On the cover of the third Fontaines DC album is an Irish giant deer standing on the ground floor of a house – an extinct creature in a place where it isn’t supposed to be. The title is an old Gaelic semi-swear word, occasionally uttered by drummer Tom Coll’s exclusively Irish-speaking great aunt, that roughly translates as “the damnation of the deer”.
That feeling of being displaced and possibly cursed is something that frontman Grian Chatten has been wrestling with while driving his band and his life forward at whiplash-inducing pace. Exactly three years ago the quintet were based in Dublin and releasing a debut album, Dogrel, of fast, anguished punk rock. Now they’re all living in London, they’re Grammy, Brit and Mercury nominees, they have three nights at Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo booked and the NME Awards just crowned them Best Band in the World. Chatten in particular, despite having been born in Cumbria, is conflicted about settling in a country with a long history of making his kind feel unwelcome. He’s also worried that he’s abandoned his chief source of inspiration. The “DC” stands for “Dublin City” and there’s reference to the Irish capital’s James Joyce connections in the funereal new song Bloomsday.
It seems ridiculous to call the unruly sound of that three-year-old first album their early days, but the music has developed to such an extent that if it weren’t for Chatten’s boggy accent, this could be a different band. There’s a Smiths-like jangle to Roman Holiday, which also comes with a rare guitar solo from Carlos O’Connell. The guitarist has stepped into Chatten’s shoes to write one song, Big Shot, a dreamy highlight on which he prods at the size of his rock star ego. Most surprising is the title track, which channels late-Nineties dance-rock bands such as Death in Vegas and XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream.
In truth, the bouncier beats don’t quite suit Chatten’s doomy tones, and he also struggles to hold attention on The Couple Across the Way, with its two-note melody and sparse accordion backing. But otherwise, the generally slower pace allows for a glowering feel that fits his weary words. Songs grow without rushing, especially the six-minute opener In ár gCroíthe go deo (“In our hearts forever”) which builds to an overwhelming crashing together of instruments, and the closing Nabokov, which piles up guitar effects and interweaved vocals. It’s a style that hasn’t been heard before from a band which has already matured into one of the very best.