In high school my favorite music genres were two that I never thought could be combined: hardcore and pop. It makes sense that there isn’t a “hardcore-pop” genre; the two are so vastly different. This was true, until Sleigh Bells came onto the scene in 2008.
CUI's Avalon Jacka writes on her personal feelings for the album "Reign of Terror" released in 2008. (Courtesy Mom & Pop records)
The Brooklyn-based duo, consisting of guitarist Derek Miller and vocalist Alexis Krauss, seamlessly combined the heaviness of hardcore with the fun and lightness of pop on their debut album Treats. Based on their backgrounds, it is obvious why the two used these conflicting sounds. Before meeting Krauss, Miller was a guitarist for the hardcore band, Poison the Well. Krauss’ pop roots come from her time in the teen pop group Rubyblue.
On their sophomore album Reign of Terror released Feb. 14, Sleigh Bells experiments even more with this odd pairing of genres, bringing more pop into their hardcore sound.
Reign of Terror is a more ethereal take on the grungy, guitar-and-bass-heavy sound that Sleigh Bells had on Treats. Although the metal-influenced guitar is still prevalent, tracks like Never Say Die and Road to Hell feature lighter aesthetics such as bells and vocal fade-ins. Overall, the album sounds like the airy track Rill Rill - off Treats - combined with the heavy guitar riffs from the rest of their debut.
The album starts with a roar of applause, with Krauss and Miller warming up in the background. The duo get right into the hardcore sound they are known for. Krauss doesn’t carry a melody; instead, she shout-sings her way through the leading track, True Shred Guitar. She maintains this style of singing through the tracks Born to Lose and Crush though Krauss uses a more girly sound in these tracks.
Both tracks are drum-heavy, but the poppy hook balances them out.
End of the Line is the perfect example of Sleigh Bells’ more matured sound on Reign of Terror with the tempo coming down significantly revealing the group’s sound diversity. Although the drums are still hardcore-influenced, they take a back seat to Krauss’ airy vocals. Maintaining the balance of pop and hardcore, Miller plays a metal-like guitar riff, toned down to help feature Krauss.
The album’s single, Comeback Kid, is as catchy as herpes, and it’s just as hard to get rid of it.
The double-bass drum and light-hearted keyboard riff hook you in like no other riff in music today. I have found myself listening to Comeback Kid seven times in a row. I always tell myself, “Just one more time!” and an hour later, I realize it’s probably time for a break. Hell, I’ve listened to it five times in the past three hours. It’s a good thing Comeback Kid isn’t a drug, because I would be in rehab by now.
The last third of Reign of Terror exemplifies the new sound of Sleigh Bells. Road to Hell, You Lost Me, Never Say Die and D.O.A. all feature the slower tempo, laid-back drums, and light vocals that are also heard in End of the Line.
As a long-time fan of Sleigh Bells, I like this sound for them, but I’m not sure if I love it. The heavy sound of Treats, which was both poppy and beautiful at the same time, is what made me love Sleigh Bells initially. Although the duo’s sound is different, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It shows that Sleigh Bells is evolving. Fans may not like it, but it’s an important thing for any musician to do.
Besides, they have managed to stay true to their roots while growing as a band, which is all a fan could ask for.
The album ends with D.O.A., by far the most beautiful song on the album. The evolution from their core sound on Treats to that on Reign of Terror comes full circle on this track. D.O.A. encompasses every aspect that Sleigh Bell’s introduced on the album- light, airy vocals, and heavy-yet-delicate guitar and drums – and manages to be the most artfully done song on the album.
As a fan, I couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying ending.
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Vintage holiday album review: “Elvis’ Christmas Album”
- Review: Broken Bells
- Concert Review: School of Seven Bells
- Music Buff: of Montreal’s “Paralytic Stalks”
- Music Buff: Panic! at the Disco “Vices & Virtues”