By Johnny Firecloud at 10:20 AM Tuesday, February 21st 2012
Sleigh Bells’ Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss arrived in 2010 with an enticing flirtation with utter chaos on their debut, Treats, sporting snarling crunch guitars, confrontational sample-fests and pummeling electro-beats on a lunatic party record. Reign of Terror, their celebrated follow-up, draws all the trusty inspirations of a bad breakup, as processed through the cold compress of digitization. The result?
“You don’t understand, man. This is the guy from Poison The Well. You need to listen again with that in mind.”
And so I did. The fifth, sixth and seventh spins of Sleigh Bells’ sophomore release Reign of Terror were approached with all the pretense and reputation reverence I could muster, and the impact was the same: the latest blogger-craze infection is a hypercolor shot of hit-or-miss synthetics with a soul that’s difficult to pinpoint.
In some ways, Reign of Terror is a heavier guitar record, and the opening indicator True Shred Guitar teleports us to an 80s arena-rock overdrive. It is precisely what guitarist Miller calls it: “a brass, arrogant, tasteless way to start a record,” and the joke is intended to be appreciated by the skeptical. After all, the group skyrocketed into small-scale stardom among the skinny-pants legions in the span of one album, and the hype crown is an awkward fit.
Krauss’s Kiss-style goofball battle cry welcomes us at the onset: “New Orleans! What the fuck’s up? There we go – there we fucking go!” But when the first disjointed chords are blasted, Creed Shreds immediately comes to mind. Alexis counts it off for the record to start over wild cheers, and the tongue-in-cheek opening shifts immediately to computer-blast bombastics, a Soul Caliber fight scene replay soundtrack.
Demons takes Black Sabbath’s War Pigs lead and gives it the Lawnmower Man treatment, but the sneer-cheer double-vocal is disconnected under the weight of the track’s synthetics, too low in the mix under the meandering guitar lead. By the time the track dissolves in its own digital stew, the headache has set in.
As the chopping echoes of Born To Lose take hold, we clamber around the bewildering contrast of the arena-rock opening and the cold digital assault that fills the rest of Reign of Terror. Imagine a mean-streak cheerleader high on accusation, a spotlight-stealing drum machine and a guitarist in love with glam metal, and the 2012 Sleigh Bells should take form in your mind. The sentiments never quite seem authentic, the architecture always a little too obtuse as the duo bound between blast-rush Sims-arena anthems (Demons, Crush) and chilly melancholia (End of The Line, D.O.A.), doubling back again.
The duo hits a sweet spot in their formula with Comeback Kid, where Nirvana’s In Bloom inspires a positively infectious aggression laced with a saccharine vocal that digs into the part of the mind that seems to become most active when it’s time to sing in the shower. By contrast, Leader of The Pack‘s identity runs in too many different directions, an unconvincingly earnest sentiment.
The Sleigh Bells sound is massively compressed, amplified and shoved in your face, a shot of hyperactive sonic claustrophobia that demands listening on its own terms. An attack on the senses and a celebration of organic deprivation, Reign of Terror is a raw, cold slab of spit-shine polished digitization.