England’s Royal Blood established themselves in 2014 as purveyors of meaty hard rock, with their self-titled début album, while their sound and artistry drew comparisons to Jack White, and Joshua Homme and Queens of the Stone Age. With their sophomore release, How Did We Get So Dark?, Royal Blood consolidate and build upon their previously established sound, delivering music that belies the band’s status as a duo. Studio trickery and multi-tracking aside, it’s hard to believe a bassist and drummer alone could produce the big sound of How Did We Get So Dark?
Opening with the album’s titular track, Royal Blood demonstrates that they don’t need to hide behind bluster, as Ben Thatcher’s drums and Mike Kerr’s bass riffs push and pull the listener throughout the compelling three-minute blast. The quite-loud dynamic of I Only Lie When I Love You, the juxtaposition of the uber-fuzzy verses, wah-wah chorus, and droning bridge of She’s Creeping, and the jumps between repetitive and melodic basslines on Where Are You Now? illustrates the pair’s solid grasp of what makes for a well-put together song.
Kerr demonstrates his versatility as a rock vocalist on Don’t Tell as he shifts between a half-croon and falsetto in service of the song’s narrative of sneaking out to engage in a tryst. From its scorching intro to its superfluous outro, Hook, Line & Sinker shows just how well Kerr and Thatcher work together, as the bass and drums never compete for the same sonic space and the pair organically shift back-and-forth regarding who gets to hold centre-stage. Many bands could stand to learn from this example.
How Did We Get So Dark? is a punchy and satisfying exercise in hard-rock, taking a mere 35 minutes from start to finish, yet oftentimes songs feel longer than their 3ish (give or take) minute lengths would indicate. This is usually because Royal Blood has thrown a few additional musical ideas into the mix – except for with Lights Out, which is just longer than it should be. These added ideas can increase the value of a song – as on Hole in Your Heart – creating satisfying sonic journeys, but just as often they are unnecessary embellishments – such as Hook, Line & Sinker’s outro. Blood Royal are definitely worth listening to, and their future looks bright indeed.