One of the fastest growing rock groups in recent years is the British rock band, Royal Blood. While rock duos are hardly a new concept—the most recent being Jack and Meg White’s aptly named White Stripes—what sets Royal Blood apart is its aggressive bass and drum formula and a sound that fuses together elements of bands like Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age and the aforementioned White Stripes. Within two years of forming, the band has quickly garnered acclaim from fans and even legendary musicians like Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. After a lengthy tour to promote their eponymous 2014 debut album, the duo headed back to the studio to deliver their long awaited follow up album How Did We Get So Dark?
For any band, especially one that scored a wildly popular debut on both sides of the Atlantic, the second album is always the most challenging to create. On one hand, the band could play it safe and make an album that follows more or less the same formula as its debut. In contrast, the band could make a record that takes a more experimental route to take its sound in new directions. In the case of Royal Blood, while its sophomore effort picks up where its first album left off, there is enough new stuff included to make this a fresh experience. The album opens up with the pulsating title track. Musically speaking, it sounds like an outtake from the first album, but considering that this is Royal Blood’s second studio outing, starting off like this is a good way to make listeners feel that the band is still sticking with their sound without making too drastic of a change.
The lyrical themes of love gone wrong, infidelity and obsession are still present in the title track, as well as the rest of the songs on the album. Things start to change during the subsequent tracks. The lead single, “Lights Out,” really does a good job of showing how far the band has come since 2013. It is a much more subtle and subdued song than anything from Royal Blood’s first album, only really bursting during the chorus, bass solo and breakdown. Bassist and lead singer Mike Kerr demonstrates remarkable restraint in his performance and it shows on various other songs from the album. Also present, as well as a new feature in general, is the addition of keyboards. That however, is not as drastic of a change as one might think. In this case, soft synthesizer and piano are played by both members of the band respectively to augment, rather than distract from the song’s atmosphere.
The next track and follow up single “I Only Lie When I Love You,” is a perfect contrast. This time around, the band delivers quite possibly their most straightforward rock song to date. There is a lot of influence from classic hard rock bands present throughout the song, right down to drummer Ben Thatcher’s Led Zeppelin style drumming and riding cowbell percussion. Kerr’s trademark sound of plugging his bass guitar into a wide variety of effects and distortion pedals to get a tone similar to a regular guitar has also evolved to a sound similar to classic bands. Judging by its short running time, this single really displays one of Royal Blood’s greatest strengths—their ability to make songs that are both hard and heavy for rock fans and easily accessible for radio airplay.
The band also dabbles into other types of music during the album. The penultimate track, “Hole in Your Heart,” is definitely the most keyboard heavy song, with Kerr playing a vintage Wurlitzer electric piano all throughout. With the exception of the chorus, this makes the song bear more resemblance to bands like Supertramp rather than Led Zeppelin. “Don’t Tell” mixes the Royal Blood sound with a more traditional blues song, adding a breather to an already intense experience.
The last track, “Sleep,” is a haunting song that sees the band mix rock with elements of hip hop, bringing together two genres with an acrimonious relationship. Compared to “Better Strangers,” the loud closer of their debut album, this song ends things with a more directed and refined approach that goes well with the rest of the songs. If this album has any real flaw, it is the 35-minute run time.
The first album was not that long, clocking at 31 minutes. In that case however, it was passable since that was Royal Blood’s debut. It would have been nice if they added two or three more songs to add to the run time. While people who preordered a limited edition package received two bonus songs, these extra tracks should have been included from the get go, no matter the version of the album.
All things considered, How Did We Get So Dark? is still an album that was worth the wait and hopefully a sign of things to come with Royal Blood’s future. They are currently on tour supporting Queens of the Stone Age and are slated to play at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 24 as part of that band’s Villains World Tour.