Royal Blood is one of those suddenly ubiquitous guitar and drum duos featuring crunchy jams and ear-splitting volume. But while their basic approach might be pervasive, they stand out amongst the legion of bands offering up similarly sparse retorts to all that layered synthpop; their particular varietal is catching on, quickly. An approximately 80:20 | guy:girl crowd has packed The Troubadour in West Hollywood on a Monday night for a British take on the increasingly popular American approach to stripped down rock-and-roll.
A somewhat jarring shift in the pre-show music to Jay-Z‘s “99 Problems” announces that the moment has arrived. Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher take the stage and immediately summon up the dark lords that once hunted rock and roll greatness with Black Sabbath. It’s dark; clearly, their two-piece suit is cut from a slightly different cloth. Thatcher’s Dodgers hat draws favorable comments from locals primed for the playoffs. He may be pandering, just a bit, but it’s poignant.
They follow in the footsteps of each generation’s youth; they’re connected but disaffected, together yet alone. “I’m just stuck in a hole.” Like some of their emotion-driven predecessors in rock (see: Nirvana / Nine Inch Nails), they start with frustration as impetus: thrashing drums and wailing guitars and emotionally layered vocals are their cathartic antidote. They achieve unexpected levels of complexity, subtlety underlying the in-your-face elements of their sound. In doing that, they have done their part to capture techno-centric modernity’s profound intricacies. We know so much, and are increasingly aware that we know so little. It’s an ethos.
They keep it retro and rocking with black leather and beards for that well-defined demographic (and the increasingly larger demo that looks backward for the impending zeitgeist). And as far as their band’s musical zeitgeist, they pull out “Figure It Out” early in the set, confidently knowing that while this may be their best-known track, it won’t be their last-known track.
They offer up some allusions to Primus with upward tweaks to the end of notes at the end of quick guitar phrases. They offer up evidence that guitar solos are better than synth solos. They combine blues and metal alongside surprisingly soulful vocals that are sometimes Ian Astbury-ish, sometimes Matthew Bellamy-ish, sometimes Scott Weiland-ish. It is in these intonations that the past is respected and the future allayed.
They exist in dynamic mystery, flailing away while bathed in the simple shadows of mostly white and blue light. Kerr lurks mostly in the shadows, atmospherically and symbolically. It is from that shelter that he offers up relatively simple licks that allude to hair metal and rocking blues-based rock. It is in the penumbra that Thatcher whacks away as if his life itself is in the balance. They come out of their breaks tightly, assaultive resumptions of rock only a hanging heartbeat away.
They are the extraction team, rescuing us from Synthville and leading us back to Rocklandia. They have one volume: 12. They have one primary speed: in the red. And, as their kinetic, 45 minute, SAS-style assault of a performance displays, they have one direction…forward.