Rolo Tomassi

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Hysterics (2008) , 6.5/10
Cosmology (2010), 7.5/10
Astraea (2012), 6.5/10
Grievances (2015), 6.5/10
Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It (2018), 7/10
Where Myth Becomes Memory (2022), 6/10

English post-hardcore and post-rock combo Rolo Tomassi debuted with the twisted fusion of Hysterics (Hassle, 2008), an abrasive romp through jazz, electronica and noise camouflaged as a rock album. The sci-fi electronica of Oh Hello Ghost sets the tone for an excursus into Pere Ubu-esque new-wave absurdism with punk-rock verve that eventually leads to the atonal keyboard music with hardcore virulence of Scabs. Alien synth lines pervade Abraxas as if Devo had met Nuclear Assault circa 1986. Fofteen is clownish prog-rock a` la Frank Zappa was before vomiting teenage angst a` la Lydia Lunch. An even more disturbing neurotic undercurrent surfaces from anarchic bursts of violence such as Nine. In fact, the violence in Macabre Charade (that is mostly a mini-concerto for dirty drones) is only psychological. I Love Turbulence expands the concept in both directions: grindcore growl at blasting speed and angelic chanting at folk-rock pace, and the latter is further explored in the tour de force that closes the album. Towering over everything else is the 14-minute Fantasia, that begins with the solemn, funereal pace of an early King Crimson suite or Deep Purple's Child In Time. Their frontwoman Eva Spence steals the show alternating her satanic growl with a frail, childish voice, rants with whispers, hysteria with ecstasy. Meanwhile, James Spence works his atonal keyboards like an unlikely hybrid of Bach, Ray Manzarek (Doors), and Allen Ravenstine (Pere Ubu). The music still sounds immature but there are more ideas per song in this album than in many of the best-selling British albums of that year combined.

The ideas blossomed on the sophomore album. Rather than simply becoming a rawer version of Dillinger Escape Plan, Rolo Tomassi went into the almost opposite direction with Cosmology (Hassle, 2010). The first part is oddly limited in ambition, merely bridging synth and metal (Katzenklavier) and patching together spastic death-metal. The real show begins with Party Wounds, a Talking Heads-style disco-punk number hijacked by a childish nursery rhyme before plunging into apocalyptic theater (the organ even mimicks the tone of the gothic soundtracks of the 1960s). Unromance throws in jazzy organ, handicapped backbeat, savage guitar distortions, psychotic shrieks and angelic female vocals. The organ doesn't have time to intone a romantic waltzing new-age melody in Kasia that the singer's voice starts switching between her Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personas leading the band into a majestic macabre dance before losing control in the pummeling finale. The way she contrasts the satanic singalong with the gentle zombie lullaby, and then concludes in absolute expressionistic hyper-drama mode with yet another change of voice is breathtaking. Ditto for the way she transforms from epileptic werewolf into a neoclassical madrigal singer in the second half of Sakia (save resuming her satanic self at the end). Tongue In Chic is the usual chaotic heap of incoherent elements: dishevelled hardcore, tenuous psychedelic jamming, two voices yelling at each other, then the sudden paralysis that gives space to a jazzy guitar, and a solemn quasi-spiritual hymn with feverish gospel-y organ that rises from the ashes. Cosmology represents the satori of James Spence's atonal keyboard, further enhanced by a dancing bass and Eva Spence's celestial nostalgic singing. The album that had begun in brutal grindcore territory ends with a majestic march and a melancholy and anthemic organ melody. There are songs within songs within songs.

Eternal Youth (2011) compiles rarities.

Having replaced guitarist Joe Nicholson and bassist Joseph Thorpe with Chris Cayford and Nathan Fairweather, the new quintet crafted better structured and organic songs on Astraea (Destination Moon, 2012). The impetus is not gone, but this time there is method to their madness. Witness how it takes two minutes of wavering organ to launch the brutal onslaught of Howl; or how ethereal Enya-like ambience lays the groundwork for the syncopated and granitic refrain of Empiresk; or how a nostalgic vintage keyboard motif fills the rabid existential void of Gloam. But sometimes the unorthodox elements are too calculated, like the innocent vocals that surface in Ex Luna Scientia and the atmospheric synth section in the middle of The Scales of Balance. More credible is the fight between the two voices (the feral shriek and the graceful quasi-religious incantation), both relying on strong melodies, that fuels Illunis. Less engaging is the tribute to their grindcore origins, Echopraxia, all doom and gloom and throttle. The seven-minute Illuminare is the psychological tour de force of the album, in theory a melodrama a` la Fantasia, but in practice a much more linear power-ballad, whose massive disorienting intro evokes the dizzying vertigoes of dream-pop and whose closing soaring crescendo evokes so many teenage-pop heroines.

The strategy of blending multiple styles became more evident on Grievances (2015), littered with unexpected moments of quiet amid bombastic outbursts of anger. Riff, hook and stamina propel Raumdeuter but the abrasive, crashing and jagged Stage Knives is balanced by an angelic aria. Opalescent is a jazzy number led by clean and dreamy vocals. Crystal Cascades delves into chamber psychedelia for piano and violin. The seven-minute All That Has Gone Before condenses the strategy in one long melodrama: it begins with a piano pattern a` la Muse's Newborn, then unleashes the beastly rant of Eva's alter ego, then pauses and lets Eva respond with a nun-like invocation, and ends in a crescendo counterpointed by the synth.

The progression towards more clean singing and more conventional song formats continued on Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It (Holy Roar, 2018), which is closer to prog-rock of the 1970s than to contemporary metalcore. The songs frequently alternate soft and heavy moments, and the song sequence itself is a challenging zigzag of stytes, opening with the ambient Towards Dawn, seducing with Eva's bedroom-pop aria in Aftermath, shocking with the relentless pounding of Rituals, then exploding in the escoriating seven-minute The Hollow Hour (not as effective as its seven-minute predecessor All That Has Gone Before), indulging in synths and jazzy moves in Balancing the Dark, exploding again in the hysterically whirling Alma Mater (perhaps the standout), flirting with shoegaze-pop in the eight-minute A Flood of Light, and ending with another eight-minute song, Contretemps, a high-tension fusion of post-rock and metalcore with a goosebump-inducing crescendo. Song structures have become more complex and the execution is flawless.

Where Myth Becomes Memory (2022) offers generally more melodic parts for Eva Spence (now Eva Korman). six minutes of ambient pop (Almost Always) so that the transition from psychotic screams to and dreamy singing is less traumatic in songs like Labyrinthine. But clean vocals ruin the frenzy of Mutual Ruin, and Closer is ultimately just a romantic piano ballad just like the six-minute closer, The End of Eternity, is an old-fashioned power-ballad. Prescience boasts by far the most powerful attack and it's almost refreshing that clean vocals don't ruin it. It feels like a transition album, with Eva Spence ready to launch a poppy singer-songwriter career.

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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