Rolo Tomassi - Astraea

A bit like Sherlock if he was into The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Mars Volta.

Label: Destination Moon

Rating: 7

Let’s begin with a disclaimer; Rolo Tomassi are not for those of a sensitive disposition. If the idea of a woman pushing her trooper vocal chords to full roaring capacity over the top of complex and erratically evolving background unsettles you in any way, it might be best to avoid ‘Astraea’ like the plague. This album, according to singer Eva Spence, is the most direct record Rolo Tomassi have done yet – and you’d be wise to take her at her word. Direct is certainly an apt word choice – ‘Astraea’ hits with quite some welly.

The majority of the album has the inbuilt ability to scare the living daylights out of you and send you scurrying off to snuggle up with a hot water bottle to watch the Care Bears. It’s not just when Spence is releasing blood-curdling howls, either. The softest track of the record, ‘Prelude II (Echolalia)’, brings to mind an aging, dusty, slightly out of tune piano belonging to my grandparents, and is legitimately the most chilling piece of music I have heard for a long time. ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ and ‘Gloam’ fluctuate without warning between the heights of mathcore to the territory of glittering synth melodies; plunging headlong into dizzily sprawling jams. It’s apparent that Spence’s vocal chords are in perfect nick – she has a hauntingly fragile voice hidden beneath that roar. ‘Empiresuk’ has a particularly standout vulnerable moment as Spence sings backed by piano, and even to self-confessed haters of umbrella genre ‘metal’ must be able to hear merit in the singer opening up. She makes herself seem exposed, sometimes even touchable. The blend of vulnerability with the sheer vocal force that seems to slam every note against an unforgiving concrete wall is an interesting one.

The point is, then, that ‘Astraea’ is terrifying - until you’re in the right mood for it. It’s probably not the right album to whip off the shelf when your Nan comes round for scones (she might have a heart attack), just as you might not pop it on the old stereo for a meditation session. This is intense music, packed with time signatures that look more like quadratic equations, half-audible lyrics you have to decode; a bit like Sherlock if he was into The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Mars Volta. There is an awful lot of shouting on this album, but there are also a few highlights worth shouting about. It is unlikely Rolo Tomassi’s third album will hold universal appeal – ‘Astraea’ has a very niche sound which might well turn off most people as soon as they hear the first onslaught. If you have the patience to get to the very heart of ‘Astraea’, though, it will reward you for the investment.