Album Review: Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
A year on from the release of their impressive debut album, Dogrel, the boys from Dublin secure yet another fresh sound with their second release, A Hero’s Death.
After blowing away crowds at the John Peel stage at Glastonbury in 2019 with a consistent, aggressive and imperative performance, Fontaines D.C. quickly rose to attention for a post-punk scene in search of a hero. Guitar riffs that carried entire songs, such as the intense ‘Hurricane Laughter’, and politically charged (but catchy) lyrics changed the game for rock music; ‘I love the way they treat me but I hate the way they use her,’ lead singer Grian Chatten sings on the slower, more sincere ‘Roy’s Tune’. Dogrel gained great critical reception, with a prestigious Mercury Prize nomination and performance, along with countless perfect scores from various critics all around the world.
Fast-forward one year to May 2020 and the band have released the first and title track, ‘A Hero’s Death’. One of the catchier tunes from the record, Chatten delivers a poem, a prayer of advice with a repeated refrain that reminds us that ‘life ain’t always empty’; he’s not wrong. With three verses of near-overwhelmingly optimistic advice, the lyrics are paired with a chromatic, marching guitar riff that enforces the positivity of this track. To top it all off, backing vocals from the band can only bring a smile or a sing-along, a cheat-coded series of ‘Ba- ba- ba- ba- ba’s break the intensity of the explosive single. With a music video that stars Irish Peaky Blinders and Game of Thrones actor Aidan Gillen, the boys were only right to name the record after this track.
Tracks such as the slow-burning opener ‘I Don’t Belong’ and ‘Televised Mind’ are just as engaging as the lead single, with ironic lyrics about lounge-preaching and falling victim to social media being just as entertaining as each other on further listens. ‘Lucid Dream’ is an obvious, explicit sonic call-back to the debut album, and ‘I Was Not Born’ feels lively enough to put on a Catfish and the Bottlemen album, if Bruce Springsteen were to have the writing credits. Track 5 takes the crown here, though, as the breath-taking ‘You Said’ sounds like it doesn’t even need to try to make anyone feel as cool, calm or collected as it really does – an immense group effort from the Dublin band, it’s the best of all five worlds from each band member.
As an album, A Hero’s Death persuades us of its strength with unsurprisingly bold guitar riffs, drenching the impressive melodies in reverb so as to not interrupt the wise words of Chatten; but that’s where it falters – it’s unsurprising, and doesn’t explode as much as the first listen of Dogrel does. Generally speaking, no band wants to make ‘Debut Album Part Two;’ it’s a rule of thumb in the industry, and if you’re going to do it, own it. Yet here Fontaines D.C. are, with Dogrel II, and with pride in its newer sound. Although irony itself is a recurrent theme in this solid sophomore album, the quintet may be their own fools here, as the heroes of post-punk may have already started their journey to the death of excitement.
Don’t be mistaken though – A Hero’s Death absolutely owns another fresh sound in the post-punk scene, and it’s beyond clear that these gents are not only talented, but admirably driven and determined to fix the state of rock. This year’s formula is clearly identical to their debut; the repetitive refrains, flattened vocals and semi-preaching of this album are still as likeable as it was in 2019, but as far as progress is concerned, the lads from Ireland seem to be ironically locked into a tradition that’s only one year old.