A pair clad in shredded jeans and retro sunglasses, toting electric guitars, stacks of amps and pedals, and plenty of attitude step onstage. Brace your ears.
Ever since Sleigh Bells’ 2010 debut Treats, the pop-hardcore collaborative team Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller have taken the indie sect by storm. Almost literally. Their amp-exploding, eardrum-bursting sound is bar sonically overwhelming, but after the initial shock, the energy seems to catch feverishly. Coachella Fest bestowed Sleigh Bells a rather substantial slot in the 2011 lineup, and hype for the duo’s future has been well generated to say the least.
February 21, their sophomore album Reign of Terror dropped with the delivery of an ethereal sledgehammer, combining the grunge of metal guitars, the dance rhythms of hip-hop beats, and the dreaminess of 80’s pop. The album intros with a live recording of a crowd-pumping “True Shred Guitar,” as if to hearken to their previous success and taunt listeners to get ready for more. Enter in first single “Born to Lose,” a gut-puncher with staccato guitar riffs backed by haunting vocals. The sass fires up even more with “Crush” as it stomps in with clap-lead beats, Krauss shouting an addictive refrain, “Make you or break you!”
From there on, the album finds itself leaving some of the fist-pumping sassiness and weaving in and out of slower, more methodical jams. At some points, with “You Lost Me” and “Never Say Die,” the slower pace causes the tracks to flounder a bit in their thick sound structure of repeated lines and riffs that lack significant contrast in tones. However, other tracks successfully use the unhurried rates, including “End of the Line” and “Road to Hell,” which channel Cyndi Lauper-esque vibes due to Krauss’ crooning, airy vocals outlined by calculated guitar wails and gunshot drums.
And “Leader of the Pack,” kicked off with a rifle shot, is certainly just as shred-worthy. The methodical pace allows the track to get grungy with heavy layers of distorted effects and grinding guitars, and Krauss’ vocals match the tone as she sings about the death of a loved one: “You know it’s over / Don’t you know / he’s never coming back.”
The direction towards somber lyrics reflects the dark experiences of death in Miller’s family, and this seems to account for the differences in tone between Treats and Reign of Terror. Even so, the lyrics are simplistic if not ambiguous in meaning. Though Krauss can chalk up the melancholy with repetitive lines, “No one loves you / up above / no one hears you / no one sees you” from “End of the Line,” the overall intensity of Sleigh Bells’ sound safely refrains from angsty weepiness, and these tough issues are presented in a this-is-how-life-goes sort of way.
And in response, second single “Comeback Kid” drums up the adrenaline with the anthem of a survivor, energized with infectious guitar chugga-chuggas contrasting sugary vocals. The hardcore peak of the album, “Demons” follows with howling effects before it attacks the listener with feisty chants and raw, crunching guitars to headbang to.
The concluding song, “D.O.A.,” spotlights Krauss’ vocals by providing a downplayed backdrop of distorted guitars and effects. The overall affect is as haunting as the last lines: “Wipe the blood from your nose / how come nobody knows / how the chorus should go / remember who you are.”
Though perhaps not as explosive as Sleigh Bells’ debut, Reign of Terror sure offers plenty of material to blow your speakers out to. Their unique sonic assault with its blend of heavy and light, rough and soft, all shot out with a sassy stare, will keep the indie fans following with ecstatic awe.