These Means Have No End acts as a who’s who in the contemporary post-punk canon -- the problem is, it’s not the work of “Various Artists,” but instead a single band who are all too willing to make their influences known.
Swedish four-piece Royal Downfall may have a cohesive sound -- one that is a combination of post-punk’s sharp guitar assaults and consistently propulsive nature -- but they seem to be regularly touching on the tone of other bands in the process. “Anaemia in Academia” plays like something from the Constantines' early days when that “Fugazi meets…” moniker was at its most accurate, while “A Modest Proposal” has got some Les Savy Fav swagger and the title track exhibits a love for Bloc Party’s more fierce cuts. More names could be thrown out like, say, Q and Not U and Drive Like Jehu, but the point is that while Royal Downfall don’t seem disingenuous or unconvincing in their approach; however, they also don’t seem to be using the most innovative of methods.
If one were to search for distinguishing factors in Royal Downfall’s sound it would be their propensity for socio-political themes and guitarist/vocalist Robert Tenevall’s voice. The former can be seen in the band’s lyrical content (covering subjects such as media control and downsizing) as well as the quotes within their liner notes. Here the band reference everyone from Marx and Foucault to Propagandhi. Then there is Tenevall’s voice.
While Royal Downfall may musically have their roots planted in the sound of the bands I mentioned above, Tenevall’s vocal approach seems to be more unique. His singing style sounds a bit whinier than other post-punk acts, but this is not the dreaded emo nasal attack. Instead, the singer’s tone seems to come as the result of a resounding desperation. In fact, his timbre seems to owe more to bands like the Buzzcocks and the Exploding Hearts than any of the aforementioned post-punk groups. It’s an interesting twist that makes for a more traditionally melodic approach.
So Royal Downfall are pleasing to the ears and have some traits you could call distinguishable. The problem is that until these traits encompass everything -- including the music -– the band’s records may continue to merely sound like compelling post-punk compilations.