Review: Rolo Tomassi – “Where Myth Becomes Memory”

What or who is Rolo Tomassi? In this age of musical uber-categorization and hyper-contextualization, it remains kind of tough to say, actually. When the band first hit the British scene in its nascency in 2005, the members sounded like angry descendants of The Mars Volta or The Dillinger Escape Plan, with a good bit of hardcore and screamo flavors thrown into the mix. Eva Korman, the band’s chameleonic frontwoman, can coo or carry a melody subtly as well as she can unleash an unholy, guttural roar; the band flashes between darkness and light on her cues. But the band has grown and matured in recent years. Recent releases weren’t always defined by ear-shredding volume but, instead, by a few measures of sonic complexity. And Where Myth Becomes Memory, the group’s sixth full-length player, is its most advanced statement to date. What or who is Rolo Tomassi? More than ever, that is beautifully unclear.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the band still kicks up the dirt and makes a real racket – look no further than the brutal “Prescience” from the LP, all tommy-gun guitar palm-muting and triple-kicked kick drums, not to mention that trademark demonic roar. “Cloaked,” another single, warps around descending guitar explosions and whirling keys – when Korman enters, it’s apocalypse time. But there’s something different about Where Myth Becomes Memory: there’s a lot more exploration of the grays between bipolar extremes. “Closer,” an early single, is positively bright-eyed, with a palette of piano and airy vocals and guitars buried way, way, way in the background. This would have been unthinkable for the Rolo Tomassi of 2005. Opener “Almost Always,” though not subdued throughout, feels almost pensive, dare we suggest it, over tides of guitar, synth washes and Korman’s intentionally angelic timbre.

On “Stumbling,” the band falls away all together for Korman to coo over a haunted piano ballad. At 2:50, the song, an unusually beautiful moment or two, is too short for those who wish the band would continue chugging down that avenue. The record’s closing song, a faux-epic titled “The End of Eternity,” is another delicate ballad – sorta – this one whose lulling pulse is exacerbated by ocean waves of guitar and gauzy piano. Don’t get me wrong, though – Rolo Tomassi hasn’t gone milquetoast. Even “The End of Eternity,” with its sonically appealing, quieter moments, kicks into a full-band exercise where Al Pott’s dynamic drums interweave with guitar and drums, and Korman starts screaming for the rafters. But it’s in these in-between moments – the space between a Korman whisper and a roar, perhaps – that Where Myth Becomes Memory stands at its strongest.

There’s some material here that’s red meat for the diehard fans and there’s nothing wrong with that. “Drip,” whose bite gets extended a bit too far and runs near the six-minute mark, is an eruption – and a largely forgettable one. (“Prescience” one-ups it.) But “To Resist Forgetting,” the ninth of the record’s ten songs, is a blistering tour-de-force, where the band struts with experience and shows lesser bands how it’s done. Korman, longtime keyboardist James Spence, and guitarist Chris Cayford shred expectations into so many shriveled, dismissed pieces of paper.

All in all, Rolo Tomassi here is extending the experimentation with quiet and loud poles that it started to pursue on 2015’s sorta-okay Grievances and started to master on 2018’s quite good Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It. While the band, in its most reduced form, can sound like a math-core variant on The Locust or At the Drive-In or notable screamo or post-hardcore acts, they’re beginning to grow into more than the sum of their parts. Where Myth Becomes Memory might not be the start of their greatest period but it’s an excellent point to join the narrative and chart the trajectory. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, March 14, 2022


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.