Just two years ago, Sleigh Bells was still relatively unknown in the music industry, but with the release of their debut album, Treats, the band soon gained attention for songs that defied multiple genres at the same time. Mixing the hardcore, pounding, guitar riffs from Derek Miller’s Poison the Well days with Alexis Krauss’s breathy, pop vocals stemming from Rubyblue, it’s hard for me to tell sometimes if Sleigh Bells is pop, hip-hop, hardcore, or all three. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to hear a band that sounded so enthusiastic and energized and who weren’t afraid to wreak havoc on the headphones and stereos of their eager listeners.
Now, Sleigh Bells has released its sophomore album, Reign of Terror, after a positive performance on Saturday Night Live. The band has certainly become a lot popular recently, and it shows in their new album. While I wouldn’t call it “mainstream” or “selling out” because there still requires a particular kind of taste for the Sleigh Bells sound, Reign of Terror is a lot easier on the ears than Treats. The new album has cleaner production and songs (yes, even somewhat resembling ballads!) but still keeps the recognizable, noisy Treats sound on several songs, making the album an excellent mix of soft and loud that keeps the momentum going. Treats sometimes left my head pounding when I listened to the entire album in one sitting, but with more melodies and hooks on Reign of Terror, I felt like I could enjoy my listening experience each time from cover to cover.
Fans looking for the old Sleigh Bell sound should check out the tracks, “Born to Lose,” “Demons,” and “True Shred Guitars.” They wouldn’t be out of place on Treats, and they serve as a reminder to longtime fans of Sleigh Bells that although the band has started moving in a new direction, they’re still the same Derek and Alexis making songs that they enjoy performing for fans. But I think where the album really shines are the tracks that combine Sleigh Bell’s distinct arena sound with a touch of Phantogram’s psychedelic pop. “Comeback Kid,” “Never Say Die,” “Road to Hell,” and “Leader of the Hell” all have more looped melodies and breathy singing than I would have expected. Most of the cheerleader chants from Treats is gone. In fact, Krauss even sounds eerily similar to Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel when she’s singing along to Miller’s slower guitar riffs.
The most surprising tracks on the album though are “You Lost Me” and “End of the Line.” It’s especially clear here that Miller and Krauss were pulling in influences from indie pop. The first three minutes of “You Lost Me” are reminiscent of shoegaze–gorgeously done so–as the instrumentals layer over Krauss’s voice while she sadly sighs, “I don’t you to see me this way.” But the soft, slow singing soon turns into an anthemic finish that wouldn’t be out of place at a metal concert. In “End of the Line,” with the strong guitar melodies and slower tempo, I’m even reminded of Lily Allen’s second album, “It’s Not Me, It’s You,” sans the British accent.
Sleigh Bells manages to pull of an excellent sophomore album that moves onto a more mature sound, yet still won’t push away too many fans expecting the same style from Treats. A fair warning though: lyrics on Reign of Terror are more serious than the previous album’s. “Born to Lose” speaks of suicide with lyrics like “Will you hang like the moon from a rope in your room.” But because Sleigh Bell’s instrumentals overpower the vocals, I often listen to the albums solely for the over-the-top, adrenaline-inducing aesthetics, rather than remain fixated on what exact words Krauss is singing. Reign of Terror is full of surprises, and I expect it’ll take several more listens before I catch onto all of the subtleties that make Sleigh Bell’s sounds so memorable.