Review Summary: Balancing the dark [patch notes]
Having a breakthrough must be nice. Following one up, I imagine, must be like sucking inspiration out of Satan’s toenails. No retreads, no pandering, no diminishing returns, and, above all, no feints at the common tastes of your many-tongued new audience: come out of all that with something worthwhile, and the future is yours. Maybe. So yes, I was excited and more than a little anxious to see how Rolo Tomassi would handle their 2018 opus Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It
blowing them up from a cult treasure to the cross-party darlings of the international heavyverse. That record turned their versatile brand of mathcore to maximalist expressions of shiny, shiny beauty, with songwriting so grandiose it frequently bordered on straight post-rock. It was brilliant in many respects, but its glittery epics strayed far enough towards overt corniness to raise questions over what heaps of critical acclaim would incentivise from the band’s future direction. Time Will Die…
’s palpably sincere inspirations may shrug off these kinds of misgivings but they don’t invite excessive reheating ...and yet neither are their dividends to be thrown out. What to do?
What you do best! Where Myth Meets Memory
is the slickest, most confident tracklist Rolo Tomassi have ever laid down, and the only real candidate for their hitherto non-existent single-defining-work. It’s been described as the finale of an accidental trilogy started by 2015’s Grievances
and Time Will Die…
, but the band’s writing and sequencing play into their core strengths with such self-awareness that we can practically call them masters of their own fate at this point. This record pools everything they’ve achieved since 2012’s Astraea
into the most balanced showcase of their talents thus far - there are no accidental trilogies in fate. Where each of the first five Rolo Tomassi records was a fresh revelation, Where Myth Meets Memory
confirms everything we already knew about them: that there’s enough depth to their contrasts of light and dark for neither side to eschew the other; that they handle sentimental cuts respectably well on their own (“Closer”), but that these land far better when they prelude whiplash and agitation (“Drip”); that their heavier numbers benefit from erratic mathcore (“To Resist Forgetting”) and not at all from the same conveyor belt djent-lite that make such contemporaries as Spiritbox a tepid drag (“Cloaked”); that their songwriting fares just as well committing to linear developments as it does pulling a violent change of pace, and that there is always, always firm emotional bedrock under their feet.
If there’s one area that’s been tightened up, it’s the focus the band apply to their juxtaposition of soothing light and harrowing darkness on the level of individual songs. Where Time Will Die…
afforded each track a clear tendency one way or the other, Where Myth Becomes Memory
splits the atom so deftly that its predecessor seems a little conservative by comparison. Take the early highlight “Mutual Ruin”, which kicks off with hornet-like riffage only to pivot midway, stripping out guitars entirely and spotlighting vocalist Eva Korman’s cleans over James Spence’s soothing piano. Veteran fans will anticipate an intense climax lurking ahead, but the song’s earlier tension diffuses into something sparser, mournful and no less satisfying, leaving it to the rest of the album to restore momentum. This isn’t entirely new: Astraea
, for instance, was full of similar pivots, but these suffered from patchy songwriting, a clear victor emerging from whichever song’s mismatched halves. Not so here: each half of “Mutual Ruin” highlights the strength of the other, two polarised takes on what turns out to be a unified composition. Listen again and you’ll hear Spence’s same chords underpinning the song at its most frantic; as far as he’s concerned, the piece hardly changes from start to finish. With all manner of experiments behind them, the band finally content themselves that the simplest of changes can be the farthest-reaching. They break things down even further on “Labyrinthine”, the album’s ugliest slugger, with a stunning melodic bridge that slinks in and out so furtively you’ll question having heard it at all the first time around. Rolo Tomassi know their way round a shift of gears micro or macro, and Where Myth Meets Memory
is their most seamless work on both levels.
All that structural malleability doesn’t hold the band back from taking certain cuts to extremes. Album highlight “Prescience” proves their most withering outing since Grievances
, while the opener “Almost Always” reprises all Time Will Die…
’s most radiant qualities into something still more glittery, half a shrewd welcome-back, half mirage-like bliss preluding a turbulent journey. Hold onto that image: Where Myth Becomes Memory
is every inch a battleground between light and dark, and its brightest tracks anchor the tracklist. “Almost Always” and “The End of Eternity” respectively open and close the album at its most uplifting, suggesting a cycle of tone that then becomes a figure-of-eight (or an infinity sign, if you will) with the addition of “Closer”’s midway lacuna. These three tracks ground the frenetic push-and-pull of everything in between: it’s rare for either darkness or light to define any track in its entirety, but their conflict has a darkness of its own. Though nowhere near as morbid as Grievances
, the record as a whole is accordingly gritty, an increasingly desperate cycle of whatever soft/heavy, positive/negative tension/tranquility polarities you can pin on it. When the band eventually let it all fall apart, there’s a sense that they can wind it no tighter.
Sound like an ordeal? Let the album’s pacing take care of that; it stretches enough skin over its bones for its violence to have something to scratch against, but sticks so fast to succinct developments that this never becomes exhausting. Rolo Tomassi thrive in this equilibrium. They may flip their mood at the drop of a hat, but they never sound any less than perfectly themselves – and that’s exactly where they should be. Where Myth Becomes Memory
doesn’t see them self-stylise as a great band with grand gestures; they had little to reassert in this regard. No, if there’s one thing this record asserts in a voice very much its own, it’s that they’re a band who can cope with greatness. You decide which is the rarer treasure.