Royal Blood was formed in 2013 in Brighton after an airport pickup favor led to lead singer Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher discussing forming a band. The two were acquainted with each other from both being in a teen band when growing up and clicked again after this meeting. At first things didn’t go swimmingly as they were not able to get bookings and played a lot of open mic nights. While working on developing their sound at Brighton Electric Studios the band was signed by Warner Bros.
After a lot of gigs and opening for the Arctic Monkeys the band released their eponymous debut in August 2014. The rest is history; they scored a phenomenal international hit, while being well received by the critics. The record was verified as the fastest selling British Rock debut in 3 years. It would go on to be nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2014 and the band would win the Brit Awards Best British Group in 2015. What won over many fans was the raw gritty rock sound that pervaded the album. Here was a huge sound conveyed by two guys who seemed to leave everything they had on the stage when they played. It was a fundamental sound that looked not be complicated but to inspire and earned them a place at the table in the confused world of popular music today.
The new release “How Did We Get So Dark” as previously stated has big shoes to fill. For fans and critics the question becomes which direction would the duo go? Would they tip towards a more melodic side, bringing out their more Muse inspired harmonies or would they continue to spare no prisoners and let loose the dogs of rock hell? For this release Royal Blood opted to take the harmonic route. The recording is concise and not willing to be self involved but is missing some of the grit that made the debut so alluring. The album at times feels a bit over produced and lacks a degree of the angry engagement found on the debut. There has always been a push me/ pull me vibe for the lads between the Altie/Anthem rock of bands like Muse and their slamming neo heavy metal interpretation of bands like Motorhead. This time the balance tips to the more commercially palatable anthem rock side of the scale. For me there are times the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the components on the record seem arbitrarily smoothed off and forced to fit. Almost like the last Biffy Clyro record which was so close to brilliance but came up a bit short.
One example of quality on the release is the title song which contains a lot of double entendres that can be taken as lyrics about a broken relationship or our dismal political climate. It is user friendly with the best parts being the cranking guitars, bass and phenomenal drums. However I could do without the nasal vocal imitation of Matt Bellamy. “Lights Out” again is a likeable anthemic track that will play well live but I would have preferred it a sliver more course. Other songs that tend towards the Muse end of the pool are “I Only Lie When I Love You, Look Like You Know and Hook, Line and Sinker”. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing particularly wrong with these songs, they are each pretty catchy and rapid paced but I found myself longing for more sweat and grit. “Hook, Line and Sinker” felt to me at times like an attack of the producers and record executives and I wondered what would have been produced without their interference. It is not all bad actually none of it is bad, and “She’s Creeping, Where are you Now? And Don’t Tell” are wonderful trademark Royal Blood tracks; great grinding, sinuous songs that keep the faith for initial fans of the debut. The final two tracks “Hole in Your Heart and Sleep” are the kinds of tracks I wish had been emulated throughout the release. They show growth, maturity and development of the band’s original styling. Especially “Sleep” which provides this yummy darker tone which I hope to hear more of in the future.
All in All “How Did We Get So Dark” is very good compared to the usual offerings on the current hit parade but loses a little something when compared to their rocking breakthrough debut. There is a lack of uniqueness that made the debut so alluring. Maybe that is unavoidable on a second release. The question fans/ listeners have to answer for themselves is does smoothing off the edges of Royal Blood take way the very essence of what makes this band engaging, that being their raw and gritty sound. The next release might be a more telling indicator to help answer that question, as it will probably register the yin/yang of the band’s experiences so far.