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We loved Sleigh Bells’s 2010 debut album, ‘Treats’. By December, some six months after its release, it remained our second favourite record of the year – a gnarly mix of shredding metal guitar, slamming hip-hop bass-beats and doe-eyed female pop vocals, all concocted in the bedroom of Derek E. Miller, a bored hardcore punk from Florida, Orlando. ‘Reign of Terror’ suggests it was a one-shot deal, though.

For a start, the overall BPM has drastically dropped, from violent thrash-pop to the band’s much sweeter side, until now only seen on ‘Treats’’ standout ballad (of sorts), ‘Rill Rill’. Of course, that wouldn’t be all bad if the tracks stood up, but largely they don’t, the main culprits being ‘Leader of The Pack’, through which Alex Krauss harmonises with herself over twinkly xylophones while Miller ham-fistedly crunches power chords over the top, and ‘You Lost Me’, which is forgettable even while you’re listening to it.

It doesn’t help that Miller’s drum machine seems only capable of booming out the same abrupt beat that got Sleigh Bells through their last album – it just gets in the way now, although admittedly of songs that would otherwise sound dangerously close to those of Atomic Kitten, like ‘End of The Line’ and ‘Road To Hell’. And that’s what’s most disconcerting about ‘Reign of Terror’ – what the hell is it meant to be? As the opening ‘True Shred Guitar’ has us believing, beginning with a bootleg recording of one of the band’s live shows, this isn’t an album swinging for the mainstream, and yet it completely lacks the underground aggression and relative psychosis of the band’s last. God knows how it’s going to translate live – too slow to thrash to, not pretty enough to quietly appreciated, thanks to Miller’s endlessly blasting power riffs and bending of strings. It’s as if Sleigh Bells have partly adapted to a mellower sound (or at least Krauss – originally of major label girl pop band RubyBlue – has), partly refused to change their ways.

And yet, their prime concept – that of combining and colliding punk and metal with hip hop and girlish, cerebral pop, in the way that they do – is no less radical than it’s ever been, and occasionally (and especially on ‘Comeback Kid’) ‘Reign of Terror’ reminds of that. Occasionally, mind.

By Stuart Stubbs

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