Rolo Tomassi Astraea Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Three albums in, the Sheffield five-piece remain a remarkably singular band.

Noel Gardner 2012

What might appear to be a reduction of scope for Rolo Tomassi needn’t in fact be anything of the sort.

Astraea, the Sheffield-based post-hardcore band’s third album, arrives on their own label after they’d previously been signed to Hassle, alongside the likes of Trash Talk and Cancer Bats. Their previous full-length, 2010’s Cosmology, was produced by Philadelphian dancefloor magpie Diplo; subsequently, they’ve gone back to Jason Sanderson, whose highest profile credit is probably Tomassi’s debut album, Hysterics.

If Astraea is thus unlikely to signal a commercial upswing for the five-piece, it finds them evolving in other respects. The stylistic schisms between Dillinger Escape Plan-esque tech-metalcore, grandstanding prog rock and modish synthesised pop are faced head-on, and ultimately exploited.

Earlier in their career, Rolo Tomassi gave the impression that the synth parts were bells and whistles atop relatively rote fiddly hardcore numbers. At this point, you just have to listen to opening track Howl – which starts with two minutes of intense and spacious drone before Eva Spence enters with her gleefully guttural vocal register – to realise that the band now work with more complex, more rewarding structures.

The established tendency to offer upfront melody and crystalline calm, before snatching it away via explosive riff bursts, is deployed almost mockingly on Empiresk, Ex Luna Scientia and the closing Illuminaire. Thanks in part to Eva’s hymnal vocals, at points they feel like cousins of Grimes or Cocteau Twins, which is pretty much new ground for the group.

The Scales of Balance, Remancer and Gloam, meanwhile, should feel familiar in style to long-term fans. They’re exacting thrashes with mutating time signatures, whose ancestry is in Californian pranksters The Locust; but remain of a piece with the multidirectional explosions in between.

Rolo Tomassi are by no means without precedent, but are a remarkably singular band three albums in. If it wasn’t for their dedication to maintaining a network of friends, they might have no peers in the UK rock scene at all, as this hugely impressive album doesn’t sound much like any of them.

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