After polling on the BBC’s Sounds of 2014 Longlist, Royal Blood released one of the most highly anticipated debut albums of the year. It sold over 60,000 copies in its first week in the UK and debuted at Number 1 on the charts, a feat that had the music press in Britain declaring that the long reign of EDM was over and that rock music was back. It’s a pretty huge claim to make but the Brighton duo, consisting of Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher, have definitely produced an album that ensures rock music is to be considered by the masses once again. The album is a slick effort, full of crunchy riffs, hard-hitting drums and some excellent song writing. One of the most remarkable things about the album is that just a bass guitar and a drum kit create such a massive sound.
The self-titled album starts strongly with the duo’s debut single ‘Out of the Black,’ and from here the album never relents on the riff-laden rock sound. This single encapsulates the sound of the band with its heavy bass, crashing drums, strong melodies and sweet vocals on top, highlighting that Royal Blood know what works. Following the opening track comes ‘Come On Over’ and ‘Figure It Out’; two songs that exemplify Mike Kerr’s prowess on the bass and his ability to create a huge sound with just the one instrument. The ending of ‘Figure It Out’ involves a fast and furious jam between bass and drums, and in turn creates one of the standout tracks of the album.
Production on the album is tight and smooth, working to the strengths of the band. Sonically, the album sounds very natural due to their decision to not use overdubs and samples during recording. The result works in the favor of Thatcher and Kerr as this one-take method plays to the strengths of their sound. ‘Blood Hands’ gives the listener a reprieve from the earlier tracks, with riffs that are not as heavy as those found on other tracks. It shows a little bit of versatility in the band’s style before ‘Little Monster’ brings back the sounds heard earlier in the album. Another highlight is the track ‘Loose Change’. Its swaggering opening riff builds and builds till the bass is layered to create a massive wall of sound that rollicks on until the end. It’s a short burst of energy, which almost seems over before it has begun, but it still remains one of the best riffs on Royal Blood.
Mike Kerr’s vocals blend naturally into the mix and his vocal stylings have been likened to that of Josh Homme and Jack White. You can hear the influence in his style but it does seem that he has crafted his own vocal sound, that distinctly juxtaposes the heaviness of the music to a great effect. His lyrics also draw on simple themes but they are pleasing for the listener in that they do not take away from the experience of the music overall. ‘Careless’ exemplifies this strategy, as the song’s lyrics are simple: ‘I wish I cared less / but I’m afraid I don’t / you couldn’t care less / so I guess you won’t change your mind again.’ However, the simplicity does not detract from Kerr’s delivery and the words’ impact. Such simplicity is arguably more sonically pleasing for the band’s style. ‘Better Strangers’ closes out the album, a song that Kerr and Thatcher say is the one that “best represents their sound.” As the last song they recorded you can identify the differences in it from the rest of the tracks on the album. ‘Better Strangers’ sounds a little a more complex and matured than the others and gives the band a good base to work from for their next project.
With all the hype and expectation, Royal Blood have managed to make an album that will please fans and critics alike. Its success lies in the album’s infectious rock sound, and the heavy but melodious sound they create. However, it’s the simplistic rock formula that Kerr and Thatcher harness that leaves the album feeling a bit repetitive. The formula both works for and against the band but tracks like ‘Better Strangers’ give hope that the formula can only be built upon. It’s a great debut effort by the band and will please those who waited in anticipation for the album’s release.