Sleigh Bells’ “Reign of Terror” opens with the sound of a roaring crowd, a time-honored trick and tradition of heralding your own hype on the record, for the record. Alexis Krauss barks out to her band’s invisible fans as co-founder Derek Miller begins to peel back layers of break-neck guitar shreds on aptly named opener “True Shred Guitar.” It evaporates into “Born to Lose,” a sour-noted spin on well well-trod titles like “Born to Run,” “Born to Be Wild” and “Born to Fly” (and, not to ignore a recent No. 2-seller, Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die”). “End of the Line” is like a slow dance sequence from a lost John Hughes teen drama, put to the rhythm of a double kick drum.
For all the pop-influenced weird rock contemporaries in Sleigh Bells’ league – acts like M.I.A., Liars, Crystal Castles and Bonde do Rolê – the duo owes just as much to Atari 8-bit video games, Def Leppard
and Dokken. The ‘80s, metal and ‘80s metal influence is laid bare on the gnarly riff and screams on “Demons,” the guitar harmonies on “Road to Hell” and the chug-chug of “D.O.A.”
Listen to "Reign of Terror" in its entirety here.
Krauss’ voice doesn’t temper the nostalgia, she just updates it. The multi-octave vocal runs are replaced by flinty cheerleader shouts and girly gang vocals, trading places with glinting dream pop sing-songing. Outmoded descriptions of hot girls and fast cars is revised with lyrics on what happens when they crash and burn, just as the title implies. “Leader of the Pack” – another familiar title – even starts off with a bomb’s kaboom, and Krauss asking “Do you remember when / you used to sleep at night…”
Album highlight “You Lost Me” owes its exact guitar pedal sound to Eddie Van Halen
, while Krauss sounds more angelic than agitated to report the song’s sad title line. Cheesy drum machines crowd around lyrics like, “Teenage metal-heads/ in your denim vests / you’re holding hands / through your favorite bands,” giving away any remaining winking self-awareness the track has left to reveal.
Sleigh Bells do tend to lean on the drum machines and similar-sounding rhythm sections as they did on debut album “Treats,” but here it’s over 11 songs instead of nine. And there’s nothing so topically benign and mindless as “A/B Machines” on here – such repetition sounds so serious.
Still, “Reign of Terror” is detail-oriented, dark and invitingly skuzzy, loudly programmed to please. When they say “Sleigh” you will say “Bells.” When you get the urge to fist-pump, there are more than a few good reasons why.
"Reign of Terror" is out tomorrow (Feb. 21); Sleigh Bells will be opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers on their spring/summer tour.