Fontaines D.C. formed in 2017 and released their debut album, Dogrel, in April 2019. Dogrel was nominated for the Mercury Prize and named album of the year by Rough Trade and BBC 6 Music. Top that with breakthrough performances on the 2019 festival circuit cementing their live credentials and you’ve got yourself a reasonably successful start to a career – to put it mildly.

Such explosive success and vertical progress could easily go to their heads and they could rest on the laurels of their first album for at least another summer circuit and headline tour. Not these guys. They have followed up their debut with another album only 15 months later. With the first single appearing alongside the video, featuring Aidan Gillan, in May, it is clear it has not been a rush job to get it out either but long in the works.

The remarkable thing is that it doesn’t feel like a pressure project, a Covid compulsion or an extension of the first album with no identity of it’s own. These are all common pitfalls for artists this year and in general but A Hero’s Death avoids them. At a time of post-punk revival, Grian’s idiosyncratic Dublin drawl is a welcome abrasion and the band are producing some of their best musical output yet on this record.

They are not the only band to be hitting a scary work ethic in terms of recorded output this year. Their breakthrough stable-mates IDLES, who it is all too easy to see as going hand in hand, also have an album out in September following their last quicker than expected. The effortlessness of the creativity spilling forth from these artists is a total pleasure. I’m not sure we’ll be seeing the same from The Murder Capital any time soon – their album while good, felt laboured by comparison so will take a while to follow up. …I digress.

The singles leading to this album were reassuring. Similar enough to the prior record to be comfortable yet pushing on with fresh messages and music behind them. Grian’s repetitive approach to choruses and rhyming couplets is an even more hypnotic, enchanting and reinvigorating this time out. This was evident from the first single, A Hero’s Death, as “life ain’t always empty” echoes around your head long after you’ve moved on. Televised Mind offers a more hypnotic yet critically-toned version in repeating the title and I Don’t Belong is more sincere and tuneful sounding remorseful yet optimistic and defiant all at once.

Grian’s vocal is simultaneously the most compelling aspect of Fontaines D.C. and its weakness. When his brand of care-free, ‘listen to what I say not what I sound like’ droning and barking is used deftly it is a magnificent complimentary juxtaposition (not an oxymoron, I promise) to the wonderful music being produced by the rest of the band. There are moments on this record however where he is pushed to provide vocals in a style that doesn’t play to his strengths and thereby move from charming to detracting in their roughness.

This is most evident on the final two tracks, Sunny and No. Especially on Sunny where it is hard to know whether he is intentionally off-key, auto-tuned to the off-key note or just off by accident. Unfortunately, in its consistency, it sounds like the auto-tuned option and for a band that operates in the area of honest and rough presentation, that is a sin that should have been produced or recorded better. It is the ballads where this vocal insufficiency is exposed but he is far from the first vocalist in this position and when you compare Sunny to Oh Such A Spring you get clear evidence that ballads are within his range if done sympathetically to the instrument he has available.

That is about the only half-criticism I have of the record though and to be fair to only come unstuck on the final two tracks of what is ultimately a two-full-album run of excellence, it is to be applauded.

Musically meanwhile the band offer another gut punch to the notion that guitar music or rock is dead. It most certainly is nowhere near those claims if you know where to look. Fontaines D.C. are at the forefront of a post-punk musical movement using rough guitars to paint pictures atop which the message of the vocal can be displayed and promoted. In many cases here the guitars and drums take on a rhythmic drone that matched the hypnotic nature of the vocal repetition. This is notable from the first track I Don’t Belong but recurs frequently throughout the record.

When put like that it makes the record sound dull and repetitive. It is anything but. Each track stands alone and while track two, Love is the Main Thing doubles down on this approach, Televised Mind, which follows sparkles with vibrant percussion and guitar riffs ringing through the bed of noise. This is then doubled down on in itself on A Lucid Dream where quieter moments are countered with layers of building noise and Grian’s rhythmic vocal melodies to create one of the most intriguing and compelling tracks on the record.

You Said is a quieter moment still ringing with electric guitar tones in a way very reminiscent of early Coldplay (Parachutes and Rush of Blood era). Oh Such A Spring also sounds like Coldplay albeit in a way that they only put out on B-sides and afterthoughts. It is the first ballad style track on show here and provides a very sweet mid-album break before A Hero’s Death comes crashing in with heavy guitars and pacy backline. Around the repetition, the verses play out like an homage to ‘advice’ songs like Baz Luhrman’s Sunscreen or The Best of Times by Sage Francis but with punk rock backing.

Life ain’t always empty
Life ain’t always empty
Life ain’t always empty
Life ain’t always empty
Life ain’t always empty
Life ain’t always empty
Don’t get stuck in the past
Say your favourite things at mass
Tell your mother that you love her
And go out of your way for others
Sit beneath a light that suits ya
And look forward to a brighter future

Living in America is equally brash and heavy when it gets going and will surely be a live favourite with some particularly rowdy pits – if we are ever able to do that kind of thing again… While I Was Not Born is the closest they come to an indie rock sound which even has the odd hint of classic rock like Rolling Stones beneath the distinct Fontaines veneer.

The album rounds out with the aforementioned Sunny and No. They have their own tender virtues and are certainly quieter moments to see the record out. Sunny reduces the musical accompaniment to detuned guitars played in a low register and jazz-like cymbal focussed drumming. Strings and female backing vocals join towards the end by which point you’re wondering if all that I criticised earlier was perfectly intentional. No has only acoustic guitar which layers up throughout behind Grian’s vocal providing a very intimate yet expansive ending to the album

The entire music world was excited about this record – from radio stations to record stores, fans and fellow artists alike – in a way I’ve not seen in a while. When a band burns so brightly from the start it is going to interesting what they do next and especially so hot off the back of the previous project. Fontaines D.C. did not disappoint in any way and that is a real achievement not to be glossed over lightly. Now if Covid-19 could get out of the way to let these songs live on in the live arena, that would be just great.

Highlights: A Hero’s Death, A Lucid Dream, I Don’t Belong, Oh Such a Spring, Living in America,