The difficult second album

By Sergio Ariza

In 2014, with their debut album, Royal Blood were described as being something like “the saviours of rock", with their powerful mix of riffs and choruses to be chanted aloud. The distinctive point of this duo, which drank from the sources of rock at the start of the XXI century (with White Stripes and Queens Of The Stone Age at the head), was that the only instruments that you could hear were a bass and drum, besides the voice of Mike Kerr, modelled somewhere between that of Jack White and Josh Homme. It is clear that Kerr has always approached his four string instrument like a guitarist; nearer to Jimmy Page than to John Paul Jones. Now they return with the album that they hoped would consolidate them, How did we get so dark?, only to get half-way there.  

It is often said that the second album is the most difficult for a band, and this is a test of that. There are two opposed positions: one is to seek something different, which shows an evolution, while the second is to continue working the road that has been opened up the first time around. Both are valid, and there are many other possibilities between the two extremes; but if it is decided to go for the second option, then it is better to have a collection of songs at the same level as the first. Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher have decided to remain true to the formula that has served them so well on that first album, which included songs built on Kerr’s powerful riffs, upon which they added catchy choruses. When the formula works it works to perfection, like on the singles from the debut album: Lights Out, Where are you now?, Hook, Line & Sinker, I Only Lie When I Love You and the title song. The bad thing is, in contrast to the first album, here there are disappointments, and songs like She's creeping sound like padding, something that is not great news for a group that has only put out two albums.

Regarding the general sound on the album, Kerr has this time sought something more complex, at times reminiscent of early Muse, although without going too far away from what worked for them on their debut. The most significant change has been in his equipment, leaving behind his small Gretsch Junior Jets basses, and changing them for a couple of Fender models, mainly the Fender Jaguar Custom that can be heard on all the songs except one (on which appears a Fender Starcaster). Hook, Line & Sinker; is a song that sounds close to Queens Of The Stone Age, although it then starts sounding as dark as Black Sabbath; using two bass strings and two electric guitar strings to achieve that sound. Although, as on their debut, the most characteristic sound comes from the fact that his bass is connected to two distinct amplifiers, one guitar’s amp and the other a bass’ amp; for the first he has used two Supersonic models, the 60 Blonde Edition and the 22, while on the second the characteristic Fender Super bassman Pro 300w is employed. Of course, he continues using multiple ‘octave’, ‘distorsion’ and ‘fuzz’ pedals, the best known of which is an Electro-Harmonix POG 2.


How to sum up How did we get so dark? It is not the step forward that all lovers of rock were hoping for, sounding basically very similar to their debut, without such strong songs. But neither is it a step back that might stop us having faith in this duo; besides here there is sufficient material to continue mounting their grand rock parties of always. It could be that some lost their heads a little when they talked about them being the “saviours of rock" after their debut album (besides, who the heck says that rock needs to be saved?), but Royal Blood are worthy successors of the great tradition of the riff at the service of rock.