FONTAINES D.C. A Hero’s Death gets 8/10

Irish post-punk band Fontaines D.C. enjoyed a remarkably swift rise from pub to prizes in the space of a year. Their debut album Dogrel catapulted the young men to levels they never would have expected in the infancy of their careers: the album debuted in the Top 10 of the UK charts, also earning them a Mercury Prize nomination. Acclaim in the media was widespread and welcome, ending with Dogrel being named as the best album of the year by both BBC 6 Music and Rough Trade. Fontaines D.C. also sold out tours in the UK and abroad and even found themselves on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, bringing their trademark intensity and lyricism to an unsuspecting television audience.

A lot of this acclaim can be attributed to Fontaines D.C.’s unique style of punk, marked by a distinctly Irish intellectualism (the members initially bonded over a shared passion for the poetry of W.B. Yeats), and their first release of 2020 continues this tradition. New single A Hero’s Death takes its name from a line in a Brendan Behan play (The Hostage) and singer Grian Chatten has noted that the title, which is also the name of the new album, is a wry nod to the notorious second album syndrome that plagues many upcoming bands; to fail and fade when your career is just getting going would be a noble hero’s death indeed.

As if to highlight the growing reputation of the band, the video for the new song features an Irish acting star, Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Game of Thrones), playing a smarmy and smug talk show host who struggles to deal with the growing popularity of his puppet sidekick. It’s hard not to wonder how much this is based on Fontaines D.C.’s experiences in the suffocating bubble of American Late Night television with the sycophantic Fallon.

While the play the song’s title comes from is inherently political, the band avoids that exclusivity in favour of a more generalised philosophical outlook. Chatten spits the lyrics in his welcomingly Irish drawl, repeating the refrain “life ain’t always empty” throughout the song, backed by a simultaneously uplifting and menacing hypnotic rhythm. There is also a touch of balladry to the composition, albeit a darkened one. There are also signs of sonic growth, with newfound chirpy melodic harmonies accompanying Chatten’s monologue.

Fontaines D.C.’s next  album is scheduled for release on July 31 through Partisan Records and the band’s April Australian headline tour, cancelled due to COVID-19, has been tentatively rescheduled for December, although Perth has unfortunately been left off their list of stops. If this song is anything to go by though, Chatten and his cohorts might be waiting a few more years for their heroic artistic death to occur.


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