Sleigh Bells exploded onto the art house indie scene in 2010 when they dropped their irrepressible debut album Treats. While other Pitchfork favourites buried their tunes beneath complex smears and dreamy soundscapes subtly subverting the mainstream, Sleigh Bells simply smashed the door to crossover success down. Their assault was relentless. It felt like an army of lobotomized and fully deranged cheerleaders were wielding chainsaw guitars and launching a brain-dead assault on your cranium.
Few will forget the feeling of hearing “Tell ‘Em” or “Kids” for the first time, the audio onslaught of slamming of guitars and skipping beats were a revelation. In 2012 however, Sleigh Bells are a known quantity, they won’t be sneaking up on anybody, and the question remains: without the shock and aura of the new can sophomore LP Reign Of Terror win over an expectant audience?
“Born To Lose”, leaked online in advance of lead single “Comeback Kid”, certainly suffers as it monotonously grinds under the weight of its own portentous riffing and arbitrary double bass pedal bursts. The now familiar palette of sounds fail to capture the imagination despite Alexis Krauss best efforts on the rabble rousing album opening hype track “True Shred Guitar”.
Thankfully, after the obnoxiously one dimensional aural barrage that opens Reign Of Terror the duo slowly begin to rediscover their sense of sass and charisma. “Crush” prowls in truly domineering fashion as Alexis hunts callously her prey. Self confident to the extreme, “Crush” threatens to grate before finding its natural counterpoint in the more fragile “End Of The Line”. A willowy blend of sentimental American rock tricks and twinkling J-pop keys that proves surprisingly deft and strangely endearing.
Sleigh Bells willingness to embrace and reclaim the most odious elements of “bad taste” pop made Treats a jarring delight and, at times, they repeat the trick on Reign Of Terror. “Leader Of The Pack” co-opts syrupy chimes alongside a slamming Pat Benatar on steroids bridging riff. This nerdier and more relatable Sleigh Bells is in constant battle with their brazen and jarring alter ego, and for every oddly approachable of Southern waltz (“Road To Hell”) and warped withering love song (“You Lost Me”) there’s a non descript wall of bruising chords (“Demons”) and a tiring grind (“Born To Lose”).
Ultimately Reign Of Terror has seen Sleigh Bells ratchet up the intensity and attitude as they ride an array of monolithic riffs. At times, Sleigh Bells appear over confident as if they’re self-evidently the shit, but between these more conceited moments Sleigh Bells unveil a more thoughtful and vulnerable character with an eye-catching turn of phrase (“Face Down In The Dirt, In A Mini Skirt”).
Sadly neither persona truly dominates the record in a satisfying fashion; Reign Of Terror neither overawes the listener through sheer force, nor does it seduce with quirky genre bending charm. Instead, Sleigh Bells have fudged it, creating a competent album that lacks both the thrills of the extreme and the shock of the new. David Hayter