Rock music has been proclaimed to be “dead” for the longest time. While this expression has never been close to the truth as so-called rock bands have never existed in such big numbers before and neither has rock sounded this diverse. But, to be fair rock does not have that manic stranglehold on the music world today how rap and pop music does. Judging by worldwide popularity, Nirvana seems to be last great “rock” band with respect to the alternative movement they represented, their iconic heavy to soothing noise coupled with Cobain’s naturally gifted vocals. How they became one of the most glorified rock groups in history by releasing only three albums is a matter of debate. Whether it was the romanticised suicide of Kurt Cobain by the media and the internet, much later that catapulted the popularity of their music or was the collective of Dave Grohl, Krist Noveselic and Kurt Cobain, truly one of the most unique manifestations to have taken place in the 90s, we will never know.
Rock music has never been quite redeemed in a popular scale since the 2000s. Rock music in all its charm and devil may care attitude was long gone, but until, garage rock revival happened. The Strokes, Karen O’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The White Stripes, The Vines from Down Under and The Hives from Sweden together brought back that rock and roll vitality all at once and were termed the “Saviours of Rock and Roll”. It was a great time for rock and alternative rock music and then again it wasn’t less than a decade later. The Strokes went on hiatus and regrouped later to release their fourth and fifth albums, currently working on their sixth. The White Stripes broke up, Yeah Yeah Yeahs too went on hiatus. The Vines, however, had a very dramatic exit the from the scene, frontman Craig Nicholls’ possessed howling, erratic behaviours and mad onstage antics had everyone drawing comparisons with the deceased Cobain, but everything has gone downhill since the release of Melodia and thereafter, the focus on them had long shifted. While The Hives’ Amqvist has said that they have had terrible problems surrounding their band and their functioning – “Problems of all kinds, Rock n roll kind of problems”.
Ever since the beginning of this decade, rock has been widely represented by bland and repetitive country-folk-rockers Mumford and Sons, the Band that was made to sell out – Coldplay and numerous pretentious indie rockers or worse, pop-rockers. Fall Out Boy wanted to “Save Rock and Roll” and their take on that album was to employ hair metal stomps, sleazy disco grooves and a Dubstep breakdown. With such a failed attempt to bring it all back by a lacklustre pop punk band almost solidified the death of rock and roll.
Cut to 2014, there is a newcomer to the rock world from Brighton, England. They are a duo. They are called Royal Blood and, get this, they play only drums and bass guitar as their only instruments. They are a new rock band who I believe will save rock and roll again, this time without the guitar. Formed in 2013, the band’s sound is reminiscent of and rooted in modern blues rock, hard rock, garage rock, stoner rock and psychedelic rock. Such a pure rock combination is terms of musical influence and sound was much awaited and England has always delivered who has given us one of the best rock bands in the history of rock music ever since the British Invasion of America with The Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Kinks. Royal Blood consists of lead vocalists and bass guitarist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher. After not getting enough gigs and performing acoustically on open mic nights at Brighton, they finally developed their music and discovered the Royal Blood sound in the Brighton Electric music studio. There is no mistaking the thunderous riffs and screaming vocals with hard-core but composed drumming by Ben Thatcher, which blends with the brilliant riffage reviving rock in its most primal and noisiest forms. The majority of listeners are stunned by the raving guitar style riffs coming from a four stringed bass. Royal Blood are incredible live performers and use absolutely no computer technology, backtracks or loops to assist them during a live performance. Every sound is produced and performed live. Kerr uses an octave pedal via a technique called Bi-Amping to get the desired sound. Kerr had never picked up on a guitar as well as the bass, but his creative inclinations took this band’s sound somewhere no one would have imagined. Their self-titled debut album came out in 2014 and the lead single and the third track on the album, Figure It Out was the promotional track for the album and fared very well in European and American Charts, also consolidating the peak position in Canada. Their music on their debut album is essentially heavy and contains imaginative riffs written and played by Mike Kerr. Starting with a ponderous Out of the Black and similarly, a heavy garage rock noise of Little Monster to a wonderfully produced Loose Change to, lyrically a much softer Better Strangers, which is the longest and also the last track of the 32-minute rock record.
By the second listen to the album, similarities and influences can be drawn from co-existing bands and legends from the past. Led Zeppelin’s thumping riffs and Nirvana’s squalling grunge can be heard loud and clear in their music. The Stoner and space rock aspect of their sound can be heard if you can imagine Muse without the falsetto and Queens of Stone Age if they were far simpler to their approach to rock. In terms of Blues and garage-punk, we can compare the band to Black Keys and The White Stripes, both of which were two-piece bands. A successful debut, and reaching top ten positions in Ireland, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand and the best album nomination for The Mercury Prize in 2014, cemented their place in the current rock scene and garnered attention from everywhere.
Royal Blood also has support and encouragement from label mates Arctic Monkeys, during the summer of 2013, Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders was seen wearing a shirt supporting Royal Blood. Much later when they were performing live T in the Park, Royal Blood drummer Ben Thatcher was wearing a t-shirt of a print showing Helders wearing the Royal Blood tee. No British guitar band has matched the impact of Arctic Monkeys since their breakthrough a decade back and such a friendly relationship in between them is laudable since, for all, we know Royal Blood can very well be the next Arctic Monkeys. But probably the biggest achievement of the band would be making Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin a die-hard fan of their music that trumps an award or any other sort of recognition in my eyes. They were even invited by Dave Grohl to open for the Foo Fighters at a concert in Milton Keyes, England after a bored Grohl in his hotel room, basically binge-watched their live performances and later listened to their records. Such an early found success, fame and respect are unheard of today in Rock, and Royal Blood is all about bringing back the passionate and heavy rock music. They are also known for playing electrifying live sets for the crowd, which is impossible to stand still to. Think of all the rock concerts you see by Nirvana, AC/DC, Queen on YouTube and you see waves of people moving to the music, that kind of live music culture in what Royal Blood is trying to bring back and that’s commendable.
This year, they released their second album – How Did We Get So Dark? which is not a different Royal Blood album, in essence, it’s the same heavy 34 minutes, 10 tracked rock album, but the production is far crisper and refined with a dark undertone. Lyrically too, Mike Kerr has improved and it sounds like a matured album with the softer songs on the record which you can distinguish as such. Vocal deliveries on the track along with the riffs are also assorted in a way to define the mood of the songs better than they did on their previous album.
Favourite Tracks from How Did We Get So Dark? : Hook, Line and Sinker, Lights Out, She’s Creeping
It’s refreshing to hear Royal Blood play with the attitude in rock that has preceded them, but you can hear the originality in their sound which indicates that they are going to take rock into a new realm – if they’re not already doing that.