When you notice that an album contains tracks called ‘Leader of the Pack’ and ‘Road to Hell’, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone somewhere is pulling your leg. When the album in question opens with an immaculate pastiche of a stadium rock live recording, complete with brain dead pomp (‘New Orleans! Let’s go!’) and bad tuning up, this impression looks well founded.
Thankfully, Brooklyn-based duo Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss are far too savvy for that. As is their record company in releasing Sleigh Bells’ follow-up to the modest success (and tinnitus-inspiring power) of 2010 debut ‘Treats’ ahead of the new offering from fellow boy-girl noise poppers, The Ting Tings. Smart move, although there is sufficient craft and energy in ‘Reign of Terror’s eleven songs, six or seven of which could confidently be used as singles, to suggest that it was never in danger of being overshadowed.
For a start there’s ‘Born to Lose’, with its staccato, shoegaze-y chug and shouty chorus that puts a gloss over some deliciously barbed lyrics. The industrial, machine-gun drums on ‘Comeback Kid’ fade beneath Krauss’ cajoling, airy vocal, while Miller’s blitzkrieg guitar and the call-and-response anti-chorus on ‘Demons’ makes for as unequivocal a track as you may expect from an album that features a pair of blood spattered plimsolls as its cover art.
The parameters of guitar, drum machine and voice may not be the broadest, but there is nothing one-dimensional or, for that matter, one-paced about ‘Reign of Terror’. Its lighter moments do not always convince entirely but when they do, as on the Black Box Recorder-esque ‘End of the Line’, it sounds effortless. Elsewhere, the infectious hook and dumb cheerleader chants on ‘Crush’ create the right blend of bubblegum sass and punk edge. It’s the kind of song you imagine that the kids hired to dance in the ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ video would all have had on their i-pod . . . erm, Walkman.
By design, one assumes, ‘Reign of Terror’s biggest tunes are loaded at the back end. Far from being a Chris Rea cover, ‘Road to Hell’ is a muscular break-up song not so much in the ‘I will survive’ mould as the ‘not sure how you’ll cope and don’t much care, actually’ vein. The pay-off lines (‘Don’t run away from me, baby, just go away from me’) sound even more brutal when delivered in Krauss’ angelic, almost-not-there voice.
‘You Lost Me’, the album’s most accomplished song, is what might happen if Kevin Shields collaborated with M.I.A. While Miller gives his effects pedal a work out, Krauss describes (with no little affection) the suicidal actions of ‘two teenage metal heads’ that play out behind a convenience store, apparently alluding to the one thing that everyone knows about Judas Priest.
On such a terrifically entertaining record, you might expect a song like ‘You Lost Me’ to stand out as a down note – quite the reverse, in fact. And when that happens, you know you are on to a winner. This is a record that deserves to sell by the wheelbarrow load.