A Hero’s Death is a depressing album. But somehow an enjoyably depressing one.
‘All your laughter pissed away/ all your sadness pissed away’. These are just some of the cheery lyrics you can expect on A Hero’s Death. You’d think Dublin rock band Fontaines DC would be feeling pretty content right now. After all, their debut album Dogrel was nominated for a Mercury Prize last year. They’ve pretty much become Ireland’s biggest rock band overnight (you’ve had your time U2!). They’ve got a lot to be chuffed about. And yet their second album is depressing as shit.
Well, the first half certainly is anyway. Over backdrops of hypnotic murky guitars, lead singer Grian Chatten delivers a series of moody and repetitive refrains, interspersed with lots of references to the rain such as ‘alwaysly raining’ and ‘when the rain changed direction’. Compared to the vibrant storytelling of Dogrel, the lyrics here are cryptic and deliberately tedious. It continues like this for six tracks, until reaching peak depressiveness on slow and melancholy ballad ‘Oh Such A Spring’. There’s a glimmer of hope towards the end of this song as Chatten sings ‘the clouds cleared up/ the sun hit the sky’. But he directly follows it up with ‘I watched all the folks go to work just to die’.
Following song and title track ‘A Hero’s Death’ comes just at the right time in the tracklist. With its positive pep talk lyrics and upbeat pace, it’s the perfect pick-me-up just at the point when you might be thinking of hanging yourself with your headphones. It was already my favourite single going into this album, and its placement makes it all the more impactful.
From here on in, the tracks feel slightly more optimistic in tone (that’s discounting weird and wacky track ‘Living in America’, which I haven’t been able to decipher even with the help of Genius). There’s even a track called ‘Sunny’ (it's not a particularly sunshiny track, but at least Chatten's not singing about the rain), while closer ‘No’ is a haunting but oddly life-affirming track that seems to be talking the listener out of suicide.
Overall, it’s a gloomy but entrancing journey. The lyrics are frustratingly cryptic at times and it’s much more stripped-back than Dogrel, but there’s still some very exciting instrumental passages in the first half and some poignant mantras hidden amongst the word salad. It feels very suited to the time we're living in - there's an oppressive bleakness to it, but through the grey it makes a point of reminding us that 'life ain't always empty'.