Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

written by: February 20, 2012
Release Date: February 21st, 2012


Here is a generalization, if you will, about a couple of typical Sleigh Bells fans.

Meet Rob. In his words, he’s “a musician with a bartending hobby.” His favorite group is The Smiths, and his most played Sleigh Bells song is the low-key “Rill Rill.” For the band’s sophomore album, Reign of Terror, he’s hoping for less screeching bombast and more melodic emphasis. Now meet Rob’s friend Ashley. She’s an account executive by day, post-collegiate party girl by night. Her favorite artist is Kanye West, her favorite Sleigh Bells song is the uptempo “Kids.” When she heard the news about the new album’s release, she was anticipating a new level of speaker-abusing blare. Who gets their way?

Trick question: neither of them.

On the Brooklyn duo’s 2010 debut, Treats, Sleigh Bells mixed these two dynamics to create a sound like Swizz Beatz leading a pep rally (if you closed your eyes, you’d could almost expect Jadakiss or Drag-On to start spitting over the throwback bounce of “Crown on the Ground”).

Treats stood out because it was physical, aggressive music in a landscape suffering from muscular atrophy. Two years later, Sleigh Bells no longer have novelty on their side, and Skrillex just scooped up Grammys like a shopper with no time for a cart. But while it ain’t no dubstep, Reign is also neither carbon copy nor total reinvention. Instead, Alexis “Sexi Lexi” Krauss and perpetually Ray Banned guitarist Derek Miller have cooked up the same dish with added spices.

Remember that Year Punk Broke-meets-Evita album trailer? Reign of Terror takes the teaser’s most chilling moments and stretches them across 11 tracks. Krauss’ lullabye vocals still follow those simple 1-2-3-2 patterns over meathead guitar riffs, but now there are wails of feedback, ghostly winds and creeping ambience dripping down the sides. Songs like “Demons” coo and bang in perfect harmony, and when Krauss sneers, “They’re gonna bury you/They’re gonna finish/They’re gonna lay you out brick by brick by brick,” you can’t help but want to join the torch mob.

Sleigh Bells isn’t the first act to mix the bile and the beautiful (hey, Annie Clark), but in 2012, they’re certainly the loudest and most confident. Opener “True Shred Guitar” feels less like a song and more like a warm-up exercise, with an intro worthy of professional wrestling—maybe a Billy Corgan collaboration is in their future? Just get past Krauss shrieking like Kid Rock’s miniature hype man, Joe C., and Miller’s Queen-esque licks blow away any unbecoming comparisons.

That’s just the opening credits for a conceptually cohesive work about a “Comeback Kid” who overcomes her “Demons” to become the “Leader of the Pack” (seriously, almost every title is a clue in this plot). Sleigh Bells’ forte is the “advice song,” where Krauss sweetly empathizes with someone looking for direction. Reign of Terror is full of these, and sometimes the advice comes at her expense. Over the finger snaps and hand claps of the chilly slow dance “Road to Hell,” Krauss tells someone close to her to get away for their own good. When the percussion makes the title phrase sound like “go to hell,” it’s herself the narrator is speaking to, sick of vultures and vices holding her back from what she knows she’s capable of.

The lyrics have added power when songs such as “Crush” and “End of the Line” emphasize melody over muscle, and for that, fans like Rob should be satisfied until that subdued, post-tour burnout album comes along. “End of the Line” is particularly arresting, its guitar line evoking a nocturnal scene of empty city streets and suggesting Sleigh Bells could truly excel if they chose to follow their more introspective ruminations.

How fitting that the album closes without closure—the narrative’s gritty optimism ends with “D.O.A.,” where “nobody really knows how the chorus should go.” On Reign of Terror, Sleigh Bells aim to please both the Robs and Ashleys out there and leave both (equally legitimate) desires partially unfulfilled as a result. Still, with stronger melodies and more menace, these treats are sweeter than before. Dig in.

Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror tracklist:

  1. “True Shred Guitar”
  2. “Born to Lose”
  3. “Crush”
  4. “End of the Line”
  5. “Leader of the Pack”
  6. “Comeback Kid”
  7. “Demons”
  8. “Road to Hell”
  9. “You Lost Me”
  10. “Never Say Die”
  11. “D.O.A.”