By The Insomniac
#4 on our Best of Bonnaroo write-up goes to Royal Blood, a new hard rock duo out of Brighton, UK consisting of Mike Kerr on the bass and vocals, and Ben Thatcher on the drums. No guitar, which I think is the most interesting piece of trivia about this band. You’d think forgoing such a essential instrument would affect the fullness of the sound, but Kerr makes up for it. He plays the bass like a standard electric and brings with him a vast assortment of pedals that allow him to make his guitar scream and wail exactly how he wants.
These guys are loud – they achieve a stadium shaking sound despite there only being two guys, and Kerr walks around stage like he knows it. Kerr has an aura of confidence about him I don’t usually see from most frontmen. Many of the more indie acts of the day consisted of bands closer to Shoegaze with singers that would stand practically still and DJ’s that wouldn’t do much more than start at their computer and bop their heads. Compared to them, Kerr seemed like Elvis, owning the archetypal “rock star” quality as they played songs from their self titled debut album, out in 2014.
The album caught my eye from the moment lead single “Figure It Out” played on the radio. Their music consists of aggressive drumming, whining high pitched vocals, and a angry bass guitar that seems to be trying to tear itself apart with its screeching cries and sprinted melodies. Think Jack White and Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s baby fronted Queens of the Stone Age and stripped away all the fat and most of the originality. Royal Blood spent a good amount of time putting the finishing touches on this LP as well. Their Wiki says they are part “Garage Rock”, but don’t be mistaken, this is a highly produced, calculated grittiness. There’s a gross precision with their flow, that is an odd juxtaposition with a sound they so obviously try to make seem natural, angsty, rough around the edges.
Each song consists of dependable, simplistic riffs, but you can;t deny they stick in your head. I’ve seen criticism of the band for this, but I don’t think it’s a something to put them down for, but rather something to look forward to as they expand the breadth of their complexity. The bass is the most addicting as it cries and glows through every chorus, it sounds like it could slice through steel. Kerr seems to be crying as he sings too, as if the words are painful leaving his mouth. Every line ends with a high pinched wince after moments of intermittent screaming, but the band shines when they don’t rely on his voice too heavily and slow the tempo down to let everyone catch up with the groove. Songs like “Loose Change” that seem oddly slow compared to the rest of their tracks have a much a more hypnotic effect. At the same time, the guitar governs the song while Kerr’s voice and Thatcher’s drumming take a backseat role. The result is a much sexier tune and more of this in the future will do them well.
Seeing them live at Bonnaroo was a treat because you got to see how much Kerr bonded with the guitar on stage. It seemed like a dance and he made it seem so effortless. These guys have a long way to go, but you can see a raw passion for the music early on. I predict they will impress next go around when they slow down and try to define themselves past catchy choruses and power chords. But at the point when they played, everyone in the pit was so hot, drunk, and delirious, that something simple to sing along to and hard enough to bang our heads was all that was really needed. Positivity radiated and shredding commenced.