When I first heard that Fontaines DC were releasing their second album, A Hero’s Death, just fifteen months after their debut, I was concerned. We’ve seen it before, right? A young, exciting new band release a blistering first record that gets a lot more attention than expected, they tour relentlessly, the venues grow and grow, and the record company wants to make the most of the buzz. They push them into releasing a new album. And then the second album bombs because they didn’t spend enough time on it. We see that exciting new act whither away to nothing. I had no evidence that any of this was what was happening here, but I have been burnt by this before. I pressed play on A Hero’s Death with a mixture of nerves and excitement.
Fontaines DC put my worries to bed almost immediately. Opening track ‘I Don’t Belong’ instantly signals that this isn’t going to be just a rushed copy of Dogrel but with less intensity. It is a more layered, expansive song than any of those on the first album and while it is recognisably the same band, it is also clear that they have learnt a lot in the last year or so. They’ve become more brooding, less like the cheeky upstarts and more like a band already in their prime. ‘Love is the Main Thing’ continues that message. By the time we get to ‘Televised Mind’, one of the album’s singles and a definite highlight, the band have worked their way towards some of the ferocity that was present on Dogrel, but it feels more controlled and purposeful. The music suggests a greater attention to detail. Most impressive of all, though, is that these opening three songs, and ‘A Lucid Dream’ which follows them, seem to have almost melded together to create this feeling of claustrophobia followed by release. It’s truly involving. These four songs would be the perfect way to open a live show, and I hope they will open with them when I see them in Manchester next year.
And just as they have very intelligently built an opening to an album that sucks you in and holds you close, they make a similarly clever decision to slow things down for the next couple of songs. Two of Dogrel’s highlights were slower songs, but in some ways they felt like outliers and as if they had almost been thrown in. Here, both ‘You Said’ and ‘Oh Such A Spring’ feel perfectly placed. ‘You Said’ in particular is a standout, and if you listen to this album as much as I have I dare you not to get the refrain of ‘operating faster’ stuck in your head.
Fontaines DC announced this album with the release of single and title song ‘A Hero’s Death.’ At the time of its release there were some mixed feelings from fans of the first album, with the backing vocals and some of the instrumentation leading people to either be worried or excited for a new sound. Actually, I think this is the closest thing to what fans of Dogrel will be familiar with. But it is also a step up. This is a powerful, energetic masterclass in songwriting and the refrain of ‘life ain’t always empty’ is the perfect sound for our times. It’s a song of the year contender.
It’s probably pretty clear that I’m a fan of this album by now, and I could go on with this almost song by song breakdown. Every song is great. I will say that I think the album starts better than it ends, but it starts so fucking well that that was pretty much inevitable. Of the closing four songs I think ‘I Was Not Born’ is a definite standout. In terms of the music, it has to be the most uplifting song of the band’s short career so far, and in its lyrics it continues a themes of freedom and individual responsibility that have been front and centre throughout the album. But I think most of all the band deserve praise for the way that, in just fifteen months, they have evolved their sound, created more expansive soundscapes, and matured beyond their years. This is the kind of second album that every band should hope for.
Words by Fran Slater