Rolo Tomassi is an enigma. It’s a band that feels like it shouldn’t be metal, yet it undeniably is. Frontwoman Eva Spence, with her petite stature, sharp fashion sense and pixie haircut, seems more at home in an eco-friendly coffee bar than a metal venue. They seem to hang more around the indie scene than denim-filled dive bars. Hell, they’ve been favorably reviewed by NME, and if that’s not a condemnation of metal cred I don’t know what is. Ten minutes into Time Will Die and we’ve had a lengthy ambient intro and a competent, enjoyable indie rock track in the vein of The Joy Formidable. Scientific fact: three-quarters of uninformed metalheads have turned away at this point. And they are wrong.
The trick to Rolo Tomassi is that both the following statements are true: they are that kind of lush, warm and full brand of indie rock, but they are also disciples of The Dillinger Escape Plan. This becomes obvious with “Rituals.” Ominous tones lead from the warm, inviting “Aftermath” into a harsh burst of searing mathcore. Spence’s tender vocals turn to biting shrieks that claw at the ears, drums pummel and batter-like hail in a hurricane, guitars rip and tear across the scales with dizzying fervor. Time signatures seem like a notion of the past as the band whips around blind corners, finding megaphone-styled shouting and an unexpected, provocative return of the piano down the road.
The two seemingly incongruent styles are mixed masterfully on Time Will Die, and Rolo Tomassi prove themselves unparalleled in the art of contrast. “Hollow Hour” and “Alma Mater,” the latter containing the namedrop for the album, turn on a dime from scorching mathcore to warm indie rock and back. But the truest mixture pervades “Flood of Light,” with dense keyboard and atmospheric guitars underpinning the hard-hitting drums, Spence veering back and forth between cleans and shrieks. It’s an incredibly appealing and idiosyncratic blend that can introduce a huge array of moods just by adjusting the ratios and methods of mixing the head-spinning assaults and the atmospheric calm. Where so many artists get stuck playing two styles that never connect, Rolo Tomassi make it seem easy. Rather than colliding, the Jekyll and Hyde styles pull each other to greater heights, the dramatic tension palpable across the album. It’s a monstrous achievement to make such polar opposites work together this well.
No band this year has released anything quite like Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It. Unconventional is not a strong enough word for the unique sound developed by these Brits, yet they refrain from being overly avant-garde or weird. Though the whole may be a tad overlong, the introductory instrumental doubly so, it feels like only a minor footnote. Instead, the conclusion is inevitable: Rolo Tomassi have released one of the freshest, incomparable albums of the year, a bastion of originality and vision that unites fire and water into a versatile and dynamic work of art that will not be soon forgotten.
Tracks to Check Out: “The Hollow Hour,” “Alma Mater,” and “Flood of Light”