Warning: This record features vocal cord-lacerating hiss-screams. If you fear the extremes of the human voice, hide under a blanket now.
Rolo Tomassi could be from anywhere (They’re from Sheffield, England, but try to find proof of that in the sounds they record). Their musical dynamics take you on a whiplash trip from the sublime to the grime, from cloud-parting beauty to the hideousness of decay, from love to death and back again. Many have tried to label Rolo Tomassi, leading to a pile-up of crashing and contradictory adjectives and made-up genre types, enough to fill up their Wikipedia page, but few have realized what a futile gesture it is, all of this labeling.
In short, the music ranges from gentle burbling electronics to the shredding fury of black metal. Eva Spence’s vocals transform from light and transcendent to fearsome hissing howls, oftentimes back and forth within the same song. The tempos are generally more restrained and purposeful than the wankery of most progressive metal acts, who seem to be diddling around just to impress themselves, but exploratory enough to put the band outside of the realm of traditional heavy rock acts. So if we don’t plaster a genre type on them and sprinkle in the names of a series of related bands, what do we have left?
Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It is a rapturous study in dynamics, if nothing else. Commenting on the lyrical content seems illogical too. When the words are understandable, you get vague Emotional-Metal Word Salad like “Fragments must realign / Dimming the sparks / That burned so bright” or “Unafraid of the aftermath / The bones of what’s below will never grow”, and that’s perfectly fine. As long as there are words to wrap a melody around, the music can do the talking. As for hardcore vocals, they’ve always seemed more like a part of the rhythm section to me, but here’s my best shot at transcribing the first lyrics from “Rituals”: “THIS GREAT SHAWN — DOUBT WON’T HOLD — ONE MORE SATAN LOST IN MY SOCKS! GODLESS SUFFOCATED BUM REFUSING TO DO SMACK FROM THAT”etc. It just doesn’t matter, really. It’s in the louds and the softs, the violence and the gentleness, that this record finds its meaning.
The opening trio of songs is a good example. “Towards Dawn” soothes with glistening synths and ambient washes of an open vocal “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”. To couch it in more Metal terms, it’s like seeing a wolf, nobly perched on a snowy hillside and surveying his world. This rolls into “Aftermath”, which kicks into gear with energetic percussion and rolling guitars, as if the wolf were now chasing down prey and majestically kicking puffs of powdery snow into the air with each explosive footfall. [It’s one of two songs consisting entirely of clean vocals, both showing off Eva Spence’s unassuming choir-class-solo style.] But this is where things take a turn. “Rituals” booms into existence, splintering the idea that this will be a gentle ride. The wolf has seen you; now it’s clawing through your viscera, contrasting the brutal red with the white snow and the blackness of destruction.
With that, the stage is set for an album of ping-ponging between the extremes. “The Hollow Hour” showcases a balanced combination of harsh and gentle, as the abrasive and staccato shouts become smooth cooing over piano and frantic drums. Eventually, the song winnows its way into high, hissing torrents of voice over a mournful clean-vocal refrain which is every bit as propulsive and lovely as this yin/yang of sound can be.
“Alma Mater” shows off some prog-metal guitar riffery and features the album title in its lyrics during a moment of shrieking lyrical lucidity. “A Flood of Light” brings throbbing synths and sunshine breaking through the clouds. Moments of loveliness scarred by howls. “Whispers Among Us” features lower pitched death vocals as a counterpoint to the hisses, making that kind of horror harmony that only metal bands can make, like a torrent of every dark emotion exploding out of your speakers at once. In “Contretemps”, the dirty vocals get a bit too rhythmically repetitive at first, but it all builds to a lovely crescendo. The song title means “against time” in French, or the English definition of “an unexpected and unfortunate occurrence.”
Against Time… It brings to mind the title of the album. Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It. The name of the band Rolo Tomassi comes from the American film L.A. Confidential, an unlikely source of inspiration for any band, but in the film, Rolo Tomassi is the proper name of a never-seen character that essentially stands in for the concept of an evil that escapes justice. We can see Time itself this way: stealing away everything we love yet wholly invulnerable to our all-too-human desire for vengeance. Death and love. Perhaps the greatest darkness and the greatest light. This is the sound of Rolo Tomassi on an album that seems to encapsulate the human experience as well as any collection of musical sounds can.
The Hollow Hour
A Flood of Light
David C. Casey