Brighton, England’s Royal Blood are here and they come with a question: who needs guitars anyway? You see, their sound simply consists of bass guitar and vocals, courtesy of Michael Kerr, and drums via Ben Thatcher. That’s right, just bass and drums. Yet their album packs more screeching riffs than anything The Strokes or The Vines or The Hives have ever done. I mention those bands because, well, there’s a garage rock fuzz about the Blood, although to my ears they have more in common with The Kills and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, being so rough around the edges and aggressive and all that jazz. (OK, so they’re anything but jazz; they’re the exact opposite of jazz, but you get the idea, eh?)
The most interesting thing about the Blood isn’t that their sound merely consists of bass and drums — and a hell of a lot of pedals — it’s that it sounds like simple garage rock AND massive stadium rock all at once.
“I’ve got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it,” sings Kerr during the killer opening track “Out Of The Black,” which packs one mean drum assault. And, boy, does the bass rattle and fuzz and dazzle, too. I’ve always liked the idea of bass being a lead instrument and not merely a faint rhythm instrument. Royal Blood take that concept and ride it like a mad bull. And they don’t fall off. Not even when their 32 minute album is over — because the songs will linger in your head, playing on a non-stop loop, long after. And you’ll savor the heck out of it. Although who needs to rely on one’s memory when you can just play the bloody album all over again, which would be my recommendation.
There aren’t any “deep cuts” on the album because every single track could, in fact, be a single. Each and every one of them. Take “Come On Over,” for example. The way it screeches is downright magnificent and unholy infectious. “There’s no god and I don’t really care,” proclaims Kerr with a Robert Plant blues rock-esque thing going on. It’s raw and sexual and, most of all, it’s in your face. Not to mention making your ears bleed if so much as play it at a moderate volume.
The duo evoke Wolfmother on “Figure It Out,” but then Wolfmother owe a huge debt to Zeppelin, so you could say they’re just borrowing from the Robert Plant 101 textbook again. There’s just something slightly different going on here, the tune packing a tempo slightly faster than your average Zeppelin tune. And you’ll certainly agree that there’s nothing wrong with that as it worms its way inside your head and tickles your brain in a most pleasant way.
Another highlight is the Black Sabbath-dirty-blues-style “Blood Hands.” Kerr hardly sounds like Ozzy, mind you, but the music definitely harkens to early Sabbath. Kerr does sound a bit like Sabbath’s second lead vocalist, the late Ronnie James Dio, though.
“There’s nothing left in sight,” sings Kerr as closing track “Better Strangers” kicks off. Where this track differs from the rest of the album is in the vulnerability department. The chorus is almost cocksure but during the verses Kerr expresses a world of hurt, heartbreak as raw as the music that’s wrapped tightly around it. It’s captivating to be heard.
If you need to stay up late some night and the caffeine isn’t doing the trick, this extremely stimulating album is just what the doctor ordered. More than any other band this year, Royal Blood live up to the onslaught of hype that preceded their debut.
Streaming at iTunes Radio: