Album Review: Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death

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The last day of this month sees the release of Fontaines D.C.’s second album in just over a year. The Irish post-punk revival band are stripping the rock from punk rock, replacing songcraft with atmosphere, and emphasizing lyrical experimentation with 11 tracks on their second LP, A Hero’s Death. They seem like the type of lads who would bodycheck you walking past them on the sidewalk, then invite you for a beer at the pub later. 

This album is a bit different than your typical post-punk sound. The Dublin-based quintet have an old-school approach that sounds more analog and raw, gesturing to ‘60s garage and grunge rock. Some songs feel awkwardly out of place on the first round, but after a few listens the album reveals itself to be incredibly authentic through shrieking guitars and commanding vocals. 

Right off the bat, “I Don’t Belong” has a lot more substance compared to their debut album that was released just last year in April of 2019. The album opener shows the band creating their own mood through careful composition, straying away from the comparisons of The Fall, Oasis, Joy Division, and all those English rock guys. 

“Love Is The Main Thing” is a dark one. On the surface, the lyrics are pretty optimistic and upbeat, yet it is the anxiety-filled guitar riffs that give off a sense of dread that everything is fine when it’s not. Frontman, Grian Chatten embraces his Dublin accent throughout the record, which is a refreshing thing to hear as a listener. His characterful voice is the dominant instrument of the band’s sound as he rants on about written tales of well, life. He keeps the mystery alive, alluding to certain things but we don’t get to know the gritty details of those things.

“Televised Mind” is perhaps the song filled with the most furious intensity with the lyrics, “All your laughter pissed away / All your sadness pissed away / Now you don’t care what they say / Nor do I.” Chatten says that the song, “is about the echo chamber, and how personality gets stripped away by surrounding approval.” It is an anthem that demands attention, and that is all that needs to be said about this one. 

“A Lucid Dream” has a strong presence, to begin with, then takes a break halfway through with low and soft mumbling, then picks up again. By the end of it, it is safe to assume that all of the guitars have been destroyed. We are eased into “You Said” as it stays at the same tempo the whole way through. Nothing crazy here but an easy listen. 

In the middle of the album, the lads slow it down for the first time so far. “Oh Such A Spring” is the shortest in length and a little morbid but there is always some truth in a gloomy joke, “The clouds cleared up / The sun hit the sky / I watched all the folks go to work just to die.” This ballad comes at the perfect time in the album and truly showcases the artistry in Fontaine D.C.’s songwriting, and nods at their Irish roots. 

It picks right back up. The album title track, “A Hero’s Death” was the first single released back in May and Chatten describes it as, “a list of rules for the self.” It is full of ailing guitars as it racks up a total of 30 repetitions of the same lyric, “Life ain’t always empty.” The noisy reiterating of lyrics throughout the whole album really drills certain messages into your head. On BBC Radio 1, Chatten said that he was inspired by advertising messages with the constant repetition of catchy sentences that imply the terrifying idea that humans are products.

Fontaines D.C. at Osheaga 2019 – Photo by Steve Gerrard

“Living In America” is filled with aggressive energy and sharp musical turns. The distortion is turned all the way up for this one. It is deep and dreary. There is a minute-long introduction into “I Was Not Born” before Chatten announces, “I was not born / Into this world / To do another man’s bidding.” A lot of the songwriting originates from the bandmates sharing personal poetry around the table and digging into the depths of each other’s minds. Between Carlos, Curley, Deego, Grian, and Tom, it is a collaborative effort. With this poetry-first method, the band can bash away at their instruments until the music part expresses itself naturally that flawlessly complements their already perfect lyrics. 

As the album starts to come to a close, the sound calms down again with “Sunny.” We hear this repetitive theme come up again. The lyric, “Where I was I can’t tell” starts to stick, and does not stop until the very end of the song, accompanied by some calming background “da-da-das” from a female voice. 

The closer, “No” fades us out peacefully. It is an interesting choice to end with the simplest song, and perhaps the most sentimental song on the record. Without any distraction, Chatten’s voice and lyricism are really showcased here in a slow pace, “Don’t you play around the blame / It does nothing for the pain / Please don’t lock yourself away / Just appreciate the grey.” It is only fitting that the album closer is the longest song clocking in at just over five minutes – it gives the listener a chance to take a breather after all that moshing in the circle-pit.

Photo – Pooneh Ghana

After a quick turnaround from their debut album last year, the band says that they, “wrote these songs during the 12 months after finishing Dogrel as a necessary reaction to assure ourselves we will always be the band we set out to be.” 

The whole thing seems like a bonafide musical experiment, yet it works. It is a poetic and angsty album that takes a few listens, but with its addictive headbang-inducing rhythms and shameless Irishness, A Hero’s Death is full of solid musicality with impactful lyrics. 

Fontaines D.C.’s new album, ‘A Hero’s Death’ is out July 31 via Partisan Records. 

Ryley Remedios

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