It’s a busy Friday in Sofia but I’m on my way to see Rolo Tomassi play here for the first time. Yes, I know, it’s over 10 years since I saw that YouTube video where they play the small London shop Beyond Retro but I’m not less excited that one of the most experimental and daring (mathcore, post-hardcore or whatever you want to call it) UK bands for the past decade finally reaches Bulgaria. Honestly, I think around their third album I kind of lost touch with their work but I remember a party last year when a friend of mine brought a copy of their 2018’s ‘Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It’ claiming it was indeed record of the year and we have to listen to it. Honestly, he couldn’t have been more right. So, here I was, back on the Rolo Tomassi wave.
I arrive at Mixtape 5 to the last tracks of Cryptodira who are opening the show tonight. Coming all the way from Long Island, US they play hard-hitting post-metal with influences from the whole metallic spectre – ranging from chaotic hardcore, to sludge and tech death metal. Judging by the crowd and what I hear from the people around me they did a great job making sure by the time I arrive the venue is already boiling hot and waiting for Rolo Tomassi. A quick changeover takes place and it doesn’t take too much before the lights are switched off, all of what looks like a 100-something people are inside and a massive sounding electronic intro bleeds from the PA to prepare us for what’s about to follow.
One by one the band members enter the stage from the backstage side door with brother and sister James (synths and vocals) and Eva Spence (vocals) taking their spots last. James quickly greets the crowd and asks us to come closer. A second later the show opens with the drifting riffs of black metal-influenced ‘Rituals’, a track from that very last Rolo Tomassi album that got me back into the band. The reaction is instant, people’s eyes are glued to the stage, some are screaming the lyrics, especially the Romanian bunch of seven people who came all the way from Bucharest for the gig.
Rolo Tomassi live are like a vortex. Flawless musicianship meets pure emotional outbursts. Their songs are written with such precision, the electronics are neatly arranged and never feel lost in the wall of guitar sound, the intense drumming and the meticulously structured vocals. The set takes us through the band’s two latest albums ‘Grievances’ and ‘Time Will Die…’ but the setlist is carefulyl arranged and atmospheric and melodic passages quickly explode into the menacing mathcore the band knows how to write so well. Throughout the set you can feel Rolo Tomassi shorting the distance, peeling the layers off and getting closer to us. Their music becomes more intimate and emotional. At a point James, who does most of the talking between songs while Eva looks and feels in her own world during most of the show, tells us they travelled for 13 hours to reach Sofia, which having in mind the Serbian-Bulgarian border is not a surprise. People appreciate it, they get closer and they react warmer and warmer, and so does the band. Just like the music, the audience tonight is a fusion of hardcore kids, metalcore kids, metal fans and people who I don’t see too often on small shows like this. It’s impressive to see such a mix crowd feeling and reacting as one, I guess music does that.
Towards the end of the set, right before the encore, they indulge in a mesmerizing and beautiful performance of ‘Aftermath’ and you can feel it, Rolo Tomassi know that they are at home with tonight’s audience. Eva’s sporadic and piercing looks through the audience become a smile, bass player Nathan Fairweather plays the whole ‘A Flood Of Light’ on the edge of the stage visibly satisfied, while guitarist Chris Cayford and drummer Al Pott, who both have been flawless and energetic the whole night still pour it all into these last bits of the show. And then it’s over. Eva quickly thanks us for being with them and the members leave the stage for good. James finishes the outro on one of his synth and he’s gone too. Only on my way back home I realize Sofia saw Rolo Tomassi for the first time and it was one of the best shows for the year. Eternal thanks to booking crew Пост Култура for making this happen.
Rolo Tomassi will be touring Europe until August so don’t miss them.