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To-Mera - Exile CD (album) cover

EXILE

To-Mera

 

Progressive Metal

3.95 | 120 ratings

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AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars Exceptional symphonic metal with beautiful vocals create an absorbing journey.

To-Mera's "Exile" is a very heavy and at times beautiful concept album with some excellent tracks that overall blend together to form one seamless album of supreme metal. Julie Kiss on vocals is a comparable singer, in the same way that other female fronted metal groups sound, not unlike the vixens of Epica, Nightwish, After Forever or Within Temptation. She pours a lot of emotion into the vocals with crystalline operatic power. Her voice balances out the gritty distortion in the guitars that are given a manic workout by Tom MacLean, and there are some very effective symphonic keyboards by Haken's maestro Richard Henshall. The rhythm machine of Mark Harrington on bass, and Paul Westwood on drums is excellent; at times the drums move into a double kick hyperspeed metal seizure such as on 'End Game' where speed metal takes over.

The music is everchanging and carries a sense of grandeur and sweeping majesty as well as maintaining strong metal hooks with some dynamic time changes and riffing. The album begins with an instrumental to get things in motion, with atmospheric drones and then an Egyptian melody on guitar and violins to set the scene which is portrayed on the beautiful album cover art. The booklet features imagery of Ancient Egypt with hieroglyphics embedded in the logo, and birds swooping through the sunlight rays, with some striking sunset scenery, backed by quotes of Nietzche and other famous authors.

After the ambient beauty of 'Inviting the Storm' the first metal chord crashes through the tranquillity and then a faster riff locks in. 'The Illusionist' is blasted out with a furious relentless riff and then we are graced by the golden tones of Julie's vocals; "Inside this deranged theatre we must dream with open eyes, dreamers of the day the future's ours". The keyboards come in with a repetitive phrase as the guitars break away and a cool time sig chugs along till more metal bursts flow through. The lead break is soaring and at times Julie serenades like a cherub, while at other times provides the forced delivery of a vampiress. The funkadelic bass cranks along well and then it moves to swathes of fragrant keyboards. The musical mood swings are well executed, maintaining creative ideas. It twists and turns like a winding road and settles into a valley where lead guitar howls over. The lyrics are compelling "it could be that sometimes you have to break your beloved chains, and leave with nothing but a heartache, in a cage you cannot live." This song is a terrific start to the album, with enough variation to provide five songs but it is all wrapped up in a 7 minute journey.

The piano tinkles a sweet melody as an aggressive muscular metal guitar tries to dominate then gives up on 'The Descent'. The piano continues as Julie's voice soars over sounding like Nightwish's Tarja Turunen or Epica's Simone Simons, "broken inside, but hands soaked in blood". There is a darker atmosphere on this with some ethereal whispers and streams of keyboard pads simmering beneath giving a dramatic quality. The lyrics portray the regrets of a murderess with some Gothic ideas thrown in, and the music takes on a quiet tranquil feel. The musical box keys have a childlike quality. The sound becomes intense with MacLeans's staccato guitar hammering and Harrington's bass, and a sporadic percussion rhythm by Westwood. Over a speed metal riff Henshall's Hammond organ sounds delightfully odd, but it is backed by male screaming growling vocals of Stephan Forte, "there's nowhere else to run". The demon voice resounds in the woman's ears and she is trapped by her own evil. It ends with gentle melancholy acoustics as she cries "forgive the past." A detonation of speed metal explodes, and then the music relaxes again into dreamy violin and piano; a masterful track.

'Deep Inside' has a measured cadence and then builds to a compacted rhythm. Julie's acrobatic vocals are exquisite and she remains strong even when she is more bellicose during the time sig changes. The melancholia is enhanced by uplifting surges of keyboard and minimalism of piano. The murderess is on the run but can't hide from herself, her emotional psychological journey continues; "forget all that's been, and all I've seen, how life has changed, and my world's been turned to dust time after time". Piano and violins generate a haunting soundscape that drifts into a peaceful beauty.

'Broken' is a killer 10 minute track with crunching riffs that shift tempo often and the vocals are processed with an android effect, sucking out the beauty of Julie's timbre. Indeed, this is a darker track with downbeat guitar chords and a scape of layered keyboards. After an outburst of penetrating riffing, the sound settles into a gentle ambience and gorgeous vocals, "creeping behind are wasted years, memories of a cold embrace, that send the Ancient sea pour down her broken face." The chorus builds with a theatrical atmosphere and a grand melody, "the world now rests in emotional darkness, and there's nothing left but the memory of the pain." The protagonist is feeling helpless and her world is sinking beneath her literally as she descends deeper into madness and guilt-ridden pain, the price of her culpability and dark desires that have now consumed her. The metal becomes incredibly dense as thrash guitar licks and blastbeats of drums pound relentlessly. The tuba provides a nice balance played by Diego Tejeida. An Egyptian melody is heard then a maelstrom of sound engulfs it with metal, driving nails into the rhythms. The lead break has sustained feedback and some wonderful string bends with soaring elegance. It gets heavier at the end until the portentous vocals, "there must be a way tell me, how can we abandon all we've got that matters so much, I know it'll never be the same and all the future holds is emptiness", capping off a masterful track.

'End Game' begins with frenetic speed metal and then a traditional metal riff locks in. Julie sings about the regrets of the murderess, "it's over, you know it's all over, just let the tide sweep over us now, I'm ready to go, to go under, oh take me under." With these suicidal tendencies set in stone the music takes on a melancholy sadness with waves of keyboards flooding under a tirade of distorted riffs. The song switches to an urgent pace and the protagonist says "I'm ready to quit this fight." The manic soundwave dies and some piano sparkles over until a new tempo machetes through. It builds with looming menace with keyboard swirls, leading to a fast hypnotic motif, with breakneck speed percussion, and then some low resounding piano runs. Soon more angelic vocals continue the story to a sudden ending.

'Surrender' is a lengthy song clocking 11 minutes, beginning with serene classical acoustic picking. The clean electric guitar comes in that is very effective building a brooding atmosphere. It breaks into a loud distorted axe attack that moves to a delightful off sync beat with piano. As Julie begins to sing softly, a cathedral organ is heard giving the sound a majestic feel. The melody on this is more accessible and has a pulsing vibrant bassline, and there are odd breaks with piano and tribal bongo rhythms. This jazz outbreak is an effective device and it leads to another fractured riff and then a snarling guitar blasts over with some organ flourishes. MacLean's guitar is interminably locked into a D minor pentatonic scale, and the piano playing feels very dark and downbeat. This is a complicated prog metal blaster, with chunky riffs and a plethora of time sig changes. The lyrics become more positive, "the answers aren't hard to find, just dare to live, cause every heartbeat is a universe of possibilities", a quote from G.D.Roberts. A very nice vocal is soon heard, to enhance the ominous atmosphere. It builds eventually to an excellent time sig change that moves the track into a new direction. The polyrhythmic riffs are mesmirising and inspiring, and the bassline is incredible. It culminates with cathedral church organ providing a religious setting as the murderess begins to put her life back together. An intense paroxysm of metal fury ends the track. This is a wonderful prog metal song that is certainly one of the best on "Exile".

The album tracks are linked well making the whole culminate in one long metal suite. 'All I Am' opens with a pretty piano melody, and the cadence is slow and patient, augmented by soft vocals. I like To-Mera when they are in their melancholic mood and they are always ready for a blast of distortion to keep things interesting. The air is intense with whispered rage. The bass emanates nicely and there are lovely vocals, one of the quietest moments on the album, but threatens to break out any moment. The metal comes in the form of an angular guitar riff as the mood darkens and a very odd time sig dominates. The cathedral pipe organ returns and some Wurlitzer style organ enters competing with the metal onslaught of machine gun riffing. Interwoven throughout are Julie's beautiful vocals, understated and melodic, as she sings the thoughts of the protagonist who has come to terms with her pain, "and if I am to fall, and if I am to fail, I know you'll be there." The Gothic atmosphere is generated by mesmerising violin and piano. The music feels melancholy and sombre and the vocals remind me of Annie Haslam or Sonja Kristina as she uses an operatic tone that rises and falls in pitch with crystal clear clarity. The lengthy piano passage is a stunning piece of musicianship and the staccato percussion threatens to pour down a storm. The sound intensifies with distorted chords and a relentless lead guitar lick. It feels as though we are nearing the conclusion, as the murderess sings, "it's all worth it, I know deep inside, I've always known it's all I am."

"Exile" is an extraordinary piece of musicianship that has vast soundscapes of ambience and piano passages along with some colossal metal riffs, and a fair degree of tempo changes throughout. The concept is heavy handed but the music becomes a soundtrack to the life of a woman whose life has become a living hell due to her murderous deeds. It could also be an allegory for escaping madness, the whole thing might be all in her head, but it is left to interpretation. The vocals are one of the best things about the album, along with the intricate technical changes in mood with dynamic metal riffs at one end of the scale, and piano illuminations at the other. Classical and metal can be at polar opposites but bands like To-Mera know how to employ just the right balance to appease both target audiences. This album will appeal to those who like a symphonic element infused within a metal framework. There is enough metal here to please the metalhead and in fact in places there is extreme speed metal blastbeats. It has a short burst of vocal growls but overall is permeated by the angelic voice of Julie. "Exile" is an excellent quality production with a lot to say, and To- Mera allows the musical landscape to speak as this dark tale unravels emanating an absorbing listening experience.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |

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