Sleigh Bells’ first album, Treats, was like a sonic sucker punch out of left field – a raucous burst of noise pop, crashing guitars, and electronic samples that all built up to be one of the best (and most exciting) albums of 2010. Pair that with their loud, mind-numbing, and electrically exciting live shows and you have an act that blew up immediately, selling out shows within minutes, appearing on Saturday Night Live, and opening on an arena tour for the Red Hot Chili Peppers (yes, those Red Hot Chili Peppers). With all of that, their sophomore album was easily one of the most anticipated coming out this year (not only by me, but just about every major music publication that exists) – so do they live up to the high standards set by their debut release?

First: the bad news. Remember how in the lead-up to this album, they talked about taking a step back from the heavy guitars and samples to focus more on songwriting and melodies? Well, they did pretty much exactly that. There are no songs driven simply by thrashing and screaming as found on the first album. Some of the best moments on Treats were those where the band seemed to lose total control, a cacophony of crunch and Alexis’s screaming pushing through. You won’t find anything really resembling total chaos like that past the first track, “True Shred Guitar,” which starts with a live recording of Alexis screaming “there we fucking go” before breaking into the guitars that the band is known for.

Now for the good news: they actually did focus more on songwriting and melodies without totally removing the qualities that made them so great to begin with. More of the songs here seem to have a focus, with actual lyrics and choruses without falling back on the noise to carry them. While you may have been shouting “you gotta march!” after Treats, Reign Of Terror will have you actually singing along with “Crush” and “End Of The Line.” It’s an upward progression from the band, something that will definitely have doubters rethinking their position that the band is a one trick pony. For all of you who fell in love with the noise, don’t fret – there’s plenty to be found on here as well. Whether it’s background screaming harmonies leaking through the pop vocals (as in “Crush”) or heavy guitar riffs (driving the melody of “Leader Of The Pack” and “Demons”), you’ll find all of that here as well. You’ll just also find some well-crafted songs in addition to that.

Overall, Reign Of Terror is a very solid second outing for the Brooklyn band – it shows off a softer side without totally losing the edge that made people enjoy them in the first place. At times, the album lulls a little bit too much into traditional pop sensibilities, but usually manages to find a way to quickly recover and bring back that Sleigh Bells sound. It shows progression and maturation for the duo, growing from simple noise pop into something with more versatility and exhibits both their talents quite well (Alexis as singer, Derek as guitarist and producer).

(Don’t forget their rescheduled show at 9:30 Club coming up on March 27 – sure, it’s sold out, but I know that if you’re determined you’ll manage to find a ticket or two. It’s sure to be a wildly good time. They’re also opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers on May 10 at the Verizon Center, if you’re so inclined.)

Reign Of Terror Mom+Pop 2012