Fontaines D.C. - A Hero’s Death Review
When Dublin band Fontaines D.C. released their debut album ‘Dogrel’ in 2019, it was heralded as an intriguing addition to the revival of new wave and post punk music that’s sprung up over the last few years. With a clear love of poetry and even more discordant Irish band the Murder Capital in tow, they toured ‘Dogrel’ to critical acclaim, quickly establishing their own cult following. Yet when Covid-19 hit and they proceeded to release their new album ‘A Hero’s Death’, it was a relatively quiet occurrence, with live shows not scheduled until Winter 2020.
‘A Hero’s Death’ is not a label-encouraged move to the mainstream nor a ploy to garner more spots on the festival tour circuit through ever-cheesier ‘bangers’. The album is almost plucked straight from the pallid embrace of the No Wave genre of decades ago. Straddling a well-trodden bridge between revivalism and development, Fontaines use their ‘A Hero’s Death’ to regress further into a measured atonality that could come right out of the early 80s shoe-gaze scene if the production wasn’t so good. With much clearer sounds than No Wave bands like Disorder or the hallowed Sonic Youth, the title track is a transitional point between the poppy sounds of the Radio X-friendly ‘Boys in the Better Land’ and their new retro sound. The tracks are much more akin to their tour mates The Murder Capital, with complex musical refrains and simple, raucous lyrics; they even mirror The Murder Capital’s consistent lyrical questioning of the liminality of life, death and survival. Yet this seems to be the limit of the much-hyped poetic lyricism that germinated on the first album.
Without the vehemence of the Murder Capital or the wry bitterness of other New and No Wave bands (or their modern equivalents), Fontaines risk missing sounding a tad too serious, with an underwhelming amount of wordplay or witticisms. The genuine earnestness of ‘Oh Such a Spring’ is asking to be on a Spotify ‘Chill Student’ playlist and takes the lyric ‘when you speak, speak sincere’ (from ‘A Hero’s Death’) to it’s most literal extent. Nevertheless, if they’re aiming for gig bangers with the heaviness of an impending mosh pit, they’ve hit the jackpot, even if they don’t develop their lyricism in the way their poetry-loving critics might have expected.
Fontaines have done well to bash away the draw of the lucrative mainsteam to descend further into their brash guitars and Joy Division aesthetic. Are they significantly saved by Grian Chatten’s melodious Dublin accent? Very possibly; it’s a refreshing change to much of the post punk revival bands that does give them their USP. Yet there’s a more adult- sounding, modern angst to ‘A Hero’s Death’ that draws you in to their frenzy of moody sounds and won’t let you go.