?” it is clear she is done with simply kicking up dust to attract interest among the general din of the band’s contemporaries. Instead, Terror dwells on the mixed hand life can deal and then dismisses it with a professional poker player’s candor: You win some and you lose some.
If Treats was an album to spend the night head banging, raging and setting the city on fire to, Sleigh Bells’ new album provides glimpses to the dark side of fun: The self-reflection and sense of loss that are known to creep up as the high wears off.
4 out of 5 stars