When Sleigh Bells dropped Treats in 2010, they showed the world that loudness still matters. Taking heavy guitar riffs to their extremes, Derek Miller positioned a heavy rock aesthetic within the canon of indie in a way that really hadn’t been developed yet to that extent. And then there’s Alexis Krauss, the girl that used to sing for Nickelodeon advertisements, singing in her overtly feminine style behind a wall of bass, drums, and heavy guitar riffs. That’s what set Sleigh Bells apart: their placement of a “girly” voice behind a wall of distortion. They explore a new area of noise rock that emphasizes the noise, and lets the charm of Krauss’ voice fill in the gaps. When you look at the cover art of Reign of Terror, released 2/21/12, it looks like you’re in for more of the same.
The album name puts the image of rock in all its glory in the listener’s mind. The pair of beat-up Keds with a drop of blood on the toe suggests that you’re going to get the same assault of noise that made Treats rock so hard. The placement of a machine gun next to a guitar on the inside of the album sleeve works toward the same end. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be heavy, and it’s going to be awesome. But what unfolds through the album’s 37 minutes is a more refined and palatable Sleigh Bells that still knows how to kick some ass every now and then. Though the persistent heaviness pops up here and there on Reign of Terror, a more immediately listenable set of songs emerges throughout. Sleigh Bells still know how to rock, but prove that they can also create catchy songs.
“Crush,” shows the immediate catchiness of Sleigh Bells’ tunes. To date, this is as close to a radio-friendly song as they’ve come up with. It’s almost danceable, even … almost. That being said, the guitars are heavy in a melodic way. They lurch and move with the drums as Krauss sings in an equally melodic way. While Treats told us to “set that crown on the ground,” Reign of Terror proclaims “I gotta crush on you.” The high-school aesthetic has always been heavy in Sleigh Bells’ work, but it’s seeping through this song.
The crowd that was into the “Rill Rill” aspect of Sleigh Bells have “End of the Line” to listen to. Chilled out multi-tracked vocals and subtle guitar arpeggios characterize this one. This is Sleigh Bells toned down. Though it doesn’t hold the same power that the other tracks do, it carries the same weight; it doesn’t rely on loudness and crunch to draw you in.
All in all, Reign of Terror shows more depth than Treats. While songs like “Crush” and “End of the Line” show an accessibility that will certainly appeal to more people, “Demons,” and “Born to Lose” prove that Sleigh Bells still rock. They’re still a noise-rock band, but Reign of Terror will most likely appeal to a wide-ranging audience due to it’s slightly toned down edge. This isn’t to say that Sleigh Bells turns the volume down, but rather that they add depth to the noise while simultaneously creating unique and inventive songs. Be sure not to miss Reign of Terror: it’s a keeper for sure!
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