It didn’t take Royal Blood long to reach the top. When they emerged in 2013 they were an amped-up, old-school rock phenomenon – and duly captured the global imagination with 2014’s debut album. In its first week, that self-titled record sold 66,000 copies. There was talk of them spearheading a new wave of bombastic British rock, but the fact that the meteoric ascent of the Brighton duo – singer/guitarist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher – didn’t open the floodgates to followers only proves how unique their lean, muscular blues really is.
But where on earth do you go from there? They were hardly going to produce a brain-melting, space-psych triple album as a follow-up, right? Thank the riff gods that no, they haven’t. Here on second album ‘How Did We Get So Dark?’, we welcome another 40 minutes of Royal Blood exploring their home turf on 10 shamelessly melodic rock monsters that hit home like a nail gun to the eardrum.
Progression is subtle but significant. At the more familiar end, ‘Lights Out’ recreates ‘Out Of The Black’’s two-piece frenzy like a stampede at Jurassic Park but with more gusto. At the furthest extremes, they base ‘Hole In Your Heart’ around a dark retro-funk organ that Jack White might have hand-restored. A determination to rock up non-rock genres creates moments like ‘Don’t Tell’ and the hip-hop-influenced ‘Sleep’. Best of all is the heavy machinery rock ’n’ roll of ‘I Only Lie When I Love You’, which sounds like Josh Homme has kidnapped the duo at his desert studio and forced them play for their lives.
Lyrically we’re still neck-deep in Kerr’s romantic cesspit. But the violent streak of the debut has matured into a song-by-song dissection of a doomed relationship that dissolves over the course of the record. It goes from insidious obsession (‘She’s Creeping’, ‘Hook, Line & Sinker’) to desolate Dumpsville (‘Hole In Your Heart’, the title track). Familiar ground, but consider this the sound of modern masters honing their craft.