Royal Blood

Since the mainstream success of The White Stripes, any further rock duos will undoubtedly suffer from unfair comparisons. British duo Royal Blood, formed between drummer Ben Thatcher and vocalist/bassist Mike Kerr, are such a band, who happen to share a similar taste for blues influenced garage rock; a style splashed across their debut and eponymous album that was released today.

Unfortunately the similarities don’t stop there, as Kerr’s vocal style comes very close to Jack White’s at times, especially during the very danceable Loose Change, whose light verse drumming reminds of Meg White’s unique phrasing too. However, pushing the comparisons to one side, Kerr’s voice definitely has its own uniqueness. Figure It Out, a track that highlights just how effective a riff backed by solid 4/4 drumming can be, demonstrates fantastic technique and a timbre that will make many weak at the knees.

Remarkably, the album features no overdubs and a lot of the album’s parts were recorded in one take, giving the record a very organic feel. Naturally parts of the record end up feeling a little bit musically thin, such as the uneventful Blood Hands or the verses of Careless, which make use of a start-stop style bass line over the top of a constant drum beat; a technique that is overused across the album. Little Monster does, however, make good use of this verse style, interchanging vocals and a legato bass riff which drives the track forwards towards the powerful chorus. Although the ending vocal harmonies would have sounded great overdubbed on the final chorus, but Royal Blood’s strict recording policy prevents this and other such moments from happening.

This instrument restriction forces Kerr’s bass playing to be very versatile, which produces some surprising results with openers (and singles) Out of the Black and Come On Over, showcasing string bends and legato; a style of playing generally left to a lead guitarist. Ten Tonne Skeleton features equally creative playing with an energetic whammy pedal riff, which when combined with a great vocal melody produces perhaps the most successful track on the record. An accolade shared with the dark and brooding closer Better Strangers, where Kerr once again allows himself to take up lead guitar roles on a bass.

With only ten tracks, Royal Blood’s running length comes in at just over half-an-hour. This might seem short, but if the album was any longer the energy the band sustained across the record would start to become cumbersome. There are already moments when the band’s successful, yet very one dimensional sound begin to lose your attention, especially during the slower tempo sections of Blood Hand or towards the end of Careless. It is fortunate then that closer Better Strangers is different enough to end the album strongly and leave you reflecting on a generally positive musical experience.

With nearly half of the album previously released as singles, many fans who have already bought these (or the EP which featured a handful of these tracks) may question the point of buying the album. Fortunately the deeper cuts from Royal Blood offer just enough diversity to warrant the purchase of the complete album, and the novelty of a bass-driven rock band doesn’t wear off, even after repeat listens.

Overall: 7/10

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Album Preview: Alt-J

Indie rock is not the sort of music that normally catches my attention. However, when the Leeds-based Alt-J released An Awesome Wave in May 2012, led mostly by the infectious single Breezeblocks, I began to fall in love with their bizarre, almost progressive, indie arrangements. Their highly-awaited second album, This Is All Yours, is set for release on 22nd September and so far has had three singles taken from it:

Hunger Of The Pine

The first single from This Is All Yours, begins with pulsating synths that grow in magnitude beneath Joe Newman’s trance-like vocals. The synths soon transform into an electronic orchestra consisting of layers-upon-layers of ethereal guitars, vocals and warm swells, kept in time by the march of Thom Green’s percussion. Hunger Of The Pine is a bold lead single, because it focuses more on their ability to produce aural texture than on the presence of hooks, like those present in previous singles Matilda and Tessellate. This track also features a sample of Miley Cyrus singing the lyric “I’m a female rebel” from her track 4×4, which is integrated suprisingly well within the song’s structure. Rating: 9/10

Left Hand Free

Left Hand Free is a much more standard affair and sees the band channel their Jack White influences. The vocals are nasally and hard to interpret, whilst the track is arranged around a lightly overdriven, one-string-at-a-time guitar riff picked straight from White’s mind. Aside from the interlude of manic keyboard tomfollery, Left Hand Free is the least experimental track they’ve produced to date and one that does not sit well within their repertoire. Rating: 5/10

Every Other Freckle

Every Other Freckle reminds of 2012 single Fitzpleasure with its juxtaposing beautiful and distorted passages fighting for control. This track also makes use of a large range of instrumentation beyond their use of guitars and keyboards, including a trumpet, a buzzing whistle, shouts, a glockenspiel, a muted cowbell, a flute, claps and a variety of other bizarre percussive sounds. In fact it is Green’s percussion that really stands out on this track, as he flicks between differing styles throughout the winding and complex structure of the song. Rating: 9/10

Apart from the radio-orientated single Left Hand Free, Alt-J look to have written another avant-garde indie rock album, with enough eccentricities and unusual instrumentation to out-compete most progressive rock bands. Despite the persistent use of unorthodox styles, Alt-J still manage to create memorable tracks that don’t get bogged down under the band’s grand ideas. If bands like Coheed & Cambria and Muse (both of which are often cited as neo-prog) are making progressive music more accessible, then Alt-J might be about to make progressive music cool.

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Horsepower Isn’t a Problem Here

Taking their name from an Alice In Chains song, Godsmack have always struggled to shake off comparisons to the Seattle band. That’s because Alice In Chains were more than an influence to the Massachusetts four-peice, they were the blueprint for which the band could build upon. The dark, almost tribal style of Alice In Chains was transformed and elevated by Godsmack, and vocalist, Sully Erna, takes his whine directly from the Staley-Cantrell partnership and combines it with the fierce howl of James Hetfield.

However, since 2006’s IV, Godsmack have been drifting away from this sound and towards a hard rock style that mirrors the Load/Reload era of Metallica. Their new style keeps grunge distractions to a minimum and focuses on producing three-and-a-half minute tracks steered by crunching riffs and wah-soaked pentatonic leads.

This trend continues with their aptly named sixth studio album, 1000hp. Opener, and title track, 1000hp, lays down the path for the record to follow, with loud riffs, radio-orientated chorus melodies and the percussive crunch of metal. FML bulldozes past the acoustic intro and makes clever use of a call and answer vocal technique in the verses (diminished only by the 46 year old vocalist cringe-inducing cry of “F*** My Life”), whilst Locked and Loaded reminds of the arena-sized, metal thrashing of their third album Faceless, by combining screaming leads with drop-tuned chaos. What Next?, Nothing Comes Easy and I Don’t Belong carry on in this vein, with each member pumping an endless amount of energy into their respective instruments.

Occasionally 1000hp meanders away from this formula. Livin’ In The Gray has a hypnotic charm which channels their tribal nature (and also features a Bon Jovi Livin’ On A Prayer-style talk box section); a style that is repeated on the lengthy and spectacular Generation Day, which allows Robbie Merrill’s rumbling bass to power over the top of palm-muted riffing. Album closer, Turning To Stone, also favours their tribal roots and reminds of Godsmack favourites Voodoo and Serenity, sharing the same reverberating guitars (that sound almost like Tool’s Schism), alternative percussion and bass twang. However, it is perhaps the most simple track on the album that sees the band pushing their limits. Something Different is just that; a basic fifth chord rock song that somehow subdues the listen with trance-like monotony and beautiful strings.

1000hp isn’t the most diverse album ever made, but it is a record that shows a band having fun writing in a style that they know and love. The result is a record whose immediate tracks scream for the volume to be turned up, whilst the deeper cuts simmer beneath and reward on repeat listens. Godsmack will not widen their fan base with this sixth attempt, but will solidify their status as alternative metal titans, and quite frankly that’s all they’ve ever wanted.

Overall: 6/10

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Introducing: Pigeon Toe

Pigeon Toe are a German supergroup that began life in 2008 as an idea between the Fischer brothers, Marsn (Martin) and Hanson (Hans), of Fear My Thoughts, Mongouse and Backslide fame. When Mongouse, and later Fear My Thoughts split, they invited drummer Norman Lonhard (Fear My Thoughts), guitarist/keyboardist Patrick Hagmann (Fear My Thoughts, Triptykon) and bassist Ben Krahl (Final Kings) to complete the lineup.

Pigeon Toe released their first, and so far only, album, The First Perception, in 2012, which was an expansive progressive metal concept record. The record features a very unique sound lead by the distinctive rhythms set out by Lonhard and Krahl. During the djent-influenced The Chase, the pair drive polyrythms with steamroller-like drumming and thumping basslines. This force continues on in both A Broken Man; a progressive epic that confidently flows through ever-changing scenery, and the ferocious, The Man With The Cat, whose intricate design reminds of Opeth.

For a debut effort, The First Perception is unusually sure of itself. The bands vision, both conceptually and musically, is led by the two brothers, which has resulted in a very focused effort. Nowhere is this more evident than within the title track, as the brothers guide the band through winding acoustic passages and harder, riff-driven sections seamlessly. The album’s closing track, The Flashback, also does a good job at showcasing their transitioning ability, as somehow the five-piece manage to evolve a folk-inspired banjo riff into a wall of monolithic guitars, whilst making a small detour to the realm of atmospheric acoustic playing.

Aside from the crunch of the heavier tracks, Pigeon Toe are able to capture the story’s concept with four beautiful instrumentals too. The Cave is the best of the bunch, with a small, but gorgeous, overdriven solo elevated above a cyclical acoustic motif. The two parts of The Wizard contrast each other perfectly; the first builds up with eerie chimes, before the crunch of the distorted guitars is unleashed in the second. Finally, The Crooked Path once again demonstrates their talent for memorable rhythms, as well as bizarre guitar riffs.

As progressive metal debut’s go, The First Perception, comes close to perfection, because Pigeon Toe have managed to place the aural complexity demanded from progressive music, within song structures that are actually accessible and, more importantly, memorable. At the same time Pigeon Toe have made their musical vision very clear, which has enabled them to produce a very cohesive record. The German supergroup are currently working on their second record and if they continue down the same path, it is sure to launch them towards the recognition they deserve.

For fans of: Opeth, Steven Wilson, Mastodon

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