On paper, Sleigh Bells’ act sounds crazy: take a female pop singer, a heavy metal guitarist, and a few hip hop beats, and crank up the volume to its max. Yet somehow, Alexis Kraus and Derek Miller brought all these components together with surprising cohesion on their debut “Treats,” whose sound was bold, fun, and unlike anything before it.
For “Reign of Terror,” the duo’s second outing, the challenge was to show that Treats wasn’t just a one-off success, and that they could go somewhere new with their strange style. Although Sleigh Bells does indeed try out some new sounds on this album, they ultimately deliver a collection only decent songs that lack the freshness and excitement of their debut.
“Reign” begins with “True Shred Guitar,” a superfluous track consisting primarily of Kraus shouting to a cheering crowd. Early single “Born to Lose” follows, and although it contains many of the elements of a great Sleigh Bells song, Kraus’ deflated vocals during the chorus keep it from reaching any great heights.
From there, the album reaches its strongest stretch, with the danceable “Crush,” the laid-back “End of the Line,” and the addictive “Comeback Kid” providing the energy and creativity that define Sleigh Bells’ sound. “Comeback Kid” in particular is Sleigh Bells at its finest—hard-hitting guitar licks paired up with Kraus’ sweet and encouraging vocals make it this album’s “Tell ‘Em.”
Despite a few nice moments, “Reign” slides into a mid-tempo rut after the shouty “Demons,” which is a strange issue for a band known for its unbridled energy. While there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the last four tracks, there’s also not much to distinguish them, and Miller’s guitar work is sadly underutilized. In each other’s company, they make for a bland experience that fails to leave much of an impression.
Besides its recorded music, Sleigh Bells is known for its rousing live performances, and it’s likely that many of these songs will find new life in that setting. Until then, the question as to whether Sleigh Bells is an act that can continue to stay fresh remains unanswered.