Fontaines D.C have truly outdone themselves with A Hero's Death.
Dogrel was the surprise hit of 2019. It’s hard enough for a band to be Mercury Prize nominated for their debut album, but to release another record barely a year later is another feat altogether – especially since the band have opened up about the pressures that come with such sudden acclaim. It would be easy, in this case, to assume that A Hero’s Death is a quick attempt at holding on to this momentum and prove something to their listeners.
But Dublin’s Fontaines D.C have done no such thing. Instead, A Hero’s Death is a bold statement that they cannot be tied down by the image of themselves that they established in their first album; a warning to fans not to become too attached to their own ideas about the band. They did this with a sense of independence, and most importantly, they did it flawlessly.
‘I Don’t Belong’ sets this tone from its place as the album opener, separating the band from their success as the polar opposite as Dogrel opener ‘Big’. It’s slower, more bass-heavy, but perhaps even more monumental. Lyrically, it’s a mix of storytelling, poetry and self-sustenance; there is no uncertainty in the chorus ‘I don’t belong to anyone / I don’t wanna belong to anyone’, only celebration and discernable determination.
I’m hesitant to make the obvious Ian Curtis comparison in ‘Love Is The Main Thing’; it’s difficult to cite their early post-punk influences without taking away from the sheer talent of Fontaines D.C as a band in their own right. Following on from ‘I Don’t Belong’, lead singer Grian Chatten’s one-of-a-kind style of half speaking/half singing gets the album off to an intoxicating start. I always say that being Irish, I’m perhaps biased in my love for his vocals, but I will praise his voice as one of the best in the industry without hesitation.
A Hero’s Death experiments with a fluctuating energy throughout the album, first evident in the transition between ‘Love Is The Main Thing’ to the high-adrenaline bass intro of ‘Televised Mind’. These surprises make A Hero’s Death all the more engaging to listen to in one sitting, and it’s more evidence that Fontaines D.C are full of surprises.
‘A Lucid Dream’ has a real harshness to it that signifies an album – and a band – at war with itself. On one hand, they are grateful for the fans who fell in love with Dogrel. On the other hand, they are still coming to terms with tensions that can arise from a year of non-stop touring. ‘A Lucid Dream’ is an attack on the attitudes they had throughout this period, with vocal effects making the song intensely intimate. ‘You Said’, with its unexpectedly and beautifully soft vocals, echos this self-evaluation. In deeply personal songs like these, Fontaines D.C elevate their music to new levels of introspection. Then, all of a sudden, an epiphany: title track ‘A Hero’s Death’. This is the song that nourished us all during lockdown, perhaps more than any song actually penned during quarantine could.
Amidst the glorious darkness which permeates throughout the album, there are moments of pure melodic joy. The bitesize ‘Oh Such a Spring’ and ‘Sunny’ in the albums second act are further proof that the band aren’t afraid to stray from the sound that sparked the beginning of their career. The risk pays off – these tracks don’t feel out of place or out of character in the slightest.
The final three songs on the album – ‘I Was Not Born’, ‘Sunny’ and ‘No’ are perhaps the most important on A Hero’s Death, reinforcing the message boldly proclaimed by ‘I Don’t Belong’ and showing off the best of Fontaines D.C.’s musical talents. Beach Boys and California rock-inspired ‘I Was Not Born’ holds another life-affirming message: “I was not born into this world / to do another man’s bidding’. This confident opening line summarises exactly what the band wanted to get out of this second album – a refusal to conform even to the rebellious attitude established in Dogrel.
It’s difficult to put into words exactly what Fontaines D.C have achieved in making this album.With A Hero’s Death, they have redefined what a second album means and have freed themselves from the limitations set by their own precedent. It is without a doubt the most exhilerating album of the year. Fontaines D.C did not worry about their own metaphorical death in creating this album; nor did they have to.
Fontaines D.C.’s A Hero’s Death is out today via Partisan Records. Check out ‘I Don’t Belong’ down below.