With a debut so good that it brought renewed faith in the revival of the guitar band, success hit Fontaines D.C. like a meteor; rapid, dazzling but almost catastrophic. The Dublin band’s follow up, A Hero’s Death, is a darker, morose record which documents how close they came to burning up from the pressures of intense touring and industry expectations.
The release of Dogrel in April last year brought levels of guitar band grandeur not reached on such a debut since the early noughties when The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys were beginning to rock up. The Irish five piece bypassed the usual milestones of growing bands as the album went on to earn them a Mercury Prize nomination, multiple awards for album of the year, and playlist entries across BBC radio. But going from Irish pub circuits, to having headline dates set for Alexandra Palace in London in the span of two years, burns with equal levels of anxiety and euphoria.
“I don’t belong to anyone. I don’t want to belong to anyone,” frontman Grian Chatten drawls in the chorus of ‘I Don’t Belong’, the album’s opening track. It sounds like a scornful hindsight and a defensive retaliation of the ethos behind ‘Big’, their monumental opener of Dogrel with its resounding statement: “My childhood was small. But I’m gonna be big.”
“We experienced full journeys where we didn’t speak to each other,” Chatten recalled about touring Dogrel. “It wasn’t because we didn’t love each other anymore. Our souls were kicking back against walls that were closing in. We had no space for ourselves.” This enduring love as a band despite adversities, is a sentiment addressed in the murky poetry of ‘Love is the Main Thing’.
Fontaines D.C. reluctantly had to cancel planned shows, as the pandemic hit. This ultimately allowed the band to find refuge in writing sessions back home in Dublin. These sessions churned out resentful tumultuous tracks like ‘A Lucid Dream’ and ‘Living in America’ which go hand-in-hand with tracks like ‘Televised Mind’, written prior to their debut. The energy and chaos of these tracks mimic the hysteria introspectively from Chatten and the band, as well as externally, with the world in its current state.
This time away from the road produced some more restrained, spectral ballads which are the foundations of A Hero’s Death. These tracks lean on folk narratives, entirely disparate from anything on their debut. ‘You Said’ is a yearning, bleary rumination built on strained guitar lines which O’Connell and Curley wrote in a hotel room after a particularly depressing day in Brussels. ‘Oh Such A Spring’ is a delicate and mournful track that blurs the line between nihilism and hope, as Chatten closes the track by expressing, “The sun hit the sky. I watched all the folks go to work just to die. And I wished I could go back to Spring again.”
This optimistic and paradoxical take on nihilism is best displayed on the fervent title track. “Life ain’t always empty”, Chatten reminds you sarcastically in the chorus. In reality it is quite a bleak statement about how life is in fact often empty, framed in a way that sounds optimistic and sincere.
Despite being released little over a year on from their acclaimed debut, A Hero’s Death, barely shares a chord with its predecessor and would be a severe disappointment for anyone hoping for Dogrel 2.0. Often they make a point of contradicting their previous statements. Where their debut was brash and ‘ready-steady violent’ its follow up is purposefully subdued and reflective. And even where Dogrel was gentle and breezy, their follow up’s slower moments are anxious and brooding. Its exciting to see Fontaines D.C. already toying with expectations and A Hero’s Death is proof that their meteoric success story will continue to burn on.