The independent news organization of Duke University

Sleigh Bells

I really hate to be a curmudgeon about Sleigh Bells.

They’ve only ever been about making fun, catchy, loud-as-f*** pop music; it’s not like they’ve tried to make any John Maus-esque pretense about how their neo-hair-metal stylings are a reaction to a passive culture of irony. I want to write good things about Sleigh Bells, because doing the opposite implies some really unsavory, misdirected, holier-than-thou cultural snobbery—“Sleigh Bells? Yeah, they’re OK. Not much in the way of subtlety, though. Have you heard that new Sandro Perri record?”

The problem with Reign of Terror isn’t that it lacks thematic depth or compositional nuance. Sleigh Bells’ 2010 debut Treats was an awesome party record, and it possessed neither of those qualities. It’s not the faux-live intro “True Shred Guitar,” either; it’s not a pleasant track, but I was totally willing to forgive Treats its own too-heavy-on-the-heavy-metal misstep, “Straight A’s.” Where Reign of Terror falls down is pretty well encapsulated by the album-concluding four-track run from “Road to Hell” to “D.O.A.”

Here’s how it goes: Derek Miller plays a single guitar riff, without interruption, for the entirety of each song. As with much of the rest of the album, he uses a lot of delay and chorus on all four of these riffs. Alexis Krauss sporadically contributes those familiarly breathless vocals, with varying degrees of decipherability, that do very little to interrupt the tedium. Every single one of these tracks is asking, pleading, praying for a bridge, and Miller, the unmerciful creator, summarily denies each of them. It’s a painful, inexplicable sequence that lasts either 16 minutes or an eternity, depending on how closely you’re paying attention.

There is other, better material on this album. “Crush” and “Comeback Kid,” and to a lesser extent, “Born To Lose,” all recapture the incongruous exuberance that characterized Treats: Krauss’ brash girl-group punk over top of some adrenalized “We Will Rock You” guitars. “End of the Line” is another enjoyable bit of misdirection, a run-of-the-mill Pains of Being Pure at Heart track that suddenly kicks into double-time and layers some chugging Ratatat guitars during the verses.

These are some of the highlights, but they do little to interrupt the monotony of Reign of Terror. That’s a problem for Sleigh Bells because the sound that they’re known for, while it’s awfully good fun, is more than a little abrasive. On Treats, they had the advantage of novelty working for them; they also broke up the more bracing material with timely changes of pace: the Crystal Castles-biting “Rachel,” the straightforward summery pop of “Rill Rill.” An album of nothing but “Infinity Guitars” would not only have been a rather painful listen, it would have made “Infinity Guitars” less of a delirious sugar high in context. But that’s basically what Sleigh Bells have done on Reign of Terror. It’s a regression, one with such a single-minded focus on the central heavy-metal gimmick that it proves the value of their debut by contrast.


Share and discuss “Sleigh Bells” on social media.