The speed of content consumption on the internet can be a bitch sometimes. In a matter of weeks, an artist can drop in like they are the saviors of music, only to spur an immediate backlash of naysayers. The ensuing battle will then both help and hinder the artist, as their noteriety will grow, but their perfect nature in which they were introduced quickly becomes tarnished. Sleigh Bells have surprisingly been able to coast by, mostly unharmed by the cycle of haters.
Already by the time Sleigh Bells released their first album “Treats” in the spring of 2010, they were already in danger of becoming old news. Making a splash at CMJ in the fall of ’09, the early months of 2010 were a cauldron brewing Sleigh Bells mania. With each week that passed, the chances of hearing “Crown on the Ground” or “Rill Rill” in a bar were becoming greater, yet it was still exciting when you did hear it, as they were still very underground.
“Treats” packed the exact punch we wanted, having been listening to loose MP3s of theirs for half a year, it was the song cycle we needed to sustain our fandom. There was a conscious fear and acceptance though that by summer’s end, we may be done with this. Sleigh Bells were smart though. After rocking off thousands of faces on an incredibly successful tour, they quickly sprang back to work on “Reign of Terror,” their excellent sophomore effort.
Absolute unbridled noise pop has always been the Sleigh Bells formula. On “Reign of Terror,” Derek Miller keeps it amped while Alexis Krauss’ sweet, teen pop tailored voice keeps them one of the most fun juxtapositions in music right now, but with a few subtle elements having been added to the mix. “Treats” would often reach layers of peaking distortion that occasionally called into question whether or not it was intentional. “Reign of Terror” keeps it loud but in a more controlled fashion, pulling Krauss’ vocals out of Belinda Butcher’s recording booth and placing them firmly as leading general in the guitar onslaught.
Arena rock is clearly the aim from the get-go. Opening with a sampled audience, Krauss can be heard screaming out to the crowd, “What the fuck is up?! Come on!” while the spaced out pounding of drums call them to arms over some Mötley Crüe phrasings by Miller. It’s the first in several hair metal references that Miller’s guitarwork calls out over the course of the album, especially on the ballads. “You Lost Me“‘s muted guitar plucking recalls shopping mall parking lots, acid washed jeans, and a longing for something better. My prescription to those folks using Winger as an outlet for their frustrations probably would have been a copy of “The Queens is Dead,” but Sleigh Bells’ modern-day re-appropriation of that sound here finally brings validation to that genre. “Never Say Die” likewise finds its power in Eddie Van Halen’s songbook, while successfully marrying it with a dreamy vocal and the group’s signature machine gun beats.
Ballads are fairly new ground for Sleigh Bells, the only real breather on “Treats” being the Parliament sampling “Rill Rill.” “End of the Line,” which the band played on SNL the other night, might be the album’s best track, taking all of the elements that make up the Sleigh Bells concoction — metal guitars, hushed vocals, riveting drums — and using them for a perfect dream pop earworm rather than demolition. That being said, “Reign of Terror” is by no means a soft record. “Demons” is particularly brutal, the drums bursting like missiles across Miller’s sludgy riff. Krauss taunts “Demons! Come on! You’ve got a vision, you got a mission,” like she’s goading their pending destruction. The record’s leading single, “Comeback Kid” is one of their most fun bangers to date, helped in part by an irresistible music video that features Miller and Krauss rocking the suburbs with skateboards, a shotgun, and some grocery shopping.
While “Treats” may still be the better record, just for its initial rush and surprise, “Reign of Terror” far exceeds the expectations of a followup to the now-ness of that album. Just as in-your-face, while still a push forward in terms of melody and composition, it’s an album destined to be a winner among pop loving headbangers everywhere.