Dublin post-punk outfit Fontaines D.C. enjoyed relative success after the release of their 2019 debut Dogrel. The quintet is back again just a year later, but the luster and boldness that characterized their previous release is nowhere to be seen. A Hero’s Death finds the band seemingly unfazed by their previous achievements. Instead we find themes of disillusionment, loneliness and even nihilism within the folds of this 47 minute record.
And rightly so, a quick peek at some of our favorite artists’ personal lives can tell us that success in this industry is not all that it’s chalked up to be. Get blinded by all the lights and it could easily sweep you out to the gutters. As frontman Grian Chatten utters in the opening song :“I don’t belong to anyone.”, you get the impression that they are in no danger of succumbing to such trappings. The song drones with static energy and the line repeats in a languid manner. It broods heavily yet somehow gives off a hint of being focused in the game, grounding the band to stay true to themselves. The same theme emerges yet again in the spontaneous and equally stoic “I Was Not Born”. Chatten sings: “I was not born / Into this world / To do another man’s bidding.” But nowhere is this more apparent than in the title track, which is slathered by layers of irony. The line “Life ain’t always empty” repeats in the chorus, while in the verses shares positive messages in a monotone voice. The guitars are grumbling and claustrophobic, deforming these unassuming lines into banal platitudes–similar to what you would read from a mediocre self-help book. It’s dark humor at its finest, a staple of the genre . The band expertly uses repetition and cavernous reverb-rich soundscapes to sell this mood.
There are a few clues to this feeling of disillusionment in the album, but it is best represented in “A Lucid Dream”. The song feels more like a fevered nightmare at the climax of an R.E.M. cycle. In it, the narrator expresses the feeling of being thrown in a loop while the world moves too fast. An identity crisis emerges as they struggle to navigate through, in the end begging the question: “Are you all prone / To being anyone else / Other than you?”
But beneath all the bleak and heavy themes are moments of calm. “Oh such a spring” turns dreamy guitar riffs into nostalgia for a lost moment in time. In album closer “No” the band offers a resolution for all these adversities: “please don’t lock yourself away / just appreciate the grey”.
A Hero’s Death may not be as rambunctious as their previous release, but it’s apparent that Fontaines D.C. has taken a step forward to find their sound in this album, and they’re only getting better. As the title track puts it: “That was the year of the sneer now the real thing is here.”