Review Summary: A harrowing display of minimalistic approach.
I've always rather enjoyed the dark but oft monotonous and subdued tones of dark folk, aka neofolk, aka, apocalyptic martial folk (the self proclaimed title of Rome). At its best it is tranquil and wonderfully antiquated, and at its worst, exceedingly forgettable. Amidst this, A Passage To Rhodesia lies almost entirely in the former, lapsing into boredom only in its final few minutes.
This record as a whole is rather minimalistic yet relatively diverse, employing a mix of nearly industrial militant beats (The Ballad of the Red Flame Lily), harrowing yet fierce acoustic work (One Fire, potentially my favorite of this record) and the occasional eccentric instrumentation (take, for example, the brief xylophone on Hate Us and See if We Mind). It all serves the record well-it manages to craft the cold, desolate atmosphere it's intent on creating while hardly finding itself a victim of artistic laziness.
Perhaps the content matter and the way its portrayed plays a role in this, as the record tackles the tragedy of the Rhodesian Bush wars from the side of the oppressors. Towards the beginning there is vigor, presented well in the romping industrial energy of the first few tracks where the colonizers believe they are liberating the country with their own warped form of Manifest Destiny. This, however, slowly resides into mourning and self reflection by tracks like "A Country Denied" (the lines of "When did we know we were on the wrong side/That this war was just a matter of pride" show this well) as they realize the futility of their war-this land was never theirs, not with an ethnic people who claimed the land their own for thousands of years.
With this concept in mind it does then make sense that the record would slow down to a melancholic crawl, however the feeling does wear -slightly- thin by the time we are greeted with our 3rd depressive ballad in the form of "Bread and Wine",but that gripe is small. The fact that Rome can make such a use of monotonous croons and barebones acoustics with just enough outside instrumental flair work for the larger portion of a 52 minute runtime is an impressive task. Neofolk is, on some level, a constricting genre to work within, and yet Rome has always worked wonderfully within its borders, with an impressive sternness and workhorse mentality that rarely falters. A Passage To Rhodesia is a dark and calculated artistic defiance, and is, amongst the sea of their releases, one of Rome's best. Jam it.