Fontaines D.C. burst onto the scene last year with their top 10 charting album, Dogrel. Their raw post-punk sound instantly gained them a big fanbase, especially in the UK and now just over a year since that release they return with their sophomore effort ‘A Hero’s Death’.
The second album is never an easy follow up, more so when the first release was such as success, but Fontaines D.C. present to us a much more sonic, mature and developed sound which sees them break away from what we thought of them and Dogrel. They too almost broke away from themselves.
A bit of background to the record, as the band were continuously on the road, the members suddenly found themselves growing distant from each other and themselves. Frontman, Grian Chatten said in an interview “We experienced full journeys where we didn’t speak to each other.” The band had no escape and with A Hero’s Death, you feel a burst from feeling claustrophobic and the band are laying themselves out for us all to see. The band took refuge in the recording studio and have rediscovered themselves.
Fonatines D.C. are moving away from what we knew about them. They’ve spread their wings from the streets of Dublin and are experiencing the world in their morbid-sounding way. Almost as if killing a version of themselves; ‘Death’ in the title represents the band changing. The tracks that relate to Dogrel are the beginning of a change for a band that’s trying to find their place. To sum up A Hero’s Death, it’s emotional and self-deprecating and poetic.
There’s a variety of sounds and styles throughout the album with a much fuller instrumental approach than Dogrel. There’s a large proportion of post-punk roaring through the tracks with moments of psych rock and dreampop popping up here and there. What we see as well is the band breaking away from being compared to any of their post-punk counterparts and taking their sound in their own unique direction.
Producer, Dan Carey returned to work on the record and is known for working with a lot of upcoming British artists such as Warmduscher and Black Midi. He seems to bring out the best musically in these artists and really boosts their sound which is wonderful to hear.
The lyrics are definitely more focused on oneself, future, and depression, whereas the previous record looked at home, past and aspirations. It feels like the band have really learned a lot in their short time in the global sphere. One of the musical influences going into the record has been Beach House to which I can understandably tell with the atmospheric and noisy moments and the way Fontaines D.C. have made their sound so much larger and overpowering than before is admirably progressive.
When you press play on A Hero’s Death, you start off with ‘I Don’t Belong’ which is a moody and slow opener and as it kicks in, we see a much more melodic approach which wasn’t as striking on the previous record. Grian Chatten’s vocals continue to be a stand out part of the band, taking hold of the track whilst we have that classically depressing post-punk instrumentation in the background.
Following on to ‘Love Is The Main Thing’, you’re blown back by this huge drumming introduction. Accompanying them are delightfully picked guitars and Ian Curtis-esc vocals; together it’s all very atmospheric. The constant build-up for two minutes provides a euphoria feeling with raw guitar breaks sending shivers down my spine. It’s a bleak and dark introduction with the familiar repetitive vocals making an appearance throughout the album.
‘Televised Mind’ picks up the pace with a dirty bass guitar and delayed guitar notes ringing out. The melodic verses mix with gritty and clean guitars in each ear. It’s a real overload of sound with some fantastic vocals. ‘A Lucid Dream is reminiscent of Dogrel with fast singing and guitars shunted to the right of your ear doing their own little thing. Once again, a real beating on the ears.
‘You Said’ is a slower and beautiful piece, yet still features bending guitars doing their thing giving that sense of unease in one of the more easy-going tracks. It’s kind of like you don’t quite know what’s coming next before a melodic and euphoric break. Definitely one of the more accessible tracks on the record. ‘Oh Such A Spring’ continues the slower and gentler approach with its guitar work. It’s a nice break ready for side B with a deep and moody rock vibe that reminds me of Athlete’s classic track ‘Wires’.
The title track features fuzzy background guitars and pounding drums like Dogrel and even saying there are some musical similarities to their previous record isn’t a bad thing. The track itself which was released as the first single is a good transition of the before and after of the band. It sounds like a classic 70’s punk track with the line “Don’t sacrifice your life for your health, life ain’t always empty” looking like the band are trying to find a balance in their life.
‘Living In America’ sees a return to gritty and fast guitars with rising sounds and fat bass riffs. The vocals bleed into the music with a lower singing register. The track moves from a groovy piece into a spacey and euphoric outro which showcases the musical efforts put into the record. ‘I Was Not Born’ is a classy indie track with Velvet Underground guitars and features lyrical themes of not being born to do another man’s bidding; a real escapism piece.
The closing tracks of the record ‘Sunny’ and ‘No’ are moody from the outset as if they were slow dance to the end of the album. Sunny has Beach Boys vocal styles with harmonies in the break. The best way to describe it is imagining The Beach Boys as some moody punk boys. No has gentle vocals and nice guitar lick behind them which beautifully plays us out to what has been an exciting album.
If you prefer the grittier and more accessible sounds of Dogrel, this might not be the follow-up you were hoping for, but if you like your post-punk to be full of sound and a bit of chaos, then I think ‘A Hero’s Death’ will be for you. In just over a year, Fontaine’s D.C. have really pushed their sound and it will be interesting to see what direction they go in next. I didn’t know what to expect at first, but I have been left thoroughly impressed with each listen of the record sounding better than the last.