Royal Blood have been making a big noise this year. Having only got together early last year, the Brighton hard rock duo supported the Arctic Monkeys in a couple of gigs at Finsbury Park at the end of 2013, were nominated for the BBC Sound of 2014 and have been busy playing most of the festivals this summer including Glastonbury, where their turbocharged performances have left audiences’ heads buzzing.
The band’s riff-driven garage-blues has been compared to Led Zeppelin and Queens Of The Stone Age, and also owes a lot to American grunge, while like The White Stripes or even as primitive, thickset cousins of The Black Keys the pair punch above their weight. Singer Mike Kerr howls like a hound dog and plays his hybrid bass-guitar with venom while Ben Thatcher plays drums as if wielding clubs: this drum and bass outfit is rock hard. Royal Blood don’t altogether avoid heavy rock clichés but they do reinvigorate them with no-nonsense directness.
Their debut self-titled album (co-produced with Tom Dalgety, who’s previously worked with the likes of Band Of Skulls and Killing Joke) at just over half an hour is short but seems the right length for this rather one-dimensional style of music. There’s not a lot of variety here, with no other instruments used and an overall low tonal register, yet the 10 three-minute songs based mainly around the theme of love gone bad all strike home with their pounding beats and strong choruses.
First single Out Of The Black brews up a storm of anger, opening with hammer blows on the drums before the thudding bass comes in, as the betrayed lover accuses “You made a fool out of me” and threatens “I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it” – message received loud and clear. Come On Over is a cry of loneliness and desperation – “I’m on a train going nowhere” – with crashing chords and a big chorus, and Figure It Out lets rip feelings of confusion and pain.
As its title indicates You Can Be So Cruel slides into self-pity – “Killing me so gently, hands right round my throat” – with kick-ass riffs. In Blood Hands Kerr strives for a higher vocal pitch in a guilt-ridden song, while Little Monster oozes sexual menace with its strutting, cock-rock power chords. Loose Change has a slicker vibe, in its warning of how the glitter of gold is easily tarnished.
In Careless the music mimics the words, “But our love came crashing down like a tidal wave”, and the shuddering chord changes of Ten Tonne Skeleton seem to reflect the lyrics, “She took my heart / Left me for dead / And drank my blood”. The bombastic final track Better Strangers is all about moving on from someone you’ve loved and lost – I’m outta here.
Royal Blood is a meaty album full of testosterone – not much for veggies here – whose raw power can feel relentless. Yet it’s impressive that just two guys can make enough noise for five in propelling this musical juggernaut with such swaggering confidence. It may be unsubtle but it sure makes a powerful impact.