Some albums hit you with immediate fire and fury. Some albums creep up on you with patient internalized intent. Every once in a while an album comes along that can do both. A Hero’s Death is one such album.
Moving from the external to the cerberal, Fontaines D.C. contrast the outward-facing restless fustration of Dogrel with the self-reflective catharsis of A Hero’s Death, while still maintaining a sense of vital immediacy to their music. Only now with a thematic weight the rushes through the pointed words, bone-shaking beats and growled guitars in mood-driven twists and turns.
The methodical ‘I Don’t Belong’ establishes this pent up atmosphere as Fontaines D.C. craft a bristling isolation around their music. Conveyed in stabs of statement making guitar and a drum beat that punctuates each malaise driven vocal line. Telling lyrics like, “My word is always in the ready and I’ll attribute that to you” followed by the repeated phrase “I don’t belong to anyone” translate the feeling of disconnection and a need to express that divide not just personally but creativitly. Quickly followed by the unrelenting rumble of ‘Love Is The Main Thing’, the band’s ability to contort the texture and mood of their music around this meaning keeps A Hero’s Death moving sonically.
This means that the ragged glory that’s made Fontaines D.C. sound so captivating to so many is never fully engulf by the deeper tones of A Hero’s Death. But instead is made an intgeral part of the record’s dynamic undercurrent. Through the fuzzing pulse of ‘Televised Mind’, the rattle and hum of the title-track and the propellant grit of ‘I Was Not Born’, the band take the lines like the repeated mantra of “Life ain’t always empty” (‘A Hero’s Death’) or the snarled “I was not born into this world to do another man’s bidding” and twist impactful punctaution around each word.
This internal dynamic contortion can be found during the record’s more restrained moments too. Such as the lush harmonies of ‘Sunny’ (a stylistic twist found towards the end) or the rough beauty of ‘Oh Such A Spring’. During these instances of relative repose, the same energy can be found but put through a different prism. Allowing lines like “I watched all the folks go to work just to die, and I wished I could go back to Spring again” the space to land and be heard.
However, its the sprawling noise of ‘Living In America’ where A Hero’s Death stands at its tallest. From the layered production of brooding low-end background and scrathcing textures to the echoed vocal that dominates the foreground, the song is Fontaines D.C. at their very best and within the context of the album itself. It is the moment where all the sonic and thematic elements converge in a unsettling cacaphony of ferocious catharsis. Providing a vital release of tension that has been growing in the build up to this point.
And so it goes, for many Fontaines had an almost impossible task in following their generation defining debut Dogrel. Indeed, that weight of expectation would have crushed a band of lesser resolve. With A Hero’s Death the Dublin five-piece walked the tight-rope high-up for all to see and pull off a sophomore album that builds on the first and in many ways improves on it. A Hero’s Death is the aftermath, a study of the self, for both the band personally and their music. Indeed, in many ways it feels like the group’s momentum is just starting. Adding new colors and moods to Fontaines D.C. sound, their second offering makes them as essential as ever.