LIVE: Rolo Tomassi / Holy Fawn / Heriot @ Electric Ballroom, London

By Dave Stewart

Rolo Tomassi are one of the most under-appreciated bands in the UK scene, and it’s something that makes their fervent fan base feel both furious and quietly proud that they’re still a secret of sorts. A poorly kept one at this point, sure – tonight’s show is a testament to that – but a secret nonetheless. The band deserves to be so much bigger than they are: their unintentional trilogy of records, ‘Grievances’, ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’ and ‘Where Myth Becomes Memory’ are truly transcendent and mesmerising journeys, displaying a band that have matured from jarring math rock chaos into calculated and powerful genre-bending masters. Tonight’s show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom is a milestone night for their career and marks their biggest headline show to date, and the fans that have piled into the venue are keen to celebrate this moment with them.

Before we can get our Rolo fix we’re treated to a couple of strong supporting performances, the first coming from fast-rising UK heavyweights Heriot. The heaviest band of the night by a country mile, their abrasive brand of supercharged razor-sharp metal forces everyone in earshot to give their undivided attention to them, too scared to look away. They boldly open their set with their latest single ‘Demure’, and before it even reaches its halfway point it had opened a viscous pit that almost stretched the width of the room. It becomes immediately clear that the hype around this band is very real, and everyone in attendance tonight is feeling it. The set is largely made up of cuts from their debut album ‘Profound Morality’ which gets eaten up by both the hungry pit-goers and the head-bobbing observers – particularly that seismic ending riff of ‘Near Vision’ – but the biggest jaw drop comes as a complete surprise.

The second of the new songs they play – which I believe wasn’t named – is so intense that it completely silences the room, apart from a few cries of “oh my god” and “holy shit” that cut through the gaps in the breakdowns. The only respite from the onslaught comes in the form of a technical issue masked and covered by guitarist/vocalist Debbie Gough, who pushes her demonic banshee-like growls to one side to say, in the sweetest and most Brummie accent, “well, thanks for coming” to rapturous applause and cheer. When their set comes to an end the vibe in the room is one of bewilderment and shock, many left completely speechless and in awe of what they just witnessed. A true force to be reckoned with and one hell of a warm up for everything that’s to follow.

Next up is US black-gaze masters Holy Fawn, whose most recent album ‘Dimensional Bleed’ made it into countless album of the year lists in 2022. Rightly so, too – their blend of spacious, atmospheric serenity and dense black metal power makes for an almost transcendent journey, and the now very busy room was clearly keen to see how it translated to a live environment. They don’t just come on stage and play their music, they cast an atmosphere across the room and we’re all stood in it with them, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off of.

Surprising absolutely no one, playing these songs live just makes all of those traits even stronger. The bass and synths are so resonant they feel like they’re inside your body, rattling your bones from the inside out, and their music surrounds every single part of you. ‘Dark Stone’ and ‘Arrows’ most certainly provide that for the crowd, but the set highlights both come from their 2022 album, with the spine-tingling ‘Death Is A Relief’ and the bold and spacious ‘Void Of Light’ both putting the entire room into a sort of trance, all just staring forwards in wonder, totally speechless. Set closer ‘Seer’ ends their part of the evening in the most elegant and powerful way, the band stretching their dynamics to their breaking point to then release and stun the room. A very powerful performance, but in the opposite way to tonight’s openers – rich, moving and ethereal genius.

Every gig-goer in the room was beyond ready for the main event, something that became even clearer when the house lights dimmed and produced a deafening roar of anticipation. Slowly but surely, the opening tones of ‘Almost Always’ seep through the speakers and the band begin to emerge on stage, with lead vocalist Eva Korman arriving last to take her position at centre stage to kick off the evening. Her vocal performance, right from the get-go, is album quality – you could be watching them record it – and it makes the impact of the full band kicking in feel like a force blast. They have arrived and they have every intention of making tonight memorable, both for themselves and everyone watching.

Tonight serves as a tribute of sorts to the aforementioned trilogy of albums, celebrating what they’ve done for the band by visiting all three throughout the evening. Without warning, they rip straight into ‘Cloaked’ and the carnage gets underway. Pints flying, limbs flailing, bodies being flung onto the crowd, and the band clearly welcome what they’re witnessing – they give every ounce of energy back to the crowd, with vocalist and keyboardist James Spence thrashing in unison with the occasional grin glowing through. Now they’ve gotten started they don’t let the intensity drop, following with the full throttle ‘To Resist Forgetting’, the ominous ‘Labyrinthine’ and the downright evil ‘Rituals’ that all push the crowd to their absolute limit. Five songs in and it’s time for a break, coming in the form of the stunning ‘Opalescent’ that gives everyone a much needed breather as well as an opportunity to bask in just how good this band is. The way they’re able to switch from relentless metallic onslaughts to calm jazz-influenced serenity is second to none, and the crowd’s willingness to ride with them through the journey shows how passionate everyone in attendance is about this band. You could hear a pin drop in the quieter moments; that’s how transfixed the audience is.

After a frenzied waltz through ‘Stage Knives’, the band take a trip to their 2018 record for a couple of songs, treating everyone to flawless performances of the uplifting ‘Aftermath’ and the spine-tingling ‘A Flood Of Light’, both of which see Korman gracefully drift across the stage as she flows with every dramatic shift and turn. Followed by a powerful three hit emotional punch of ‘Mutual Ruin’, ‘Contretemps’ and ‘Prescience’, the first of which has the crowd in a funeral-like silence for the delicate piano outro, the main set comes to an end only for the “one more song” chants to begin building almost immediately. Without too much of a gap, the adrenaline-surging snare drum hits of ‘Drip’ burst into action, and the band return for one final blast of chaos. The pit reopens, drinks appear in the air, heads begin to bob for one final time, and the band expel every last morsel of energy they have for this closing display. As the song comes to an end, we are all left completely in awe of what we just experienced. A band on top of their game, but somehow making it feel like the best is still yet to come.

At around the midpoint of the set, Spence took a moment to really take stock on what tonight meant to him and his band, and his difficulty to locate the right words summoned huge cheers of encouragement from the crowd. It was a really sincere and powerful moment, and I think it highlights one of the most beautiful things about this band. There’s so much love shared from band to crowd and back again, and that love has just expanded as the years have gone by. Though tonight has been a really important marker in the band’s career, you get the feeling that this isn’t the last time that it’ll feel like this. Until the next one, Rolo Tomassi. Long may you reign.