Joseph D. Rowland (Pallbearer) Talks Rome’s A Passage to Rhodesia

Pallbearer bassist Joseph D. Rowland contemplates war and peace in Rome’s A Passage to Rhodesia — and in himself.

It often seems that the music that hits me hardest comes around when life does the same. I had been familiar with Jérôme Reuter’s project Rome for some time, and possessed a digital copy of the album Flowers from Exile (2009), but there was a point last year when it all clicked for me. Suddenly, even his vast discography wasn’t enough to fill the void that his music speaks to so fluently. Filled with stories of wearied defeat, loss of heart and home, and a longing for peace amidst the pains of separation, I was amazed at how the conflicts portrayed in his music mirrored my own personal battles.

For anyone not familiar with Rome, it’s a project that would typically be loosely categorized as neo-folk, a sort of style popularized at one point as both an extension of and a rebellion against industrial music, since the genre’s early originators and adopters seemed to stem primarily from that scene. Rome still retains some of those characteristics, as Reuter frequently employs found sounds and spoken-word samples in his work. Also, the production — though mostly based around acoustic instruments, strings and percussion — still carries a slick veneer that sets it apart from other, warmer, well-worn or grubbier varieties of folk.

The strife I was experiencing really centered around the fact that my life as a touring musician ramped up considerably in early 2013; it felt like I was starting to reshape my overall direction. Within a very short span of time, opportunities to drastically alter my future began to manifest themselves. I’d just left an unsatisfying job and, in turn, other parts of my personal life that I’d previously sought some solace in started to seem increasingly sour and stagnant. I ended up torn between what I felt I was leaving behind, and a new, raw uncertainty ahead. I was listening to a lot of Reuter’s music at the time, and it all seemed to deal heavily with the idea of acceptance, of letting the past remain strong in memory and drawing a notion of freedom and boldness out of the ashes.

I’d never fully been one to seek out answers from things like music, but it was reassuring to hear something that felt so pointed towards my hopes for rebuilding and moving forward. Somehow, nearly every song seemed rooted in this. There was a particular moment when I was the only one awake in my band’s tour van, driving late at night through dim, rural hills. I absolutely couldn’t stop playing a particular song called “The Torture Detachment” and these lyrics were resounding in such a way that it was impossible for me to ignore:

So we seek out the lonely roads
To rush towards the useless
And leave this riot of blossoms
To the simple minds

If you decide to accept my offer
To understand this sacrifice
Think of me as inanimate matter
To hide me from their lies

In those moments I felt the conflict end inside, and I just understood, even if I sensed defeat in knowing that I had to move on from what had clearly long since spoiled. Accepting and pushing forward was the only thing that made sense.

Now I’m in a very different place, and what I once viewed as ruins now stand as monuments to a past that no longer fills me with a constant ache. I was excited to get the opportunity to talk about Rome’s new album A Passage to Rhodesia because Rome will always be inseparable from that point in my life — a point which ended up affecting what would become my own music, which is being released this month as well. The experience feels undeniably full-circle to me, since Rome served as a balancing element to my spirit during a time that ultimately became a huge point of inspiration. My contribution to the new Pallbearer album drew much of its power and longing for catharsis from that very same time. I had no idea that Reuter had a new album coming out, and it feels like more than happenstance.

With much of Rome’s lyrical content hingeing on actual historical scenarios (he wrote about the Spanish Civil War on 2009’s Flowers from Exile and the French Resistance on 2010’s Nos Chants Perdus), it’s undoubtedly both a devoted undertaking for a songwriter and a complex listen from my perspective, one that often comes across as extremely cinematic. Rhodesia is actually somewhat of a return to the sound and style of some of Reuter’s earlier releases, after a turn towards the more experimental, stark and abstract on his previous album, 2012’s Hell Money. This new one is stripped-down, but clean and subtly driving at all points, with many songs featuring well thought-out hooks that leave me with numerous acoustic guitar figures and poignant choruses lingering in my mind after the music becomes silent. Songs like “A Farewell to Europe” and “In a Wilderness of Spite” fit very squarely within his greater body of work, with sparkling and spacious arrangements, and the latter even having a lyrical self-referential callback to a previous song, “Sons of Aeeth,” from his 2011 epic-length triple album Die Æsthetik der Herrschaftsfreiheit.

After quite a few listens, I curiously absorbed a sort of lighthearted feel in the instrumentation that never felt present before, standing in contrast to the lyrics, which carry just as much weight as ever. I’m left wondering if, as it did with me, the traces of brightness amidst a core of struggle and melancholy belie the occupation of a new, peaceful space for Reuter. And if that’s true, the circle might be that much more complete, if even just for me.

Joseph D. Rowland is the bassist and co-lyricist for Little Rock psychedelic metal band Pallbearer, whose new album Foundations of Burden is available now. He typically enjoys reading, drinking the darkest coffee available and internally critiquing the merits of the ‘80s G.I. Joe cartoons. You can follow Pallbearer on Twitter here.