ALBUM REVIEW: Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death (Partisan Records)

Dublin post-punks Fontaines D.C. arrived fully formed last year with debut album Dogrel, which was critically acclaimed and earned them several end-of-year accolades – including ours.

The five-piece evoked memories of some of the very best post-punk bands, like Joy Division, The Fall and Public Image Limited. But the question was could they do it all again with their ‘difficult’ second album.

After all, so many bands have failed to live up to expectations after an all-conquering debut – but I’m delighted to say Fontaines are not one of them.

Barely a year after Dogrel (reviewed here), they’re back with the romantically-titled A Hero’s Death. It’s an album that builds on the formula that made the first one so successful, but also takes them in a new direction which shows they’re not one-trick ponies.

It kicks off with I Don’t Belong, one of three tracks released as tasters for the album, and wisely it doesn’t offer too much from their tried and tested sound, with off-key vocals and plenty of repetition. The same goes for the dense, atmospheric Televised Mind, with Grian Chatten’s vocals owing more to John Lydon than ever.

The third familiar song, the title track, is one of the standout tracks on the record, somehow bleak and stirring at the same time as Chatten repeats “life ain’t always empty”, almost as if he’s trying to convince himself of that.

That’s the three songs you’ve probably heard out of the way; but the rest of the album is altogether darker, more introspective, more isolated. A Lucid Dream is set against a background of swirling, effects-drenched guitars, while I Was Not Born is a more upbeat number driven by insistent drums.

But the best songs here are the more restrained ones, gentle ballads which underpin the whole album: the languid You Said, and the closing No – possibly my favourite song on the whole album. Both see Chatten channelling Liam Gallagher at his peak.

Along with the subtle, folky Oh Such A Spring and the harmony-laden Sunny, these songs demonstrate a delicate touch which you’d never guess the band possess from the maelstrom that is their live show (reviewed here).

Fontaines D.C singer Grian Chatten at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Gary Welford.

They’re probably going to ruin some people’s ideas of what Fontaines D.C. are all about, and while this isn’t an album of post-punk bangers, mixing things up a bit should insulate them against being dropped like a stone when the notoriously fickle industry decides the latest wave of post-punk groups have had their day.

While not trying to push away the people who loved their music in the first place, they’re striving to push their listeners and themselves. Different? Yes. Disappointing? Certainly not. Though not as immediate as Dogrel, this is an album which, with repeated plays, will become just as loved. 8/10.

Gary Welford
gary.ipamusic@gmail.com
ipamusic.co.uk owner