After releasing a critically acclaimed Mercury-Prize nominated album in 2019, Dublin post-punk group Fontaines D.C. are not resting on their laurels in delivering a second studio album in just over a year. A Hero’s Death is the follow up to Dogrel, an album which turned heads and saw Fontaines D.C. ordained as one of the most exciting bands to come out of Ireland in years.
In truth, however, the success of Dogrel nearly destroyed the band as they battled isolation and disorientation from their newfound fame, something that has influenced a change of direction stylistically on A Hero’s Death.
This is a very different album from their debut and has seen them flick the switch completely on their sound. The influence of 80s new wave and post-punk is still there, think Joy Division and even Echo & The Bunnymen, however, the material itself is a lot moodier, gloomier, and overall introspective compared with the more aggressive nature of Dogrel.
Frontman Grian Chatten who I can only describe as being a cross between Shane MacGowan, Ian Curtis, and Mark E. Smith dominates this record as he did the first, with his deadpan Irish drawl as distinctive as ever. Most of the songs drone along and are far from anthemic, although there is time for balladry in places, which for this band is very experimental.
The album kicks off with the foreboding Joy Division-esque I Don’t Belong. From the opening notes of the creeping guitar riff your ears prick up and already you can tell this is a far cry from anything on Dogrel.
Pre-release single Televised Mind begins with a Queen-inspired bass riff before kicking into a jangly post-punk epic full of droning guitars in what is surely the closest the band gets to their first album, style-wise.
Post-punk sounds continue to be the order of the day on A Lucid Dream with more droning guitars and spacey vocals, while on the downtempo You Said, Chatten channels Ian Brown in a surprising but appreciated change of pace mid-album and a song that sounds as if it could have been written in Manchester and not Dublin.
Things change tack again on A Hero’s Death, a track with a sixties garage vibe featuring a brisk drum pattern and a catchy hook that includes the vocal line “life ain’t always empty,” in what I would describe as one of Chatten’s best ever vocal performances.
The album finishes up strongly with the lounge jazz-punk of Sunny, a candidate for the most out-there sounding Fontaines D.C. song yet, and, finally, the delightful shimmering sounds of No, a gorgeous ballad which really captures perfectly the stylistic mix of this record and the progression of the group.
A Hero’s Death is an album of growth musically for Fontaines D.C. and is clear evidence they weren’t going to fall into the trap of repeating themselves this early on in their career, despite the successful formula of Dogrel.
They might lose some fans due to this approach, but at the same time, they are showing their fans that there are other possible avenues to explore musically, and that as a band, they are going to explore them, like it or not.
Sometimes it is bold moves like this that have to be made to not only keep one creatively interested but also to keep the band sounding fresh. Fontaines D.C. has done that with A Heroes Death, and on the whole, it has paid dividends for them in the form of a solid album that progresses their career forward.
And here's a little treat to finish off, a cover of Jesus and Mary Chain's Darkness
A Hero's Death is out now on Partisan Records/Liberator Records
Available to order here