Releasing your second album just over a year after the debut is a tight turnaround, even without a tour schedule as punishing as the one Fontaines D.C. embarked on after the surprise success of 'Dogrel'. With that in mind, you'd be forgiven for thinking that 'A Hero's Death' would be more of the same, a solid effort by a band who haven't had time to grow since their last release.
The first thing you notice when you press play is that this isn't the case – at all. 'A Hero's Death' is a completely different beast to anything on their debut, a moody soundscape that leans into the most apocalyptic of the post-punk influences which marked them out as not just another shouty band first time around. Gone are the brick-through-the-window choruses and fast-paced anthems fizzing with energy, replaced by a quiet menace which runs through the entire length of the album.
Lead single and title track 'A Hero's Death' is one of the most polished examples of this, with the repeated refrain of "Life ain't always empty" cutting across the swirl of background noise and demanding your full attention - It's a hell of a departure from album one, but they pull it off masterfully. The same can be said of opener 'I Don't Belong', a variation on the same theme which kicks the album off with a bang. 'Oh Such a Spring' also deserves an honourable mention, dialling back the wall of noise for a brief interlude of heartfelt tenderness midway through the album.
Unfortunately, the tracks in between these highlights don't work quite as well, with the majority feeling like less accomplished versions of the singles, only really differentiated by whichever phrase Grian decides to repeat throughout their runtime. None of these tracks are outright bad, but there's a lot of filler to wade through between the flashes of greatness.
'A Hero's Death' succeeds in being a marked departure from the sound that initially propelled Fontaines D.C. to popularity, but in focussing on making an album that's different to the debut, the band haven't managed to make one that's as enjoyable. The best songs on here still have that spark that marks them out as a cut above the competition, but the overriding feeling is one of exhaustion as track after track fizzles out without really going anywhere. There's still a lot to love, but it sounds like the band could do with a decent night's sleep and a couple of shots of caffeine before they think about album number three.