Overall Score: 8/10 Atmosphere: 9/10 Diversity: 8/10 Memorability : 7/10 Pros: Eva's excellent vocal range | The fluttering ambience | A powerful atmosphere Cons: Guitar tone can become monotonous | Some songs could be developed further
Few could have predicted Rolo Tomassi’s turn from weirdo bedroom noise making upstarts to long-term stalwarts of alternative extreme music, but that journey, starting with 2008’s electronica inflected ‘Hysterics’, has seen the band mature into a thoughtful, intelligent – yet still formidable – experimental force.
Over that six album discography, the frenetic asides Rolo Tomassi once made their signature have become more purposeful; individual tracks on ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’ might feature less twists and turns than the past, but the record, like their last (2018’s Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It) trades them for an aura of genuine suspense. Like Robert Eggers’ film The Lighthouse, it eschews jump scares in favor of atmosphere. This consistently spacey, false-floorboard, atmosphere does some incredible heavy lifting here. At its most ambient, this record could happily sit alongside some of Stanley Kubrick’s weirder moments.
The most impressive thing about the record is the thematic constants; the dissonance between ‘reaching for infinite brightness’ and the everyday persistence of the mundane. This theme is tackled from multiple angles – musical and lyrical – throughout the record. This consistency allows ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’ to feel like a tactile experience, one that grips it’s listener closely and doesn’t let up.
The sequencing of the tracklist is essential to this feeling. The record fades in, static and glistening, and towering. Introduction ‘Almost Always’, is a drawn, slight and icy track; the layered vocals and pulsating bass lines build together before coalescing into the type of transcendental heavy music Rolo Tomassi have made their trademark in recent years. A key difference between this band and the plethora of imitators is the interplay between musician and vocalist; when vocalist Eva Korman asks ‘are you listening to your heart?’; Nathan Fairweather picks out a bassline resembling a heartbeat; when James Spence nimbly brings in piano, other instruments respond by allowing it the space to breathe.
Later, ‘Presicience’ glides from Eva’s layered deathcore inflected vocals into reverb drenched, picked, and haunting single notes, into a movingly powerful blend of both with such a sense of finesse that obscures the complicated structure. In that way, ‘Where Myth…’ often feels like it sprang naturally into existence. The band continue to pull these diverse sounds together throughout the record to great effect. We hear hints of Deafheaven’s ‘Sunbather’, William Basinski’s ‘On Time Out Of Time’, a smattering of groove metal and math-rock fretboard straddling – even drum patterns and quiet moments that recall divisive post-hardcore acts like La Dispute – but rarely does one element outpace another. Instead, they lead one another, hand in hand, down an alley entirely of Rolo Tomassi’s making.
The weakest points in the record come when Rolo Tomassi play it safe. The chugging guitar tone deployed throughout works as a powerful counterweight to the airy pianos, plucked bass or tremolo lines, but when left unchecked for too long, like on ‘Cloaked’, it can grow a little tedious in a world of whirling instruments.
‘Stumbling’, a sub three minute piano ballad, wouldn’t feel massively out of place on a Lucy Dacus or Phoebe Bridgers album, but the loose structure does mean that it can feel more like an interlude than a full track. If it had been fleshed out slightly further, perhaps seeing the notes transition to chords, and drawing on Eva’s more rhythmic vocal patterns that she deploys on other tracks, it may have been a standout of the record.
It leads awkwardly into the penultimate track, ‘To Resist Forgetting’. The sugar-and-salt contrast between the previous calm and the frantic, heavy opening moments of this song is clearly an intentional choice, but it didn’t land effectively enough to fit the atmosphere the rest of the record has set up. The track itself is perfectly strong, and would work even more effectively placed elsewhere.
A special mention is deserved to the mixing and mastering of ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’; producer Lewis Johns and his team keeps everything crisp, legible and weighty. The bass ties together synth lines, guitar plucks, and weighty, powerful drums without overpowering anything else. Eva has grown considerably as a vocalist, now capable of providing Randy Blythe-esque vocals that roar out of the speakers whilst remaining understandable and effective. It is a testament to how much she has grown as a vocalist that some of the best, and most memorable vocal moments are delivered in death growls.
Where Myth Becomes Memory concludes with the album’s best song, and one that will rank highly in the band’s discography, as well as being a future stand out during live sets. ‘The End of Eternity’ features kaleidoscopic lyrics; it sounds like eyes shut tight on a hazy evening. In a way, it’s a fitting image for the entire record.
The new Rolo Tomassi album, Where Myth Becomes Memory is released tomorrow (4th February 2022) on MNRK. Pick up your copy from the Becomes Memory website now.