Rolo Tomassi have changed. I mean, of course they have; 3 of their original 5 members have left and the entirety of their rhythm section has been changed out. Their last album Astraea at least maintained the same drummer as their first 2 records but Grievances doesn’t even have this luxury.
So as you can expect the dynamic of the band has shifted significantly and this was also apparent on Astraea. Not only had the guitar work moved away from technical punk flourished with jazz in favour of a more traditional mathcore sound, but the song structures were considerably more rigid as a result. This has only become more apparent on the band’s 4th album Grievances.
Grievances follows a more solid foundation that doesn’t see the tempos change mid song like the Rolo Tomassi of old. This has the unfortunate effect of making the band more predictable. Some listeners may prefer this more focussed and direct Rolo Tomassi but for me part of the band’s appeal was always how utterly bat-shit insane their song-writing was. Grievances is tame in comparison.
Tame is a strong word. Rolo Tomassi are still a very aggressive and very progressive band with a huge sound. If you’re a fan of mathcore then songs like Estranged and The Embers will instantly appeal as they’re considerably well put together, it’s just they don’t sound like they come from the same band. It’s this notion that will greatly affect the appeal of the record. Rolo Tomassi fans of old will likely feel like something is missing while new fans will have a perfectly serviceable mathcore record to sink their teeth into.
If we take the album at face value then there is still plenty to enjoy. The guitar work is a wonderfully technical blend of dense riffs and noodly moments of guitar prowess. The drums hit you straight in the chest with a gloriously satisfying punch and the performances are tighter than a kitten stuck in a drain-pipe. Vocalist Eva Spence puts forward a dazzling display of throat-tearing aggression backed with some wonderfully introspective moments of haunting melodies. James Spence continues to move away from his chiptune-style keyboard effects in favour of more subtle sounds that help create some wonderful texture. The core mechanics of this album are expertly delivered and like I’ve already said, if you like mathcore then you can do no wrong than giving this album a listen.
But if you’re already a Rolo Tomassi fan then you’re bound to notice some of the magic has been lost. Grievances is not the frankly bizarre drug-trips of Hysterics and Cosmology and if you want to hear the band continue down that road of agitated punk crossed with jazz and chiptune sounds then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Rolo Tomassi have changed and whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends exactly on your familiarity with the band.
Rolo Tomassi’s Grievances is out now and can be ordered from Holy Roar Records.