Like The Jesus And Mary Chain before it, Sleigh Bells arrived with 2010’s Treats riding a one-trick pony—a pony the size of a tank. The band’s pairing of tinnitus guitars and sugared vocals was an effective team-up, and fresh and credible enough to win its hip jock jams—singer Alexis Krauss wears a Chicago Bulls jersey at shows—an audience that wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in the same borough as a stadium. Reign Of Terror takes a step back from Treats’ sheer assault, dialing down the red-lining guitar volume to vintage Metallica levels and leaving more room for Krauss’ crystalline cooing.
In a promising new direction, “End Of The Line” nods to the shattered Cyndi Lauper nightmares of bands such as Crystal Castles, a warped ’80s pop sound that re-emerges in the softer moments of “You Lost Me” and “D.O.A.” The New York Times recently covered Derek Miller’s family tragedies, and the album’s ostensibly a darker affair. “I know it’s hard but / you gotta deal with it,” Krauss sings on “Comeback Kid,” but the lyrics don’t get much deeper than that. That’s not to question their earnestness, just the narrative: Ever the cipher, Krauss rarely delivers enough story within her repetitive verses to make them stick over the rhythmic bombast. Even when her words are reduced to syllables, though, she’s a charismatic presence, giving a melancholic tint to “Leader Of The Pack” and appearing both frantic and dream-like on “Comeback Kid.”
However, without its shocking abrasion, the band’s take on ironic metal feels tiresome. “True Shred Guitar,” which features an Axl Rose-like call-out (“On your knees! On your knees!”) could do with more actual shredding. On “Born To Lose” and “Crush,” Miller plays so few chords, it’s as if he’s stepping back after each strum to admire them.
The band’s underground success is in large part a commentary on the power of appearance: There’s a thin line separating “Demons,” with its chugging power chords and lyrics on tearing an enemy down “brick by brick,” from the virtuosic, rebellious anthems of current acts such as Paramore, but only one of those bands gets called for a Coachella slot. On Reign Of Terror, Sleigh Bells is cornered in by its own sound, unwilling to risk more adventurous metal excursions or get vulnerable enough to fully embrace its emerging lighter side.