Rolo Tomassi; ASTRAEA
Sheffield math-nutters find their sound in ambitiously polished space epic.
There is no denying that Rolo Tomassi are not, nor will they ever be, to everyone's taste. The same can be said for any band, in all honesty, but RT more so than the majority of bands. For years they have been an (in this reviewer's opinion) an underrated gem of Britain's rock scene, with great potential that they have come so close to delivering with their earlier efforts. And finally, with Astraea, they have come of age with an album that appeals to a wider audience, while maintaining their classic, quirky-x1000 strangeness.
As a record, Astraea develops their sound from the often unmitigated chaos they've been occasionally prone to, into a thing of genius that is still fundamentally said chaos at heart. Imagine, if you will, a piece of stained glass smashed into pieces and rearranged into a gorgeous mosaic - there's beauty at it's core, anarchy in the process and an eventual finished artwork made of the results of this entropy.
Musically there are a lot of influences to be heard - riffs with hints of prog metal and djent (Gloam, The Scales of Balance), near-classical moments (Prelude II: Echolalia), take-note-Trent-Reznor post rock (a beautiful draw into the opener Howl) and haunting/mental synth-work littered throughout. Much credit is due for the new members of RT, following their reshuffle; new guitarist Chris Cayford and bassist Nathan Fairweather's influence in the creative process is distinctive, as both guitar and bass are pushed hard into being bloody awesome (the bass in the middle of Illunis is one of my favourite parts of the record).
Vocal-wise, frontwoman/adorable banshee Eva Spence's screams are stronger and more powerful than ever, ably supported by synthman brother James. Yet in Astraea a more concerted foray into clean singing is evident, with Eva's voice utilised far more in the albums quieter/moodier moments - a microcosm of all this comes in lead single Ex Luna Scientia.
Astraea is an excellent album, hands down. My only criticism comes from one singular moment, the transition between Prelude II: Echolalia and my favourite track Echopraxia - it's the abrupt shift in tempo that sets RT apart, but it's almost too abrupt and violent for me. That said, it's one small blip in an album that crests and subsides in power and beauty, from the post-rock intro to the sweeping grandeur of closer Illuminare.
The quintet's best work yet - a well-developed record that brings refinement to their classically gorgeous chaos, without losing their individual edge.