Sleigh Bells is anything but cute and cheery.
They’re loud. They push the limits of speakers and headphones, creating that overcharged buzz, no matter what volume they’re being played at.
They’re made of a guy who has mastered both his guitar and the art of music production and a black-haired Cleopatra-esqe chick fully clad in leather and tattoos. They’re rock and roll squealing guitars with hip-hop, dance-ready beats and a breathy feminine voice to lighten it all up.
The rock-duo made of Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller has been tearing up stages and ears of unsuspecting listeners since their union in 2009. Even before releasing their first album, the band drew attention from their live shows and received interest from big-names like M.I.A. and Beyoncè.
After the success of their first full-length album, “Treats,” a crunk-sounding album filled with songs that pleased critics and made their way onto several commercials, it was unclear what direction Sleigh Bells would head next—stick to what had worked for them already or branch to something new? Would we get sick of another album with the exact same sound, or would we hate it if they changed their style too far?
We feared for the worst, and instead got “Reign Of Terror,” a phenomenal sophomore album both lyrically and musically.
Opening with the live styled “True Shred Guitar,” Krauss literally screams to a cheering crowd that they’re nowhere close to slowing down. The song starts the album out on a fiery note—dropping curse words, references to M16s, and lyrics that beg listeners to “Burn the streets/Baby, please.” Miller’s guitar makes squeals and drives that match, if not surpass, anything we’ve heard from him before, while Krauss growls and shouts away.
But aside from “True Shred Guitar,” which might just be the band’s way of saying that, yeah, they still got it, “Reign Of Terror” is quieter, cleaner, easier on the ears than “Treats,” and yet, a more powerful and effective rock album. The static and twisted guitar trills have gained an appreciation for ‘80s style metal and have been set back, saving their full power for their solos.
Krauss’ voice is found on top of the sounds, belting out melodies more often. The hip-hop beats are less prevalent, keeping the party in the background, as the album’s lyrics become more raw, the sound more vulnerable.
Much like The White Stripes, the guy/girl pair works wonders for Sleigh Bells. When the guitar gets too rough, Krauss’ sweet voice brings the sound back to a cool center. And while the lyrics would otherwise be repetitive in songs like “Crush,” Miller’s guitar riffs and distortions bring strength to otherwise pop-like moments of the album.
The greatest evidence in the band’s growth is found in the lyrics. Miller wrote many of the lines after losing his father in a motorcycle accident and learning of his mother’s diagnosis of cancer. Parts of “Reign Of Terror” reflect the darkness Miller must have been facing.
“Leader of the Pack” features lines like “It’s over/ Don’t you know he’s never coming back again?” “Demons,” easily the darkest song the band has ever produced, cheers for the bad guys to win, while “Born To Lose” repeats over and over lyrics telling that “You were born to lose,” providing no other hope.
There are bright spots, though. On “Comeback Kid,” Krauss belts out a supportive, fight-back kind of pep rally, while “Never Say Die” shows a true-blue loyalty. And then there are the few girly, lovey-dovey songs on the album.
Fair warning for sensitive ears: Sleigh Bells is rough, dark and scary. But they’re at their best this way. “Reign Of Terror” is fantastic for those who can handle it.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars