Review Summary: A (somewhat) more straightforward assault proves no less effective for the sweetest looking band in mathcore.
When you call your debut LP ‘Hysterics’ and the single from it “I Love Turbulence”, your band better be a bit bonkers. Thankfully, Rolo Tomassi are nuttier than the sabre-toothed squirrel from Ice Age, and through two deliciously frenzied and quirky full-lengths (three, if you include compilation ‘Eternal Youth’) they’ve established themselves as the finest everythingincludingthekitchensink-core band in Britain today. That they make spastic, screamy synth rock while looking like underage indie college students only makes them a more intriguing prospect- and the fact that front woman Eva Spence is a rather attractive young lady indeed is certainly no hindrance.
Their latest effort, ‘Astraea’, is the first to be released on their own label, the marvellously named Destination Moon, and early press releases by the band suggested it would be more straightforward, aggressive and accessible than their earlier material. Predictably, Rolo Tomassi’s idea of “straightforward” is far less limiting than for most other bands. So while many of the riffs hit harder than before, and the melodies take a more obvious role in much of the music, there’s still plenty of madhouse-in-space hysteria to delight adrenaline junkies and prog nerds alike. Rolo Tomassi still want to make your brain explode- they’re just taking a more calculated approach this time around.
is the now traditional slow burning album opener, swelling ethereal synthesizers gradually giving birth to crunching guitars and Eva’s reliably feral screams. It’s an effective, if unsurprising way of kicking things off. This is a good summary of ‘Astraea’ as a whole- never unimpressive and always fun to listen to, despite not showing much progression for the group. Ex Luna Scientia
contrasts mad juddering rhythms and bestial vocals from both Spence twins with a beautiful clean-sung outro, strongly reminiscent of Tongue in Chic
from ‘Cosmology’. Remancer
are textbook Rolo- fast, manic and disorienting while retaining a few hooks to hold the listener’s attention. If anything the most surprising moments of ‘Astraea’ are the most conventional-sounding ones. The Scales of Balance
is, for the most part, straightforward hardcore that eschews the band’s tendency to go off on five tangents at once in favour of a united, riff-led assault that hits harder than much of their back catalogue. In contrast, Gloam
kicks off with a pretty keyboard-led section that could easily soundtrack a kid’s TV programme. Little touches like this keep ‘Astraea’ engaging and ensure the polyrhythmic insanity elsewhere doesn’t become monotonous.
The band feels like more of a unit on this record. Whereas before they had a tendency to try and play as many different parts as possible to create a thick soundscape of distortion and noise, now they more frequently come together to make the songs punchier and heavier. Much of the excess of ‘Hysterics’ in particular has been shed, allowing the songs to become more important than their individual sections. Having said that, each member’s performance level remains virtuosic- these kids can shred with the best of them. New recruits Chris Cayford and Nathan Fairweather (guitar and bass) are as prodigiously talented as the men they replaced, and the latter especially stands out with some finger-mangling bass wizardry. Eva’s screaming banshee/singing angel routine is as impressive as ever, her cleans in particular showing great improvement here (despite being occasionally drowned in reverb for no discernible reason.)
‘Astraea’ is a fun and engaging record that consolidates on the band’s strengths, rather than venturing too far into uncharted waters. Anyone worrying that the band have over-simplified their sound need not, for they remain as barmy as ever- but those who previously wrote them off as spastic noisemongers would also do well to give this record a listen. Though it’s neither as relentlessly exiting as the madcap ‘Hysterics’, nor as breathtakingly gorgeous as much of ‘Cosmology’ (there’s nothing here to rival that record’s title track), ‘Astraea’ is another great addition to the band’s catalogue that should do much to please fans and the unfamiliar alike.