As a relatively young band, Sleigh Bells have made a name for themselves with volume.
Their 2009 debut, “Treats,” bore a trademark of incredible loudness. From the opening “Tell ‘Em” to the closing title track, every song—even the slowest and softest of them—was unrelenting and unrefined; but listeners never neglected to turn the record up because the music was so fun to listen to.
Sleigh Bells’ sophomore effort, “Reign of Terror,” brings a new, more polished sound to the band’s repertoire.
There are a greater number of slower songs and more emotional lyrics, and they sound less like they were recorded with an iPhone.
But make no mistake—the volume is still there.
On “Reign of Terror,” it’s simply reincarnated in a variety of different elements. “True Shred Guitar,” the opening track, suggests an overtone of arena rock—the first third of it is a live recording of Sleigh Bells in New Orleans, complete with heavy, echoing guitars by Derek Miller and a screaming crowd led by vocalist Alexis Krauss.
These overtones remain present throughout the record. Instead of synthesized beats holding prevalence as they did on “Treats,” Miller’s guitar takes the lead. The riffs are minimalistic, but they’re loud and propel all the other musical elements. Coupled with Krauss’s pop background, the product sounds like the love child of Cyndi Lauper and Def Leppard
This is exactly what Miller wanted to achieve on “Reign of Terror”—in an interview with Spin Magazine, he said he was at a crossroads with the conflicting pop and rock elements of “Treats.”
“With ‘Treats’ it was less clear to me whether Sleigh Bells was going to be a guitar band or if we were going to do more sample-heavy stuff,” he said in an interview with Spin’s David Marchese in late 2011. “With this record I had to pick sides. The beats are still important to me, but the guitar won.”
Sleigh Bells allow those beats to play a major role on “Reign of Terror” through their ingenious use of layering.
The guitars, synths, percussion and Krauss’s floating vocals are inserted at different intervals in each song to create a noise-pop fugue.
This is most evident on “End of the Line.” The track begins with a foundation of steady percussion, an understated guitar and a chanting vocal from Krauss; then a comparatively blistering hi-hat permeates at the start of the verse.
In the chorus the guitar becomes more strident and apparent, and later the hi-hat gets a subtle but equally swift bass drum to accompany it. All these pieces fit together so seamlessly that the listener is compelled to sing and dance along.
Layers are also used hypnotically well on “Never Say Die,” the penultimate track.
The entire instrumentation maintains a rapid pace; the guitar’s range stays within just a few notes; and Krauss’s vocal hooks and quick cadence induce a sonic trance.
The lyrics don’t quite rhyme, but the phonetic dissonance isn’t noticeable because the music is so bewitching.
Despite pushing their sound in a new direction, Sleigh Bells were sure to keep some of the essential features of “Treats” that worked so well. “Demons” is to “Reign of Terror” as “Infinity Guitars” was to “Treats”
The guitar is commanding, the percussion is driving and bombastic, and Krauss’s spoken vocals bid listeners to scream along with her.
Additionally, the pulsing bass drum cadence and spatial guitars of “Born to Lose,” the record’s lead single, are somewhat reminiscent of the aforementioned “Tell ‘Em.”
Some songs, like the closing “D.O.A.,” effectively use the gasping vocal samples that were an underplayed trademark of several tracks on “Treats.”
This perfectly mixed concoction of old and new gives “Reign of Terror” a diversity its predecessor lacked. It’s a bit difficult to adjust to at first, since “Treats” conditioned Sleigh Bells’ listeners to its raw volume.
But the new sound is one all their own. It proves Krauss and Miller have a great deal of maturity and are willing to push themselves creatively, and know how to have a good time doing it.
This album, “Reign of Terror” surely heralds more good—and loud—things to come from Sleigh Bells.