Music Reviews
How Did We Get So Dark?

Royal Blood How Did We Get So Dark?

(Warner Bros. Records) Rating - 7/10

There are few bands that have managed to make as much of a fuss out of so little as Royal Blood, both on and off stage. The buzz from Little Monster and Out of the Black managed to propel their eponymous debut to number one in the UK, making for one of the biggest rock debuts of the decade, while their live show has grown from curious onlookers trying to get a look at Kerr’s bass setup to arena moshpits in fewer than four years. There’s a sense, though, that that initial surprise of Kerr’s bass effects has subsided, and now the attention has turned to how to keep a simple formula from getting tired.

Royal Blood try to make the case that they have something new to bring to the table. On the opening track, How Did We Get So Dark?, Kerr demonstrates more vocal range than he ever attempted on their self-titled debut, his register accompanying a real crunch in the bass. That’s followed by Lights Out, where confidence exudes out of Thatcher’s every drum beat - it’s almost as if you can hear a knowing laugh as he takes a breath before descending into possibly their biggest sounding chorus yet. The two openers are more mature and refined than much of the first album, but those are the only two tracks that can match the highs of their debut. 

Not that Royal Blood struggled with their sound before, but How Did We Get So Dark? sounds smoother than ever without bordering on sanitised, and the introduction of layered backing vocals brings in a welcome change. There is a sense, however, that they're still tending over well-worn ground. As with the debut, there are still the unescapable Queens of the Stone Age and Muse comparisons, but now there are questions about how long the band can continue without innovating further.

There are some subtle changes; calmer songs like Look Like You Know lean towards Arctic Monkeys’s AM sound, and Hole in Your Heart starts to introduce keyboards and other instrumentation into the mix. But for most listeners, the majority of How Did We Get So Dark? will be indistinguishable from their debut. Kerr’s lyrics also feel too formulaic to inspire anything out of the filler tracks, with the album still revolving around his romantic intentions and little else.

At points, it sounds as if they're going through a checklist of rock cliches: warning signs, struggling to sleep, a girl providing the ‘medication’ he craves, driving fast. It’s all there. It’s uninspired, but for many tracks the vocals are so hidden in the mix it’s evident that this isn’t where Royal Blood see their strengths. A high level of uninsipred filler is spread out across its duration, so it leaves an album of peaks and troughs that never picks up enough momentum to take off. As is the case with many rock albums, there is a sense that this was never supposed to be a cohesive album, anyway, just a new collection of songs to play on those increasingly large stages. 

And in that way, Royal Blood have managed to do just what was required: a no-frills rock album that manages to introduce just enough ideas to keep it ticking over. It lacks the same amount of truly great songs their debut offered. Still, there are few bands that can match Royal Blood at their heavy, melodic best, and How Did We Get So Dark? proves to be a thrilling - if limited - listen from one of the UK’s fastest-rising rock bands.