Title: A Hero's Death
Artist: Fontaines D.C.
Label: Partisan Records
Genre: Post Punk / Rock
Released: 31 July 2020
"The Death of Cú Chulainn"
a hero's death
“Just appreciate the grey
Even though you don't know
Even though you don't
You feel, you feel”
Fontaines D.C. are an extremely young band. Although they formed back in 2017, their first two full-length releases have both dropped only in the span of the last 16 months. The first of which, “Dogrel”, was an excellent album which showed the immediate potential of the group, with its witty writing and tight, energetic music. And hardly even a year later, after recording during the coronavirus quarantine period, the band has dropped “A Hero’s Death”, marking a slight departure from their high-octane debut into a mellower sound. And although “A Hero’s Death” is largely an improvement on most fronts for the band musically, as well as a really solid follow-up to “Dogrel”, some of the vocal performances on the album unfortunately make this a fairly patchy listen.
There is a lot to love about “A Hero’s Death”. It’s produced beautifully, there isn’t really a weak spot instrumentally on the album, and lead vocalist Grian Chatten has some great moments which showcase his charisma and presence as a frontman. ‘A Lucid Dream’, ‘A Hero’s Death’, and ‘Living in America’ are all great tracks where each of these aspects can be heard. But I feel as if for every powerful vocal performance Chatten delivers, a lukewarm one follows. Although ‘Living in America’ gives one of Chatten’s best moments from the album, sounding almost reminiscent of Ian Curtis or Jim Morrison, he then delivers a borderline-monotonous performance only two songs later in ‘Sunny’. Similarly, his vocals in ‘You Said’ are equally tiresome and needlessly staccato, making the song pretty tedious to listen to. This inconsistency unfortunately makes the album a little stilted, but thankfully the vocals never waver enough to actually make the listening experience of “A Hero’s Death” bad.
You been on the brink, so slow down
Don't get time to think now
This might seem like a criticism of all the more down-tempo tracks on the album, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The closing track, ‘No’, shows the band at their most sombre, and also happens to be one of the best songs on the album. Here, Chatten delivers a beautiful performance that’s honestly the highlight of the entire record, as he sings about facing uncertainty with appreciation rather than fear. The track ‘Oh Such a Spring’ is also incredibly beautiful, and is a stripped-back waltz that lands in the middle of the album before its (for the most part) superior second half. These two tracks also really accentuate Chatten’s heavy Dublin accent, which adds a lot of character to their sound in an industry dominated mostly by bands who adopt the same homogenised vocal styles and inflections in their music.
The lyrics of “A Hero’s Death” mostly deal in repeated, punchy lyrical hooks that encapsulate the essence of each song. Lines such as “I don't belong to anyone”, “Life ain’t always empty”, and “Love is the main thing” often populate the majority of these songs, and their potency works to great effect. The song “I Was Not Born” in particular is almost completely made up of the repetition of a single line, however instead of sounding repetitive or stale, it comes off extremely powerfully.
“I was not born
Into this world
To do another man's bidding”
The cover of the album shows a sculpture depicting the death of an Irish demigod, Cú Chulainn, who strapped himself to a rock after receiving a fatal wound in battle so he could stand facing his enemies until his death. Apart from this possibly feeding into some of the album’s themes of strength and resilience in the face of adversity, the inclusion of this is also serves as representation for the rich culture of the band’s background.
Musically speaking, “A Hero’s Death” is a complete improvement on “Dogrel”. Everything here sounds extremely rich and tightly produced. And even in tracks where the vocals aren’t particularly engaging, such as ‘Love is the Main Thing’, the instrumentals manage to carry the song and keep the track from being dragged down. A possible exception is ‘Sunny’, which is by far the weakest track on the album, where neither the instrumental or vocal composition of the song are very interesting. Apart from this, however, Fontaines have done a great job of making an album that is musically consistent, despite the small dips in vocal quality.
“A Hero’s Death” is a great album that is unfortunately held back from its vocal inconsistency. Chatten has the potential to deliver an excellent performance, and shows glimpses of this throughout the album, but there are various tracks here where it’s clear he simply isn’t reaching the vocal ability that he could. I love the direction the band has taken however, steering away from the frenetic post-punk of “Dogrel” into something more mature and developed. The speed at which Fontaines D.C. are releasing music is commendable in of itself, especially at this level of quality. And if Chatten can deliver a more consistent performance in their next record, they definitely have the potential to release some of the best music of the next few years.
“Don’t give up too quick
You only get one line - you better make it stick
If we give ourselves to every breath
Then we’re all in the running for a hero’s death”
Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 15/08/20