ALBUM REVIEW: Fontaines DC ‘A Hero’s Death’

Review by Jonathan Taylor

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Barely a year after therelease of their Mercury Prize nominated debut album ‘Dogrel’ which was released at the beginning of last year, Fontaines D.C. waste no time resting on their laurels and are back with their second studio album, ‘A Hero’s Death’ released on 31st July.

The album’s title, which was devised from a Brendan Behan play calledThe Hostage, is a tongue-in-cheek way of acknowledging “difficult second album syndrome”, for which the band rejoined producer Dan Carey, who managed to capture so perfectly the energy and rawness of an illustrious Fontaines D.C. live performance first time around.

The album is an amalgamation of unchartered exploration and in parts, it is almost a continuation the debut album, as the bones of the album’s oldest songs , such as ‘A Hero’s Death’,’ I Was Not Born’ and ‘Televised Mind’ all date to back prior to the release of ‘Dogrel’. Though these tracks are a starting point and a musical spring board for the new album, the overall synopsis is something altogether darker and more indicative than ‘Dogrel’. To a certain extent, you can hear Fontaines D.C. transforming over the course of ‘A Hero’s Death’, with those earliest songs serving as a living document of a band growing in real time.

The opening track ‘I Don’t Belong’ is a down tempo, dark, melodic soundscape, during which  front man Grian Chatten delivers a captivating tale of self-reflection, denoting a sense of solitude and the importance of maintaining a sense of freedom.

‘Love Is The Main Thing’ is a gloomy song about love, shrouded in restrained, bleary guitars parts and it evokes sentiment of the most dank and drizzly of summers days.

‘Televised Mind’ is more reminiscent to that of the first album, with a hypnotic recurring vocal delivery, a pulsating bass line and brooding, reverberating fuzzy guitars. According to the Irish front man, “the song is about the echo chamber, and how personality gets stripped away by surrounding approval”. He goes on to say, “People’s opinions get reinforced by constant agreement, and we’re robbed of our ability to feel wrong”.

‘A Lucid Dream’ is a tumultuous and energetic offering. With snarling vocals, swirling guitar sounds and melodic lead, it has enough trap doors to transport you around the contrasting levels of musical and vocal intensity.

‘You Said’ is a beautifully produced track oozing with atmosphere and haunting guitars. Along with ‘Oh Such A Spring’, they are two of the most surprising tracks on the album and without question some of the highlights on ‘A Hero’s Death’. They both capture a more reserved and tender vocal performance with wonderful restrain and sense of rumination. They demonstrate perfectly the capabilities of Fontaines D.C. to evolve when exploring unchartered territories when their foot isn’t pressed so firmly on the accelerator.

The album’s title track ‘A Hero’s Death’ is raw punk poetry at its finest. Broadly it’s about the battle between happiness and depression and the trust issues that can form tied to both of those feelings. Chatten’s recital of a list of rules for self, include, “Don’t get stuck in the past, say your favourite things at mass. Tell your mother that you love her, go out of your way for others”. The list of recommendations are delivered with a certain amount of cynicism, so we are left pondering whether this rhetoric is entirely sincere advice.

‘Living In America’ is incredibly dark and sinister. Though restrained it is unsettling and uneasy in mood and feeling. ‘I Was Not Born’ is a stark contrast in comparison. It is joyous and uplifting and is reminiscent of The Velvet Underground with hints of John Lydon in the vocal delivery.

‘Sunny’ is another of the albums more tender and delicate moments, with delightful and dreamy Beach Boys esque vocals and evocative guitar and string arrangements. The album is brought to a close with ‘No’. It is reflective of circumstance and is celebratory and uplifting in sound. It is a fitting way to close the album and perhaps represents a raised glass to new beginnings and endless possibilities.

‘A Hero’s Death’ is sombre, yet full of light, hope and optimism. It is uplifting, yet sinister, joyous but dark. It is both captivating and unexpected and crammed with hidden depths. It is drench with adrenaline and energy, yet tender, delicate and restrained. There is a clearly a shift in impetus and direction which Fontaines D.C. have made no secret of. There are elements that are reminiscent of their debut album, but what they have produced this time around shows a maturity and a willingness to explore greater depths within the realms of possibility. By doing so, what they have produced as a result is nothing short of triumphant.