Reign of Terror disappoints
Part of what made Sleigh Bells’ 2010 release Treats so enjoyable was the band’s seemingly effortless juxtaposition of loud, distorted rock guitar and calm, airy vocals. Singer Alexis Krauss’ voice stood out, working with guitarist Derek Miller’s chaos, not competing with it. The noise pop duo appears to have attempted to do this again with Reign of Terror, but the result is an overly loud, unbalanced mess of underdeveloped melodies and empty vocals.
Throughout the album, Sleigh Bells merely amplifies their sound instead of adding depth or pushing their creativity in song writing. Krauss’ breathy vocals simply don’t stand up to the sound of the added guitars. The resulting effect is a noise-heavy album that lacks interesting melodic content. Poorly mastered and over-compressed, any sort of dynamic range in the album is lost. While this is a stylistic trend for the duo, it makes for a difficult and exhausting 36 minutes of listening.
The album opens with a live recording of “True Shred Guitar,” featuring Krauss screaming “New Orleans! What the f**k is up?” over heavy guitars and cheers from the audience. Setting the tone for the rest of the album, Krauss succeeds in building energy, but is left competing with Miller’s guitar work.
The album does have some strong tracks. “Demons,” a heavy, anthemic song with a simple but strong guitar riff and powerful vocals, stands out among the other tracks. The song’s lyrics are lacking in quality, as with most songs on the album, but it can stand on its own. “You Lost Me” is a dreamy pop ballad with catchy vocals; unfortunately, the guitar riff is annoyingly repetitive and takes away from Krauss’ simple, easy singing.
While some critics have praised the album for showing a more sophisticated approach, Reign of Terror is less successful for that exact reason. Although the duo might have planed these songs more carefully or made more conscious decisions about songwriting, the album seems to be trying too hard to find the balance that came so easily in Treats.
It’s hard to deny the catchy melody of “Rill Rill,” the hit song from Treats that you found yourself singing along to the first time you heard it. Reign of Terror, however, seems to lack such a singular, melodic masterpiece. In fact, the album lacks any sort of hook to sing along to, leaving the listener disappointed and lost in a sea of a half dozen guitars. The charm that was all over Treats has all but dissipated into the mess of this new release.
The album ends on a much more enjoyable note than it begins — but that’s not saying much. If anything, Reign of Terror serves as a rude reminder of the limits of compression. The album pales in comparison to the band’s first release and would perhaps be best to listen to after a few drinks.