‘A well-considered continuation of form with added sludge…’
Brighton duo Royal Blood (Mike Kerr & Ben Thatcher) rose to prominence in 2014 with their self-titled debut album and could be described as an oasis surrounded by dunes of mediocrity. This can be interpreted as either a reflection upon the depleted significance of rock music over the last decade, or one which directly adheres to the desert analogy and hails them as the pioneers of a distinctive sound; drawing on the blown-out soundscapes of the ‘Palm Desert Scene’ combined with the riffs of some of the most potent blues-rock guitarists in the ilk of Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton. With the combination of Kerr’s extensive set up of fuzz pedals and various guitar amps working in synchrony with Thatcher’s unflappable rhythmic accompaniment, Royal Blood has managed to build on the construction of the girth that served as the very crux of what the masses embraced with their debut.
On the first listen it is clear that the band have no intention to disassociate themselves from their ‘stoner’ or and ‘doom’ affiliations: ‘She’s Creeping’ sounds like it came directly out of ‘Master of Reality’ (1971) and in ‘Don’t Tell’ it is all too easy to imagine Josh Homme in the backing vocals or taking the lead altogether. Thatcher’s contribution to ‘Light’s Out’ also deserves substantial credit: the riffs throughout are absolutely inseparable from the drums and the result is the creation of a chorus that could be considered as one of their finest. The band have also showcased a desire to branch out of their renowned set up in ‘Hole In Your Heart’, through the unconventional technique of running an electric piano through a guitar amplifier, sounding somewhat reminiscent of the ballads in ‘…Like Clockwork’ (2013). The title track doesn’t attempt to recreate the heavy and bombastic nature of ‘Out of the Black’: instead it effectively sets the scene for an album that contains all the qualities of the first, but with a slightly more edgy, moody, and theatrical undertone that leaves the listener not knowing whether Kerr is feeling conceited in ‘I Only Lie When I Love You’ or finds himself being triggered as he is in the breakdown of ‘Where Are You Now?’.
The album as a whole has undoubtedly built on the credentials of their debut: the increased use of dynamic variation and the more eclectic delivery of Kerr’s vocals, without doubt, make ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’ a more colourful listen, with enough mysteriousness from ‘She’s Creeping’ and ‘Sleep’ to offer some progressive elements that grow after a number of listens. Having sung and acknowledged the areas to which this album clearly succeeds, however, it may be relevant to address the elephant in the room with regards to the commercial awareness involved in its construction. This is not to say that this immediately succumbs them to the same production line as the more fetishized members of the entertainment industry, however limiting the second album to just above half an hour with as few songs as its predecessor could beg the question as to whether the band have consciously oppressed themselves into the safe-zone. With the wide array of influences they draw upon, some may have been hoping for a more progressive and conceptual output similar to ‘Rated R’ (2000), though they opted for the formula that proved to be well received.
But one need not read this as cynicism: the future of rock music may largely depend on whether bands such as Royal Blood can remain in the thick of popular culture. If this album is a suggestion of anything, it is that the band possess a definitive harmonic language with an intrinsic mass appeal, perhaps because consumers are recapturing their thirst for rock music again. For Royal Blood, however, this album is a reinforcement of what makes them who they are as well as being a teaser for the rousing avenues that could await them.
Royal Blood will play the SSE Hydro in Glagsow on November 24.