A Hero’s Death
Fontaines D.C. burst onto the scene last year with debut LP Dogrel and established themselves as a must-hear for post-punk fans. Frontman Grian Chatten’s unmistakeable Dublin drawl placed the band firmly within their home city. The album felt like a booze-drenched, cigarette-burnt postcard to working class life in the city, but set to a Velvet Underground dirge.
Whereas on Dogrel they channelled young ambition, energy and boozy nights, latest LP A Hero’s Death is far more sobering. The band started composing the album amidst a rigorous touring schedule in 2019 which left them spent and detached. This sense of alienation and world-weariness is felt throughout A Hero’s Death, which is a more introspective, cynical and abstract set of songs than its predecessor.
Opener I Don’t Belong sets the tone. Across the motorik guitar chug they’re known for, Chatten paints a portrait of two characters: a belligerent barfly and a soldier who throws away his medals. Both don’t feel like they belong, whether it be among their fellow men or society. It’s a perfect opening to the album, setting the tone with beautiful lines like “I heard him serving as a soldier/ In the annexe of the earth/ Threw himself before a bullet/ And threw the metal to the dirt”. When compared to Dogrel‘s optimistic opener Big, the contrast is clear.
The other two singles from the album are both brilliant. Title track A Hero’s Death is a paranoid self-help mantra, chanted by someone who’s about to lose it. Its demented, harmonised vocals are perfectly at odds with the other instruments’ menacing roar, an example of how the band plays with atonality throughout the album. Third single Televised Mind favours similar chanted repetition, painting a picture of someone whose ideals are set from TV rather than reality: “Swipe your thoughts from Broadway/ Turn ideals to cabaret.”
These songs were written before the rest of the material here, and it shows. On the remaining tracks the band dips their toes into several different styles and comes out on top more often than not. Oh Such a Spring, and album closers Sunny and No, are slower ballads that demonstrate Chatten’s turn towards sentimental and open-ended lyricism as opposed to the more literal narratives from Dogrel. Oh Such a Spring lags a bit, but the final two tracks are a triumph. Sunny yet again uses incongruous harmonised vocals to great effect. No is particularly effecting, a meditation on living life while dealing with the inevitable losses. Sometimes one simply has to accept life’s negativity: “Don’t lock yourself away/ Just appreciate the grey”.
Other interesting tracks include Love Is the Main Thing with its beautiful chorused guitars and Chatten’s deadpan delivery (“Love is the main thing/ Always the same thing”), sung with enough detachment to make Ian Curtis proud. You Said is a catchy track which feels like a tribute to grunge and Britpop in equal measure. The band does falter on the remaining tracks though. On A Lucid Dream the atonality and awkward verse structure only serves to muddy the song, and I Was Not Born feels like a Dogrel offcut with little to say.
This is a strong, if not perfect album. Lyrically the band is as good as ever in what is one of the most poetic rock albums of the year. Musically they remain strongest when the tempo is high, but they throw in enough new tricks here to make this recommended listening for fans and newcomers alike.