Album Review: Reign of Terror by Sleigh Bells
Imagine a dark place where the colors are all dull and muted and brightness is only found in the sheen of crimson blood pooled on the ground. Now, in this dark place, think of an ever-watching presence that is all-knowing and all-seeing; with your every action, your hear her voice whispering, echoing, and reverberating throughout your skull. This nightmarish scenario is often how I feel when listening to Sleigh Bells’ newest album “Reign of Terror.” Even at its most optimistic, “Reign of Terror” puts the listener on edge, Alexis Kruass’s voice escapes from the dark corners of Sleigh Bell’s music while wielding the accusatory “you” to often times berate, diminish (I do), and degrade the listener. At first glance or from a distance, the album cover may seem too nice to match the dark theme Sleigh Bells presents in their music. The cover art shows a pair of shoes against white background. The shoes, which are clearly not new, are dirty, look well-worn and definitely feminine. Innocent enough, right? Except, of course, the blood splatter across the shoes which give the originally innocent image implications of something much more gruesome. In fact, every time I see that picture I cannot help but call to mind a little girl standing in those very shoes, watching someone standing in front of her being shot.
Opening with “True Shred Guitar,” Sleigh Bells provides a gateway to the rest of the album by presenting a song that, while still fits the theme with the rest of the tracks, stands apart. With the sounds of applause, Alexis’s casual introduction “New Orleans / What the fuck’s up!?” along with a guitar buildup that is reminiscent of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” “True Shred Guitar” is audibly different from the rest of “Reign of Terror.” The song does not remain this hard-charging for long; barely after a minute into the song Alexis shouts a quick countdown and the song opens. True to its name, guitar chords writhe out of the beat and emphasize the sound of Kruass’s voice like an explanation point. Sleight Bells is clearly not planning on losing time because “True Shred Guitar” makes the “Reign” in “Reign of Terror” evident as Alexis screams, “On your knees / On your knees / Suffer please”. Her voice and words make a clear point to who is in charge of her relationship. Alexis commands, “On your knees carry me” and I ask, “what right does she have to order me around?” Alexis Kruass explains her power in one simple word, “M16.” If an out of control overlord carrying around a military grade semi-automatic rifle is not enough to get your ass in gear, then I do not know what is.
Sleigh Bells follows up with “Born to Lose,” the first single from “Reign of Terror.” “Born to Lose” acts like the first steps into the world Sleigh Bells’ creates in this album. “Heard you say suicide in your sleep / just get on with it you were born to lose,” Alexis’s voice comes across like the voice of a superior rival taunting you. “Will you hang like the moon from a rope in your room / Oh, you long for it, you were born to lose,” Alexis mocks. You have always known that you were not good enough, her voice implies. Stop being a wimp and get it over with; “will you hang?” Perhaps, “a shot to the head in the back by the crib.” Does it matter how you off yourself? “You know everything, you were born to lose / Were did you go?” her voice echoes, but the unasked question still lingers in the air, “were you ever here?” Miller softly strums out the finale to “Born to Lose” and his guitar echoes softly die out, the recent attack by Kruass’s words are left ringing in my mind.
As the album progresses, Sleigh Bells refuses to give up control; the intensity of Miller’s guitar is matched only by the power of Alexis singing. “I gotta crush on / I gotta crush you / baby please / I gotta crush on / I gotta crush you now,” while remaining authoritative “Crush” takes a step back from the domineering stance the previous songs have. The lapse of aggression does not last long however, “End of the Line” follows bringing the album down to fall back into the dark. Kruass whispers out mesmerizingly, “No one loves you / up above / no one hears you / no you sees you.” Alexis sighs, “Well it’s the end of the line / so goodbye” and the sudden gunshot at the beginning of the next song puts a very bold period to the finality of “End of the Line”. The gunshot not only adds feeling to “End of the Line,” but it implies the death of someone important in “Leader of the Pack.” Alexis coos, “Now your mother cries / and nothing matters much” before she preaches of depression, “don’t you know / he’s never coming back?” Kruass is not comforting; instead she takes on the role of the devil sitting on your shoulder quietly muttering that everything is wrong.
“Comeback Kid” takes a completely opposite role, and is perhaps the happiest song on the album. , “Comeback Kid” is subtly encouraging and tells us a story of one individual and their trials through the hellish land Sleigh Bells have tried so hard to bring to life through their music. In “Comeback Kid,” Alexis takes the role of an onlooker rather than the tyrant reigning over all that she takes in previous tracks. Alexis’ encouraging, “I know it’s hard / but you have to deal with it” and constant reinforcement keeps the “kid” going so he won’t “don’t look back.” Alexis’ reassuring statement that “I know you tried so hard, but you can’t even win / you have to try a little harder, you’re the comeback kid” and “Don’t run away, because that’s a deal breaker” are unrelenting as Alexis continues to provide backhanded encouragement.
The next song, “Demons” perfectly embodies the theme of “Reign of Terror.” Alexis struts as she shouts, “You drink the wise blood / you’re going to hear about it!” Millers’ strong guitar riffs cuts through the silence to open this song and the clash of symbols soon join in the strong foundational rhythm. Miller and Kruass are a duet perfectly matched; the heavy guitar, layered music, and intense vocals of “Demons” demands attention. And I am more than happy to oblige. “Burn the orphanage / You’re going to pay for it / they will purify block by block by block,” Alexis screams, “DEMONS.” “You’ve got a vision / You’re on a mission,” Alexis commands, “And you will listen to no one else but me.” As her voice echoes throughout my headphones, I almost feel like she is talking directly to me. Her voice is like a hypnotist with a pocket watch dangling in front of my eyes and I must ask, am I the “Demon”? “And you will listen to no one else but me..” If I close my eyes, I can feel the heat from the burning orphanage. “And you will listen to no one else but me…” Her voice echoes on, there is nothing else. “And you listen to no one else but me…”
As the album finishes up, Sleigh Bells keeps their pillage and raid going, from “Road to Hell” to “D.O.A” without ever letting the aggression and self-confident swagger slip. The rifle shots in the beginning of “Road to Hell” have me thinking of the “M16” mentioned earlier in “True Shred Guitar.” Alexis sings, “We took our lives away / We wanted it this way” and the lyrics in “You Lost Me” beautifully describes the suicide of a young teens. The lyrics of “there’s blood on the door / But you’re feeling just fine / but you ran out of time”, eerily rings in my eyes as Sleigh Bells finishes “Reign of Terror” fantastically with “D.O.A”.
Sleigh Bells uncompromising music holds nothing back with this sophomore album. “Reign of Terror” is a pleasure to listen to, start to finish, as a whole album or individually. Yet, the songs comprised together are an album worthy of any music collection. Whether you have been listening to Sleigh Bells since their debut album or just recently heard of them, “Reign of Terror” stands tall as an example of Noise-Pop at its finest.