Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory
Released: February 4, 2022
Eva Korman // lead vocals
James Spence // keyboard, backing vocals
Chris Cayford // guitars
Nathan Fairweather // bass
Al Pott // drums
It’s important you understand where I’m coming from with Rolo Tomassi’s sixth album. 2018’s Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It, was the last album I gave a perfect score to while at KYS. That album was and still is flawless in my eyes. From the violent blend of contrasting sounds, the production headroom, its emotional focal points and sentimentality, the performances and songwriting, track flow, the dynamics, to the gorgeous chaos of it all is — as Michael Fassbender once said, perfection. It’s an album I’ve thought about, discussed, recommended and listened to more than any other in the four years since. It’s not just one of my favourite releases of the 2010s but an all-time favourite album of mine as well.
Meaning that for myself and many others, Rolo Tomassi topping, let alone matching an album like that is a dizzying tall order. How do you approach the hefty task of superseding what was, up to that point, your most acclaimed record to date? You create Where Myth Becomes Memory, a follow-up that does, in fact, come as possibly close as it could to its esteemed predecessor. Of course, it’s not quite on the same level as Time Will Die, and it was never going to be. Yet this was still the very best outcome I could’ve initially hoped for, Rolo delivering beyond what was expected with a direct spiritual and literal successor that is familiar but also totally compelling.
Where Myth Becomes Memory deals with ends, renewal, cycles, and the concept of memory. About taking ‘myths’ – largely held but untrue beliefs – and letting go, having those ideas become memory. Vocalist Eva Korman has always been poetic and reflective in her lyrics, and while that tracks here, she ponders many more questions about her experiences and beliefs, and her words live in-the-moment more so than ever before here. Thus creating uncertainty, as memories themselves can be uncertain. Memory is a cascade of moments that become distorted by us, time or other factors, yet their threads can still connect. Connecting the dots of this LP to the past is how Time Will Die ended with the touching ambient-noise of ‘Risen‘, a sun-setter that receded out with a low-tide of harsh distortion. Fitting then that this album’s opener, ‘Almost Always’ — a six-minute epic that features the kind of huge dynamic pay-offs most other bands would save to end records on, and not begin with — starts with a similar high tide of elated distortion washing ashore. This creates an excellent, consistent flow-on from that album and into this third act. (The first was 2015’s Grievances.)
I mentioned that this album dealt with cycles, and ‘Almost Always’ — driven by bright piano melodies and captivating walls-of-sound, as Rolo practically ascend the heavens — completes this “cycle” by having its mirror – closer ‘The End Of Eternity’, another earth-shattering composition — conclude on the same sample that first announces WMBM. (This pair’s respective climaxes rival previous heights like the cap-off on ‘Cosmology’ or the peak on ‘Contretemps’, truly sounding like the band floating through space.) This closer evokes what ‘Almost Always’ foreshadows in its opening line – “It’s all returning to the start” – as Korman re-sings that lyric, everything coming full circle lyrically and musically. Obviously, this is all by design, and this loop, with such attention to thematic detail and authenticity, creates a gripping book-end around Rolo’s incredible sixth album. Where the journey from point A to B is precisely that: a fuckin’ journey. Hell, you could play this album in reverse and it’d have the same resonating flow and emotional impact. I think that’s pretty special.
That’s the start and the end dealt with, but what rests between those two intervals? What was first heard from WMBM was the relatively simple (for this band) ‘Cloaked’. This bad boy hits hard out of the gate with sizeable, TesseracT-esque prog grooves that are as polished as they are sharp, with riffs that sound like the closest Rolo will get to being even remotely djent. The band’s talent of suddenly heel-turning songs like ‘Cloaked’ between blistering hardcore, cleaner atmospheres, melodic refrains, and refined heaviness is a trait they mastered long ago. Now they’re just showing off with what was one of their finest ever hooks.
Next was the hectic progressive tension of ‘Drip’, one of the more imposing tracks Rolo Tomassi have ever cut, and for sure this album’s most experimental. With new drummer Al Potts (his first album with Rolo Tomassi and he’s a fantastic fit) absolutely smashing his snare head in, you’re constantly on-edge with this aggressive belter. As subs explode, double-kicks thunder, and feedback swirl around Potts’ time-keeping snare cracks, you think: “okay, now it’ll drop.” And then it just doesn’t. So then you think once again “okay okay, NOW it’ll kick in.” And yet it still doesn’t! Finally, the sweet release comes at 1:29 and Rolo Tomassi rocket off through this album’s most complex tracks. Their sense of musical chaos is simply their own kind of order yet to be fully deciphered.
Similar tension is dished out on the brutal ass-heater, ‘Labyrinthine’. Korman’s screams are feral in both tone and delivery, as they so often are across Rolo’s output, and the track itself follows suit with Chris Cayford’s serpentine riffage and Nathan Fairweather’s growling bass tones. One thing I love about this song — and many tracks off this record — is that Korman’s voice later starts weaving around the harsh screams of her brother, James Spence (Eva married Jessie Korman of The Number 12 Looks Like You a few years ago). This is just a classic Rolo move, a chaotic harmony of sorts evoking the group’s earlier days – minus the wild jazz bits and spooky electronica – when the siblings’ dual-vocal set-up was an integral part of their sound. It’s honestly so good to hear the pair sharing distinct vocal duties again, something that was noticeably absent from TWDALWBI.
On my first listen, this record gave me some tonal whiplash. For instance, after a straight-forward track (again, for them) like ‘Cloaked’, you’re suddenly struck down by Spence’s piercing piano notes that jarringly begin ‘Mutual Ruin’ as Potts smacks his kit around in syncopation, setting up the following angular mathcore assault and quieter crooning end. At first, this was jarring, but after extra listens, it becomes more like a wake-up call, to not let you become complacent. To offer contrast and keep moving forward. At various points, ‘Mutual Ruin’ also sounds like three different tracks played at once, and really, that’s Rolo Tomassi’s biggest charm, in how they pull the pieces together.
Sitting at this record’s middle point is where the wonderful ‘Closer’ resides. Like the two songs that start and end this immaculate LP, this could’ve been the ending song for many other bands. Yet on Rolo’s latest full-length, it’s like a reassuring mid-album embrace, another showcase of their skill in blurring differing moods and sounds seamlessly and delicately across each records. Acting as the polar opposite to what comes before (‘Labyrinthine’) and after it (‘Drip’), ‘Closer’ is a lovely moment to breathe and reflect. Another relief is the brief haunter of the authentic ‘Stumbling’ later on, letting you to hang onto every word sung by Korman and every piano note struck by her brother.
Okay, let’s start cooking with gas and get this shit done. Because ‘Prescience’ isn’t here to fuck spiders; it’s pure momentum. In a way, it fulfills the mathcore-banger role that ‘Alma Mater’ so gracefully met for their last album, indeed sounding like a dope TWDALWBI B-side. Well, just now with added ghostly licks and atmospheric tones whilst being no less punchy. This is going to be one of those stellar deep-cuts for their song library, I can sense it now. ‘Prescience’ is a sprint and the melodic change at 1:36 also feeling like your first deep breath after an intensive coma. Love it.
The penultimate ‘To Resist Forgetting’ is a grower, not a shower, taking its tense and riff-driven time in striving to remember failures and learn from them, hopping around various points of contrast to booth soothe and throttle you. Eventually, it reaches a jaw-dropping transition at 2:45 as Spence’s lovely singing enters the fray, declaring “You’re not the only one that can save us” like he’s yelling down a damn mountain side. It’s a grand final section that sorta comes out of nowhere but the track (and album) would be worse off without it. I’m a real stickler for lazy, full songs fade-outs — just end your songs properly, people! — and even though ‘To Resist Forgetting’ does end like that, it ends on such a staggering passage, that I honestly don’t care. Look at Rolo Tomassi, breaking my own personal nitpicks, turning me into even more of a shill for them.
When I finished my very first run through of Where Myth Becomes Memory, I had to stare at a blank wall to settle myself down. I had to let go of all the air that was anxiously pent up in my lungs during its blinding ten song run. Then on all following listens, what formed right before me might just (already) be my AOTY for 2022. Where Myth Becomes Memory; an album that means a great deal to me and one I find very difficult to fault. I feel sorry for every other band that isn’t Rolo Tomassi.
Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory tracklisting:
1. Almost Always
3. Mutual Ruin
9. To Resist Forgetting
10. The End Of Eternity
Rating: 9.5 / 10
Where Myth Becomes Memory is out Friday via MNRK UK. Pre-order here
Reviewed by Alex Sievers