Live Reviews - Reviews

Rolo Tomassi w/ Hornets @ Voodoo, Belfast


It’s a rather frustrating thing when bands announce a ‘UK tour’ that in reality is more like an ‘England with a token date in Scotland or Wales and nothing in Northern Ireland (or southern, for that matter)’ tour. So it was particularly gratifying when Sheffield mathcore rockers Rolo Tomassi announced an actual, honest-to-goodness UK and Ireland tour that promised two dates in the North and one in the South.

Tonight in Belfast they were ably (and very much suitably) supported by hardcore/metal headcases Hornets. Hitting the stage about half an hour late, they emit a screech of feedback that signals the start of their utterly bonkers half hour set. Frontman Rich Stuart is in full force tonight, rarely staying onstage in favour of the area in front of it, contorting wildly, pacing restlessly, resting his head now and then on speakers and an unfortunately placed load bearing pole near the stage, screaming like a furiously incensed crow and generally acting slightly unhinged – he looks, in fact, like he’d bowl you over without even noticing if you got too close to him. Their songs are also rather unhinged and loosely structured, but it takes nothing away from their piledriving heaviness and deadly effect. They are, at their heart, hardcore songs, but encased in an uncompromising metal exoskeleton. The result is both chaotic and cathartic, rather like prog metal throwing a tantrum – not to mention viscerally entertaining.


Filing onstage to a rather trippy intro, Rolo Tomassi may look unassuming but they possess a deadly sonic weapon in the form of frontwoman Eva Spence, who wastes no time in unleashing her incredible scream, much to the crowd’s delight. Stylistically they’re similar to our own Hornets, but with one exception: the quieter, ethereal moments in virtually every song, where Spence switches styles (and microphones) to a feminine, angelic clean vocal. The juxtaposition is as startling as it is utterly beguiling, and the crowd simply can’t get enough. Again the songs presented are rather rambling and unstructured – there’s no verse/chorus/verse/chorus/key change shenanigans tonight – but RT’s brand of proggy mathcore, with its syncopated beats and synth-y, rather cosmic peaks and troughs are well conceived and performed, as well as clever and just interesting.


Spence simply owns the stage, covering the small area she is afforded headbanging like a woman possessed, contorting like a yoga instructor and throwing in moments of minxy sass that are a joy to behold. She often teams up with keyboardist and co-vocalist James Spence, giving even greater punch to the songs, while the rest of the band’s musical acrobatics – whirling riffs, sharp and headstrong drumming – combine to create a show that has a rather punk-like barely contained air of chaos.

They play a dozen songs, principally focusing on 2015’s Grievances and 2012’s Astraea, as well as ‘Adrasteia’ from their 2014 split EP with Stockades. It’s a setlist that covers a wide range of influences, from jazz (‘The Embers’), hardcore (‘Estranged’) and the aforementioned prog (final track ‘All That Has Gone Before’ is a delirious mash up of prog metal and face-shredding mathcore).


From start to finish, Rolo Tomassi put on a hell of a show tonight. The energy emanating from the stage is simultaneously ferocious and startling – after all, it’s not every day that a vocalist so petite and elegant can also flail your flesh off with their voice. Unique, talented and fabulously loud: just the way we like ’em here in Belfast. Melanie Brehaut

Photos by Liam Kielt