The rock mainstream will probably always prove a little out of reach for a band given to spaghetti-fingered riffs that look as if they require a maths PhD to play them, led by a singer who blood-curdlingly roars half her vocals with such ferocity her throat must have the consistency of leather. But with their critically exalted and suitably portentous-sounding fifth album Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It, it feels as if Rolo Tomassi’s long-awaited moment of ascent, at least within the post-hardcore world, is nigh.
Trying to pinpoint the Sheffield five-piece’s precise style across their 13-year career has sometimes resembled a game of obscure sub-genre bingo. Progressive hardcore? Grindcore? Nintendocore, anyone? Yet they’ve long evidenced a breakout ambition that belies their cosseted cult status – getting Diplo to produce 2010’s Cosmology, for instance. When she isn’t channelling At the Drive In’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala at his most larynx-bursting, frontwoman Eva Spence sings so surprisingly sweetly she could be Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser sent to soothe head-banging nightmares with dreampop reveries. The shrewdly anthemic Aftermath is spine-tinglingly beautiful, likewise, passages of the synths-bathed A Flood of Light.
Just don’t expect the pretty moments in Rolo Tomassi’s music to ever usurp their readiness to rip. The jagged Stage Knives sends crowdsurfing bodies tumbling over the front rows of the sold-out venue. Balancing the Dark is three minutes of speed-riffing pulverisation bookended by Radiohead-esque jazzy electric piano vamps. “Rock’n’Rolo!” proclaims one excited fan in the quiet between songs, and he has a point. As Illuminare evolves from shuddering to shimmering over seven minutes, and Spence soaringly delivers its rousing climactic refrain “I will not relent”, there’s no mistaking that these definition-defying unhappy-hardcore lifers are deservedly on the cusp of something.
- At Deaf Institute, Manchester, 4 April. Then touring until 16 August.