A note from the editor (me, Dan) before we begin Lee’s excellent review: it’s three months late because I forgot to post it. Do not be mad at Lee. Be mad at me. Send your hate mail my way, I beg of you. Lee did no wrong. Let me bear the brunt of your rage; let me feel the barbs of your fury. I am sorry; a thousand times over, I am sorry.
Okay Lee – TAKE IT AWAY!!!
Sophomore albums are notoriously difficult. The artist is usually torn in the dilemma of either faithfully trying to recreate what was successful but run the risk of growing stale, or push forward with new ideas but potentially alienate fans. They can try to do both of course, but walking that tight rope can often lead to a plummeting fall.
A Hero’s Death is the second release from the post-punk five piece Fontaines DC, who hail from Dublin if you couldn’t tell from Grian Chatten’s vocals. They’ve made incredible headway in the industry since forming in 2017. They’ve played countless shows, built a fanbase and hold two full releases under their belt.
Although I enjoyed the 2019 release ‘Dogrel’ there was something that didn’t quite click with me; not that I didn’t like it, but I was rarely drawn back to it. After a re-listen my issue is that nothing really stands out, it’s all capable and well-produced, but I can’t help feeling that it was all stuff we’ve heard before with an Irish accent slapped over it. I feel guilty saying that as it undermines how good the first record is, but I also don’t feel like it’s an inaccurate assessment
A Hero’s Death really took me by surprise. The tone of the record is what really clipped me around the side of the head and dragged my limp body into the void of repeat listening. It’s hard to express the difference but I’ll try. So, Dogrel feels like you’re 18, at a house party with your best mates, sporting your favourite Arctic Monkeys tee and making eyes with a cutie across the room. Sure, there are worries about the future and insecurities but you’ve got your pals so it will all work out.
AHD, then, is the equivalent of your mid 20’s and you’re on the way home from a stressful day at the office where you have been berated by figures all day, and you stop to look in the mirror only to not recognise yourself. Sure, you still go out with your mates, but they are settling down whilst you’re still trying to work out where the fuck you fit into the world, if you do at all.
Hopefully, that made sense and wasn’t too revealing but what I am trying to get at is that A Hero’s Death is tonally darker and mature take from the five piece.
Usually on post punk releases the opening tracks tend to be aggressive as a way to grab the listener by the throat, but this opens with ‘I Don’t Belong’ which perfectly draws you into the piece without misconstruing your expectations of what’s to come. It’s slow, moody and affecting with easy comparisons to bands like Joy Division. On my first listen I was waiting for the explosive ending, that anger which tends to pair with isolation, but it never quite arrives.
‘Love Is the Main Thing’ is a good example of one of my few criticisms, it’s not a bad track at all but it also doesn’t match the quality of the rest. Mixed with the dry vocal delivery, it can be easy for the track to slip out of your mind quickly. This applies to several tracks such as ‘You Said’ and ‘Sunny’ – but don’t get me wrong, they’re far from poor tracks.
‘Televised Mind’ is the first taste of their punkier edge; a deep bassline loops itself around your eardrums and the driving drums thump your heart to make sure it keeps ups. The song keeps pulling you in, but it doesn’t betray the prior darker tone that had been set up.
Following is ‘A Lucid Dream’ which builds off the momentum of the previous track, creating a naturalistic progression. Grian starts to push himself vocally and it really shows what he is capable of
The pace kind of crashes with ‘You Said’ but it’s fine as it makes space for ‘Oh Such a Spring’ a beautiful piece that waters my soul. It’s fantastic and been added to my ‘3AM Sad Boy’ playlist.
Now the boys bring in the real heat with ‘A Hero’s Death’ and – fuck. This is genuinely my favourite track of the year. The song feels fresh paired with each member playing on top form. It’s one of those tracks that with every listen you can zone in on a specific piece and grow an appreciation for what they are doing. In isolation the lyrics seem rather optimistic but due to the delivery and the backing it creates a sardonic tone, as if making fun of the advice or as if a father is giving the advice even though he doesn’t quite understand mental health. The track is the manifestation of everything that makes these boys special.
The record ends with ‘No’ which is a uniquely beautiful piece, a soft and melodic piece. Instead of a crashing climax it ends with an intimate and surprisingly hopeful tune to warm your heart, as it certainly does to mine.
Ultimately, A Hero’s Death has really taken me by surprise. I was expecting a rehash of Dogrel but instead it’s an honest and affecting listen which takes themes of identity, mental health and isolation to create an emotionally rich, engrossing and occasionally chaotic record which begs for repeat spins which I have certainly obliged to. I have very few criticisms except that some tracks aren’t quite as realised as others and Grian’s vocals can occasionally seem a bit dry, but ultimately, they still build into an incredible atmosphere. What can I say? I’m blown away and completely in love with a band I’d written off. Everything about it manages to speak to me, from the themes to the beats. In summary A Hero’s Death is the best record I’ve heard in the past year, I can tell it will stick with me and I cannot express how happy I am that I gave it a chance; maybe you should give it a chance too.