In the early 2010s, UK hardcore was – to quote my mam reflecting on moments of high stress where she does things like put the remote control in the freezer – "having a moment". Bands like Kerouac, Vales (Veils), The Long Haul, Goodtime Boys, Ravachol, Crocus and loads more ripped across the UK with their shared frantic energy, odd time signatures and vocals that were approximately 5 percent singing, 25 percent guttural screaming and 70 percent being a bit shouty. The majority had short lifespans, breaking up after a couple of years and leaving a string of bangovers, split EPs, and German tour posters behind them. Others, like Sheffield's Rolo Tomassi, merely passed through.
Loaded with blast beats, gale force vocals and bass lines that, yeah, I'm going to describe in actual writing as "brutal", Rolo Tomassi fell under the umbrella of UK hardcore, but – with the inclusion of synths, polyrhythmic drumming and occasional jazz breakdowns – they fell under a lot of other umbrellas, too. A bit like The Blood Brothers or Help! She Can't Swim, in their earlier years. With more experience behind them, an enigmatic stage presence and an impossible-to-nail-down sound (their 2010 album Cosmology was produced by Diplo, for one thing), Rolo Tomassi have been subverting the conventions of heavy music for over a decade. All of which is to say: Rolo Tomassi have a new song out called "Rituals" and it's really good.
Following on from 2015's Grievances – an album that saw the band celebrate ten years of activity as well as continuing to refine their sound into something heavier, darker and more direct – "Rituals", in co-founder and synth player James Spence's words, "Continues in the vein of Grievances' darkness – but," he's quick to add, "shouldn't be used to judge what all our new material sounds like."
Lyrically, "Rituals" seems to be about false illusions and trying to find stability after having something pulled out from under you. "You'll find it's not all what it seems / So pinch to feel the pain / Clawing for a sweet escape / Until I feel again," vocalist and lyricist Eva Spence sings, breaking away from the track's earlier metal roar. "In the context of the song, the word 'rituals' is more about repetition in behaviour than anything," Eva tells me, "It's about similarities in action taken to overcome hardships in your life."
Although Rolo typically write carefully and collaboratively, piecing together ideas as a group, guitarist Chris Cayford brought "Rituals" forward as a finished piece halfway through the writing process for the new album. "When other members were in their stride with being productive, Chris was a little blocked, and just as our ideas began to slow, he really hit his stride with writing," James Spence explains, "I feel like this track, especially its aggression and energy, was a real release and relief."
The thing about Rolo Tomassi, which is just as true of "Rituals" as any of their previous releases if not more, is that they are consistently exciting. It just sounds overwhelming in a way that feels almost comforting, like standing in the middle of a storm in a T-shirt and allowing yourself to get totally drenched. To that end, when it came to recording their next album, the band found themselves returning to the same place they recorded Grievances – The Ranch in Southampton, helmed by Lewis Johns. "He's patient, has a fantastic ear for the details," James tells me, "This time, we worked particularly closely with him on vocals and developed ideas together, in the studio, which is new for us. Grievances was, from the start, conceived to be an album that flowed perfectly from start to finish and written with that in mind. This time around we focused specifically on exploring songs like 'Rituals' to their full potential. To write mini-epics. An album's worth of ideas in one song. We pushed every song to its extreme and in the case of 'Rituals' that meant making it as heavy and unrelenting as we possibly could."
It can be difficult, especially within heavier music, to keep pushing forward without losing what you established in the first place. For a band now inching into their 13th year together, what accounts for Rolo Tomassi's longevity? "An honest love for what we do and for each other," Eva says, "We've proudly retained our own identity within our music and I think that counts for something."
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Rolo Tomassi play The Borderline in London on November 4th but it's sold out so if you didn't get tickets then I'm sorry about that. They're also heading out on their first ever North American tour in December – you can find dates and ticket links for that here.