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Album Review: Back To The Water Below – Royal Blood

Release Date: September 1st, 2023

After trading in thick heavy riffs for shimmering funky grooves on 2021’s Typhoons, Royal Blood leaves behind the disco and return to their grungy rock basement on their fourth album Back To the Water Below. The self-produced record finds Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher going back to their roots in a sense. You won’t expect to find any Daft Punk-inspired tunes here. Instead, the duo delivers 30 minutes of heavy rock bangers and simmering slow burners.

Though Typhoons got the duo out of their comfort zone, they also found it limiting to restrict themselves to dance music. They went into their new album with no restraints, which means returning to their tried and true sound while expanding it. Things kick into high gear with opener “Mountains At Midnight,” which has their raucous sound fully intact. Album highlight “Shiner in the Dark” gets back to their fuzzed out boot-stomping sound that’s still infectious. But things drastically shift when we get to “Pull Me Through.” The piano-led track draws you in with its strangely discordant music that is intertwined with hard, gritty bass riffs. The song itself acknowledges one’s loneliness with a quiet cry for help that quickly gets desperate.

From here, the album continues to ebb and flow between that classic Royal Blood sound and slow-burning, piano-focused numbers. “The Firing Line” shows the duo’s confidence in straying away from their standard formula. There’s no distortion, loud riffs, or heavy beats. Instead, it’s a gentle song with a bright piano akin to Elton John that allows Kerr to reflect on wrestling with his demons.

“Triggers” and “Tell Me When It’s Too Late” are sure to be fan favorites with their undeniable swagger and badass vibe we’ve come to expect from them. Meanwhile, “There Goes My Cool” kicks off with a gentle piano melody ala The Beatles while the rest of the song takes cues from David Bowie and T.Rex. Closing track “Waves” further shows the band’s growth with ballads in particular. The melancholic tune steadily builds into a fierce roar as the song reaches its crashing end.

These piano-focused songs carry the album and keep it from sounding too similar to their past work. While it’s great to hear them carry on and tweak their winning formula after their previous album, it’s the piano-led, slow songs that further expand their sound. Without them, the record would risk sounding too similar to the ground they’ve previously covered.

After Typhoons, it seems Royal Blood wanted to get back to doing what they do best in a way that allows them to grow sonically. Though they don’t take huge risks as they did on their previous album, they continue to move away from their comfort zone focusing on slower-paced, piano-led tracks. These add some variety to an album that would otherwise feel typical for the duo. Yet, there’s no denying how good it feels to hear those big, gritty riffs again. It’s clear Royal Blood still know how to deliver heavy, hard-hitting songs that get you moshing, but it’s their willingness to change, even just a little, that keeps their music exciting.

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Royal Blood - Back To The Water Below
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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Illinois Entertainer. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Creeper, and Green Day.

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