Sleigh Bells‘ debut album Treats was a marvel if only for its sheer loudness. In its entire 32 minute run, from the rapid-fire drum sample and fiery guitar lead that open the record onward, the album barely let up. This was all courtesy of Derek Edward Miller’s production. On top of this mélange however, was Alexis Krauss, who formerly sang in a teen pop group called Rubyblue. Her pop-based chants gave even the noisiest tracks something to grab onto. The funny thing is, that as satisfying as this combination was with its in-the-red drum machine loops and overdriven riffs, the best track on the album was arguably the acoustic pop number “Rill Rill,” the moment at which Sleigh Bells’ hook-laden melodies really came together.
If Sleigh Bells never really try to replicate that moment, they at least seem completely aware of the melodic abilities the song displayed and really hone in on them on second album Reign of Terror. Granted, this isn’t immediately apparent. The album even opens with a song called “True Shred Guitar,” which features Krauss yelling rock clichés over a cheering crowd for a minute before a pummeling guitar riff kick starts the record. It may actually be one of the least pop moments the band has at this point and probably not so coincidentally, their most disposable as well. Even the song that follows, “Born to Lose,” opens with a riff that announces itself in an over-the-top sort of way that it’s completely badass, and comes complete with a drum machine track that’s even more exaggerated than the guitars. This time however, when Krauss enters, it’s with some of the best melodies we’ve heard from her yet. By the song’s coda, the drums and metal guitars are out (for the most part) and we’re left with little more than a clean guitar progression that’s actually quite pretty.
Herein lays the paradigm shift from the first record. If Treats represented Sleigh Bells in its purest state, Reign of Terror takes the attributes that made that record so exhilarating and takes them up a few notches, sometimes to the point of a knowing ridiculousness. Most of the tracks feature a combination of punishing riffs, some form of feedback and incredibly catchy vocal hooks. “End of the Line,” for one, is one the most irresistible songs you’re likely to hear all year. Featuring dynamic shifts formerly unheard of in a Sleigh Bells song, Krauss’ layered vocals are immaculately arranged. “You Lost Me” occupies a similar vein and by turns is entirely captivating. Not surprisingly, like “Rill Rill” before it, these songs are also two of the few tracks on the record that don’t strive for something purposefully overblown.
Luckily, Sleigh Bells does purposefully overblown better than almost any other band out right now. On Reign of Terror, they embrace every loud rock cliché they can muster, including the use of the kind of distortion pedals not heard since Appetite for Destruction represented rock’s present, and somehow they don’t end up sounding like a cartoon. Quite the contrary, Reign of Terror is refreshing in its looseness and excels based on the pure joy felt careening out of the speakers on every listen. Has some of the novelty of their drum-machine-laden, capital-R rock diminished this time around? Sure, a little, but they easily compensate for this by highlighting their further developed sense of dynamics and pop smarts. If Reign of Terror doesn’t quite hit the high mark Treats did, it sure comes close.
Stream: Sleigh Bells – “Born to Lose”