In 2019 Fontaines D.C. released their acclaimed debut LP Dogrel earning the quintet the 2019 XS Noize Album of the year. One year later A Hero’s Death is released promising to “kill some people’s ideas of the band” including the idea that this follows up will be festooned with “post-punk” bangers. So what has this post-punk band replaced these bangers with?
The changes are immediately noticeable. The speed-bullet under two-minute classic “Big” is replaced by the four and a half minute “I Don’t Belong”. This tenacious, calm and alluring song with distinguished bass is hypnotic. The craftsmanship and perfection lies in the simplicity of the riffs and Grian Chatten’s superb diction. Where “Big” captivated with adrenaline bounce; “I Don’t Belong” mesmerises the listener into a sanguine and divine trance. The divine enticements continue on “Love Is the Main Thing” with its beautiful drumming introduction and raw, deep, distorted, disturbed infectious, yet simple guitar riffs. At such an early stage in the duration of this LP one truly feels as if they have physically and mentally separated from this world.
We start to see Fontaines D.C. significantly increase the BPM with “Televised Mind” whilst continuing to hold the monumental hypnopaedic influence by repeating the song title six times whilst injecting poetical and contemplating lyrics including “All your laughter pissed away. All your sadness pissed away. Now you don’t care what they say. Nor do I”. “A Lucid Dream” continues to increase the tempo with a return to the basics experienced on Dogrel with a drumming intro reminiscent to that on “Big” which yields into a cacophony of noise reminiscent to “Too Real”. However this is no duplicate and the listener is not awoken from the hypnotic trance owing to a more mature, darker and experienced with scars soundtrack as opposed to an ambience of void moshing, bouncing and dancing. “Living in America” also echoes the first offering whilst flirting with new wave without adding synths and plays out with unnerving static.
At the rate, The Fontaines D.C. were burning energy on Dogrel they would have expired into a glorious, but pre-mature supernova. Songs “You Said”, “Oh Such A Spring”, “Sunny” and playout track “No” are a testament that this band has learned how to shine even more brightly whilst conserving energy. Showing a calmer, and until now an unrevealed softer side whilst maintaining a distinguished rawness; one does not feel that they are suddenly disconnected from the band or from the other songs on this LP. “Oh Such A Spring” dresses a folk tale in glossy modern touches whilst “Sunny” delights as a guitar-led lounge track with a chilled Jazzy texture in parallel with a Bacharach style of uplifting pop with gorgeous soothing strings and female backing vocals singing “Da la la la. Da la la la”.
One song that deserves special focus is “A Hero’s Death”. Very few bands would think to put the antithetical sounds of The Dears jazz and lounge influenced “Whites Only Party” and The Strokes classic “Last Night” together. Whether this was the actual intention; this is the formula of “A Hero’s Death” and it works magnificently. Whether it is the repetition of the (depending on the person and situation) the comforting or terrifying words of “Life ain’t always empty” being repeated; one is suddenly awoken out of the hypnotic trance into gritty and almost divine life lessons as The Fontaines D.C. sing “happiness ain’t really all about luck”, “don’t sacrifice your life for your health” and to always use your own “two cents” and “never borrow them from anyone else” to a catchy melody with background vocals humming “Ba-ba-ba-ba-Barbara Ann”.
Whilst the playout song “No” belongs to the category of the more sanguine songs it deserves special attention in its own right as a soft electronic guitar melancholy ballad which awakens the listener from their trance back into the room with introspective philosophical insight. Without being verbose; the number of insightful mantras in just over five minutes is a task few self – appointed gurus could accomplish. One learns amongst other things to “Please don’t lock yourself away just appreciate the grey”, “You know our freedom brings the awful songs it makes you sing. It does nothing for the pain” and warns against “when you go do to the place that makes a monster of your face it makes you twisted and unkind and all the right words hard to find.” With this song alone this Dublin five-piece much loved, admired and respected authenticity has evolved from rawness to intuition.
As stand-alone songs these tracks are less instant than those on Dogrel; however, these songs were never supposed to be consumed as separate entities as the curation and synchronicity of the songs across A Hero’s Death fits perfectly as the Sefirot structure fits the Kabbalah. What makes the Fontaines D.C. evolutionary leap so unique is that they could do this by re-joining Dogrel producer Dan Carey in his Streatham studio whilst also ensuring that the essence of the debut remained nurtured and not forgotten. Dublin and Ireland continue to positively remain central with the album art featuring the statue of the mythological Irish warrior Cuchulainn (that stands in Dublin as a commemoration of the Easter Rising) and the LP title, A Hero’s Death is referenced from Irish playwright Brendan Behan’s play “The Hostage”.
Grian Chatten has said that he’s “found endless meaning in a calm, self-forgiving approach to creativity,” and that he hasn’t “had too many days where that’s been inaccessible to… (him)”. Whether or not this approach has enabled the Fontaines D.C. to be sincere and authentic whilst evolving their listener’s experience of them remains disputed, but what is indisputable is the glorious impact of A Hero’s Death.