The whole 'rock music is dead' debate is becoming a bit of a joke now. It reached a new level this week with Lorde winning the award for Best Rock Video at the MTV VMAs. Sure, she might have a gothic rebellious streak and she may have performed with Nirvana, but nobody could describe her music as rock. It's not as if there isn't plenty of guitar-based music around, it's just that it's not very good.
Enter Royal Blood. Where so many bands are blending their sound with other (commonly electronic) genres or edging towards pop, the debut album from this Brighton-based band represents a return to pure rock. This is an album about aggressive guitar riffs, powerful drumming and raw vocals.
What's so impressive is that this is achieved as a duo: Mike Kerr on bass guitar and vocals and Ben Thatcher on drums. Their sound is thick and heavy, without the need for extraneous instruments: direct, solid and hot-blooded. Imagine a blend of The White Stripes with the bass riffs of Muse (Hysteria in particular) and the deep, grunge sound of Rage Against The Machine.
The restriction of a duo does limit the sound a little – there’s little variety across the ten tracks of ‘Royal Blood’. But then, there are hardly going to be any ballads are there? Kerr and Thatcher are incredibly skilful at what they do, squeezing out every ounce of invention from their sound. This might be a heavy rock album but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for melody and hooky riffs. Kerr’s bass playing stretches to every inch of the instrument: the rich, weighty and distorted tone negates any lack of screeching guitar solo, whilst his deceptively simple riffs shudder through the ears. His vocals too range from an angsty wail to a cooing falsetto, whilst Thatcher’s machine-gun drumming never fails to drive the music at full throttle.
With such a consistent sound and high quality, few of the tracks stand out. A handful of singles may be familiar: namely staccato opener Out Of The Black, the gritty and visceral Little Monster, the frenetic riffs of Come On Over and the (vaguely) more muted Figure It Out. Blood Hands also sticks out for its slower, weightier pace, whilst Ten Tonne Skeleton simply demands to be cranked up to maximum volume. With each track hovering around the three minute mark, this is a rock album palatable for mainstream tastes. It might be short, but few albums this year have packed such a punch.
* Come On Over
* Blood Hands
* Ten Tonne Skeleton
Listen: 'Royal Blood' is available now.