Pop music duo's sophomore album stays true to roots, adds new pizazz

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If Sleigh Bells’ 2010 album Treats came out with a rush of adrenaline, Reign of Terror is more of the aftershock to the eruption. Instead of shocking listeners with their unique blend of heavy metal, soft vocals and fast-paced beats, they’ve streamlined their sound into a more evolved foundation laid out by their debut.

However, with an introductory album that made waves for its creativity and sheer fun that gave life to what could otherwise have been a train wreck of sound, this matured departure may not please all fans. Nonetheless, Reign of Terror remains an album with a sense of subdued exhilaration that makes up for what it lacks in boldness with consistency and substance that still begs for listeners to turn up the volume — or as vocalist Alexis Krauss cries out on the album’s opening track: “I wanna see those fucking hands in the air!”

“Crush” is easily the stand-out of the album, with Krauss’s soft, dream pop vocals overlaying the heavier guitar riffs, drawing together what should normally clash into a rhythmic, lulling beat. Krauss’ vocals are more frequently used to drive the melody of the songs than in the previous album, resulting in an overall more refined production.

Similarly, the transitions between songs are generally smooth, merging into one another with mixed effects. While it may improve the album’s flow, it also creates the impression that — with the exception of a few standout tracks — the album as a whole is somewhat deficient in diversity. Guitar riffs are also much more prevalent in Reign of Terror, but often lack the complexity of those displayed by guitarist and producer Derek Miller on Treats, resulting in a somewhat underwhelming display of his talent.

“You know it didn’t have to be this way,” sings Krauss in “End of the Line,” a nostalgic interlude that marks the transition away from the softer first half of the album before quite literally exploding into the heavier, in-your-face catchiness of songs like “Demons” and “Never Say Die,” which will be more likely to satisfy fans of the duo’s previous work. However, despite the fast-paced, grittier tone of the album’s latter half, the album never loses its polished sound.

“Comeback Kid” is another highlight of Reign of Terror, with catchy riffs that act as an anthem of sorts regarding the duo’s return. In a rebuttal, both thematically and musically, to “End of the Line,” Krauss sings, “I know it’s hard, but you’ve gotta deal with it/Why don’t you look around, show me what you’re made of?”

While Reign of Terror’s sound ranges from upbeat and playful to wistfully low-fi, darker themes reign prevalent throughout the album’s lyrics. The heavier subject matters of these lyrics (with themes of loss, suicide and general melancholy) are a bit polarizing. While they inarguably have more depth than those on the band’s debut, the dichotomy of these lyrics contrasted against the fast-paced exhilaration of the music itself may be a bit jarring, but it’s also an interesting deviation from the frat party vibe prevalent on Treats.

Although perhaps not as experimental or adventurous as Treats, Reign of Terror is still a solid successor that, for the most part, avoids the dreaded sophomore slump. Treats’ edginess may have dulled into a mature sound that sometimes crosses the line into sedation, but perhaps this departure is appropriate for the duo. If nothing else, it proves that their sound is evolving into something that stays true to the momentum of Treats while still discovering new ground.

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: Pop duo trades in eccentricity for maturity in second album