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TO-MERA

Progressive Metal • United Kingdom


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To-Mera biography
To-Mera began life as a project between Julie Kiss (ex-Without Face) and Lee Barrett (ex-Extreme Noise Terror, Disgust, Mussolini Headkick). After a series of fluid lineups, the current stable incarnation of To-Mera began in early 2005, after Tom MacLean (a fan of Without Face) met Julie at a Dillinger Escape Plan gig and offered his services as a guitarist. Julie then enlisted the help of her hometown friend Akos as drummer for the band, and work commenced on writing material for a demo.

The intention was to fuse the musical interests of each of the members within a dark and atmostpheric framework. As a result, To-Mera's style can be described as a mixture between the assorted metal sub-genres, classical and jazz music.

The demo, comprising the tracks "Dreadful Angel" and "Born of Ashes", was recorded in July 2005 at The Peel in Kingston, on the laptop of of up-coming French producer Brett Caldas-Lima.

After a surprisingly positive reception on the internet and in various magazines (including being awarded "demo of the month" in both Zero Tolerance and Organ magazine), the demo was finally picked up by UK label Candlelight, and the band were offered a deal.

Once a permanent keyboardist was found in the form of Hugo Sheppard, the band spent the winter months of 2005/ early '06 writing material for their debut album.


This biography was taken from the band's official homepage (http://www.to-mera.com).



Why this artist must be listed in www.progarchives.com :
The band was cleared for addition by the prog metal team.

See also:

- Without Face
- Haken



Discography:
Transcendental (2006)

To-Mera official website

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DelusionsDelusions
Candlelight 2008
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$2.97 (used)
TranscendentalTranscendental
Candlelight 2006
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TO-MERA discography


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TO-MERA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.83 | 56 ratings
Transcendental
2006
4.16 | 82 ratings
Delusions
2008
3.97 | 113 ratings
Exile
2012

TO-MERA Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

TO-MERA Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

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TO-MERA Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 2 ratings
Blood
2006
3.53 | 16 ratings
Earthbound
2009

TO-MERA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by Progrussia

4 stars To-mera is a sister band of the better known British band, Haken, sharing several members. There are differences between bands - Haken has more classic rock influences, To-mera is heavier and darker, but they are not totally different, both based on loud, heavy progressive rock with melodic sensibilities.

To-mera distinguishes itself from other prog metal bands by having a female vocalist who is not an operatic wailer, but rather has a jazzier voice. So, perhaps appropriately, the band's sound can be described as a mix of various underground metal sub genres - progressive, gothic, djent, even extreme pieces popping up here and there, with a kind of lounge-jazzy breaks. If you compare their three albums, Exile is perhaps a bit more accessible. It also stretches the song lenghts by a couple of minutes on several occasions. But I think their strength lies in the previous 8-minute format, because epics, while good, may seem like various melodic fragments glued together.

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 Earthbound by TO-MERA album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2009
3.53 | 16 ratings

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Earthbound
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by Prog Sothoth
Collaborator Prog Metal Team

3 stars To-Mera's Earthbound is a four track bugger that lasts for almost a half hour of showcasing the band essentially revamping their aims, with founding member Lee Barrett gone, leaving only the singer, Julie Kiss (I can't imagine fellow kids ever making light of her name back when she was 10 or so) as the original member left in the band. They had also parted ways with their record label, so this was a self-released affair, the kind that's mixed in a living room while mom shows up with fresh crispy biscuits and lemonade...and to remark about poor clothing, hygiene and career options.

Djent. That's one of the first characteristics that stood out in describing the band's sound. The polyrhythmic drumming and a healthy dosage of Meshuggah-style chugs and low-note riff patterns. Luckily, though, there's a lot more going on, such as some nice keyboardwork, a good bass presence, a quick but snazzy guitar or keyboard solo popping up once in a while, and a nice array of jazzy dynamics and flowing arrangements in that the songs aren't saddled with jarring tonal shifts; it's all pretty smooth.

Much has been said about Julie, and she certainly deserves credit as probably the main source of melody concerning these four tracks. Singing over djent-ish chord progressions in a melodic display deserves accolades from the start. Her voice, while pretty enough, has slight 'poppish' inflections but not too much character otherwise. It's nice, but not striking.

It's a bit of a different animal from their earlier releases, which I found were a bit more frenetic and wild (sorta more my beat). As a four track EP, it's pretty good stuff, with the keyboards especially adding an interesting atmosphere to this release, but if stretched out to a full length, the style imposed here, particularly regarding the overusage of that djent influence, would probably wear out its welcome after a couple more similar numbers.

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 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by Andy Webb
Forum & Site Admin Group Site and Forum Admin

4 stars To-Mera are no strangers in the world of progressive metal. The band's debut, Transcendental, was released in 2006 to great critical appeal for their innovative sound, impressive musical talent, and quality of sound. Led by the powerful female singer Julie Kiss, the band's style is massive and dynamic, mixing genres like jazz fusion, technical progressive metal, and death metal riffing to create an epic amalgamation of textures, emotions, and sounds. The band's second album, Delusions,, was an opus of grand proportions, bringing all of their already impressive sounds to fruition yet again. When the band was dropped by Candlelight Records, however, the band lost some of its steam and, with the release of their 2009 EP Earthbound, they dropped off the scene for a few years. In 2012, however, the band announced their return with their third studio album, Exile,.

With a definitively Egyptian overtone, likely due to Kiss' affection for Egypt, Exile is a powerhouse of explosive riffs, infectious melodies, and an overall killer musical experience. Dynamics run amuck between the crushing power of Tom MacLean's guitars, the gentler nature of Kiss' vocal lines, and the musical delicacies created by the band's progressive metal roots and their appreciation for jazz and other styles. The texture created between the sweeping riffs and the undertones of organ and piano lines are sublime, simply adding to a fantastic atmosphere that dominates the hour-long album.

In a technical aspect, the band outdoes themselves, just as I expected they would. The album is engorged with virtuoso soloing, rhythmically complex passages, and a communication between instrumentalists that is essential in order for any piece of music to succeed. The amount of emotion put into playing the delicately composed pieces, as well, equals if not exceeds the technical prowess it took to play it, which simply adds to the overall experience of the album. While an album may be musically comprehensive, any composition simply cannot be 'good' if a degree of passion is not given to the work, and passion can definitely be found among these songs.

In the end, Exile presents a truly excellent return to fashion from the band's 3-year silence. Comprehensive and epic, the album explores a large number of styles and musical paths, sating the listener's palate and leading them to beg for more. With an enriching concept about an woman who has gone insane, the album allows the listener to explore the music in a myriad of ways, and allows for a truly engrossing musical experience. After this album, I dearly hope To-Mera is back on their feet and starts producing this quality of music regularly again. 4+ stars.

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 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 'Exile' - To-Mera (8/10)

Coming from a listener now long bored by the traditional progressive metal style, To-Mera are a go-to source for prog metal the way it should be; musically rich, dynamic, and even original. First hearing them via their member-sharing with the contemporary genre legend Haken, I've only recently discovered that their drummer, Paul Westwood, also offers rhythms for the black metal band Fen, who themselves released one of my favourite records last year. In short, it seems talented folks tend to stick together, and taking into account the other great bands these musicians have been in, To-Mera looks like a meeting place for some of the best of their genre. This latest record "Exile" is no slouch in a line of great albums either. Pairing up dynamic, aggressive and atmospheric metal with a poignant concept, newcomers will be surprised by how well To-Mera are able to digest their influences into something convincing and fresh. Of course, existing fans of the band already knew to expect this!

My first experience with To-Mera was a couple of years ago, with their then-recent EP "Earthbound". Four songs may have not been alot to go by, but it was enough to give a strong look at the band's skill and style. Opeth and the contemporary djent sound were both factors there, but they were overlaid with a strong female voice that one wouldn't normally associate with such technically accomplished music. "Exile" is cut from the same cloth as "Earthbound" and what has come before for To-Mera, but the production and delivery is decidedly improved. Although the band has always had an impressive sense of knowing how to bring out the best in their compositions, "Exile" gives the impression that To-Mera have found a perfect sweet spot between rich production, aggression and atmosphere.

Fans of guitarist and band mastermind Tom McLean's other band Haken will find a similar consistency and fire burning under To-Mera. There is a familiar progressive metal foundation here, the likes of which listeners will have no doubt seen in countless bands by now. Moderate experimentation with time signatures, a fusion of synth textures and guitars, and longform song formats are descriptors that could easily define a large portion of prog metal. They are not separate from some of the more generic qualities (and cliches) of the style, but they ultimately set themselves apart with their atmosphere. Whether its the Egyptian motifs that open up the album on "Inviting the Storm", the playful prog metal freakouts on "The Descent" or the symphonic bombast of "All I Am", "Exile" is doused with a thick layer of dark atmosphere. The vocals of Julie Kiss are a great compliment to the constantly shifting sound. Although her higher register delivery is typical of many female metal singers, the staying power of her voice gives her a great presence. Unlike many progressive metal vocalists- who tend to get swallowed by the instrumental wizardry- Julie brings a sort of proggy weirdness to her voice of its own. While her voice itself is never challenging to the ear, many of her vocal melodies are a little strange in the way they're placed up against the music. It can be difficult to first get into, but it gives her performance a lasting effect that persists far beyond the initial listen.

Even before listening to "Exile", I was struck by the album's concept and lyrical themes. While not a narrative concept like Dream Theater's "Scenes From A Memory" or Queensryche's "Operation Mindcrime", "Exile" does tell a story of sorts. Instead of events or actions however, "Exile" unfolds as a journey through the mind. Paraphrasing from the press kit; the protagonist finds herself conflicted, and seeks to ostracize herself from the world in order to protect herself from harm. With that alone, the psychological allegory fits well with the methodical, atmospheric musical approach they take. In actual practice, the lyrics are decent, but don't quite reach the potential that the concept had, either in its wordcraft or the places To-Mera goes with the idea. Although they bring plenty of musical and stylistic twists to the table throughout the album, To-Mera are not as good with emotional dynamics. Unlike Haken's "Aquarius", in which listeners were taken to almost every conceivable feeling and mood, To-Mera's emotional range feels a little limited, a surprise considering their success on virtually every other front.

Musically, To-Mera sound at the top of their game. If they weren't already, they are at the frontlines of contemporary progressive metal. Especially considering that their style has been tread and explored many times before, "Exile" is a surprisingly challenging and meaty project. Listeners should expect to invest several listens before they unlock all of the rewards here, although it would have been nice to have a shred more of the emotional warmth that Haken excels with. Really, it's a great record overall, and prog metallers will find many nights' worth of enjoyment here. I won't be surprised to see this on many 'best of the year', come the end of 2012.

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 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

5 stars Here's a puzzler for you: is To-Mera's Exile a progressive rock album with prog metal moments or a progressive metal piece with progressive rock interludes? It's a tough one because the album hangs right on the borderline of the two approaches, with extended passages where metallic riffing is nowhere in sight and an intriguing sort of jazz-influenced new prog with a hint of Magenta and mid-period Thieves' Kitchen is being performed. With various world music influences also added to the mixture, the album showcases some impressive compositional skills and broad tastes on the part of the band. This is the crew's first album since the departure of co-founder Lee Barrett, leaving Julie Kiss as the sole remaining founder member of the project, and she's clearly done well in setting the band's current course. Fascinating from the first one, this one has grown on me a lot already during out brief acquaintance and I'll certainly be chasing up the group's back catalogue, as well as Julie's old work in Without Face.

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 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by 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.

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 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by BrufordFreak

4 stars Lone remainder of the founding group, Julie Kiss, continues to beguile me with her extraordinary voice, and overall I think this album the most accessible of the band's output, but I'm not sure this is a good thing. Gone are the rough edges, the sharp and sudden turns, everything has been smoothed out. I'm not sure if it's the keyboard work, but this album has far less of the abrasive, unpredictableness of either Transcendental or Traces. Instead I feel as if I am listening more to NIGHTWISH or EPICA or WITHIN TEMPTATION. Sometimes the 'new' To-Mera is a positive (I often found some of the radical within-song shifts from previous albums disconcerting or distancing?though never so much as within, say, a UNEXPECT song), but I am also saddened at the loss of quirky surprise. Even the songs I find closest to the 'old' To-Mera are still surprisingly smooth, melodic, and "pretty."

So, herein lies the difficulty of the decision to rate this album: I miss the sudden, drastic mid-song changes in mood, tempo, and/or instrumentation, but I do find myself enjoying the more melodic, smoothness of the new music--especially as added by the keyboard player, who, apparently is from HAKEN. And I do not begrudge the group it's movement away from Heavy Metal. But I do know this: I love the voice of Julie Kiss, I love the bass playing of Mark Harrington, I love the incorporations of Near Eastern instruments and sounds. I do not like the way the drums sound and often find myself questioning the choice of keyboard sounds Often quite cheezy, almost more like PAUL HARDCASTLE).

1. "Inviting the Storm" (3:02) (8/10) 2. "The Illusionist" (7:21) (8/10) 3. "The Descent" (7:54) (7/10) 4. "Deep Inside" (6:46) (8/10) 5. "Broken" (10:04) (8/10) 6. "End Game" (6:13) (9/10) 7. "Surrender" (11:05) (9/10) 8. "All I Am" (12:46) (9/10)

3.5 stars rated up for consistency and continued high level creativity.

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 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer

3 stars The only thing I knew about this band before they kindly sent me a demo to review was that they had some member overlap with Haken. Naively, I assumed that this would translate into a very similar sound, and going into my first listen I rather expected that this album would follow in the hyper-melodic, extremely accessible mode of that other band.

Well, after many more listens I need to set something straight for anyone who may be new to this band and is thinking along similar lines. This certainly isn't Haken. To-mera seems to draw influence from a far greater pool, and as a result this album is far harder to categorize than the (still excellent) Haken. There are nods to extreme metal (however brief) and even some reminiscence in places to hyper-frenetic bands like Unexpect. There's also, however, multitudes of gorgeous piano and violin, and the sublime female vocals give the music a very fresh sound.

'Inviting the Storm' begins the album with a faintly eastern sounding motif, backed up by some eclectic percussion and a great combination of piano and guitar. It isn't until midway through that the heaviness picks up, and even then it's only briefly there before a more serene motif returns. 'Inviting the Storm' definitely functions as an introductory track more than anything else, but it does well in that capacity and sets the scene well for the rest of the album.

'The Illusionist' kicks the album into high-gear with a crushing guitar part coupled with a very Discipline-esque violin part. After a bit of introductory instrumental playing, the guitar launches into a more straightforward riff assisted by some excellent keyboards and the vocals make their first appearance. The track develops a very eclectic sound as it moves into its middle section, with a variety of synth textures creating a variety of styles, from frenetic licks to more atmospheric soundscapes. The guitar is nigh-omnipresent throughout the track as well, and whether it's adding understated riffs or turning in stunning solos it's always a welcome presence. The track finally goes into a more relaxed mode toward the end, and the female vocals really shine during this passage. The track concludes with some more chugging riffs before transitioning into the next song.

'The Descent' opens with a rather haunting solo piano before introducing some pounding guitar that only appears briefly before vocals appear over the piano. For a brief period the two interact alone in space, but then the heavy guitar comes back to support the truly excellent vocal melody that develops. I can actually hear a bit of similarity to Unexpect's latest album, with constantly changing, somewhat unconventional riffing, though To-mera is certainly more melodic. The track relaxes a bit in its middle third, delving into an almost jazzy motif before returning to the juxtaposition of heavy riffing and gorgeous vocals. I think some Dream Theater influence can be heard here as well, but just when you think you know where the track is going the freneticism kicks up a notch and there's some brief growling that takes the track into completely new territory. The track closes out the same way it began, with the same haunting piano and a very nice return of the violin.

'Deep Inside' begins with a highly cinematic, climactic fanfare of guitar and synth, with some really excellent playing from the bassist and percussionist as well. The group continues their use of slightly off-kilter rhythms and tonalities coupled with gorgeous vocals to create a highly distinctive sound, but for all its idiosyncrasies this music is still highly melodic. A beautiful piano and violin part at the end of the track highlights this quite nicely, as does the very emotional vocal melody that ends the track.

'Broken,' the first of the album's 10-minute-plus tracks, starts with an instrumental section that builds from solo guitar into a fast-riffing, full-on metal crush-fest. Slightly distorted vocals add to the ominous, heavy feel, as does a very gothic-sounding organ part that appears behind the most dramatic portions of the track. There's an excellent part as well from what sounds to me like an oboe or English horn (though I suppose it could just as easily be a synth of some sort), and there's a very good guitar solo as well. Overall, though I think 'Broken' is one of the slower-to-develop tracks on the album, it's a very satisfying and varied piece of progressive metal.

'Endgame' kicks off immediately with a thrashy, almost math-rock-ish riff that is wonderfully augmented by atmospheric synths and of course the same great vocals that have been all over the album. A wonderful, pseudo-classical piano solo makes a brief appearance as well before the track moves into a new theme, this one extremely dramatic and soaring. Overall, 'Endgame' is probably one of the heavier tracks on the album, even reminding at times of Metallica, but it also has some of the most dramatic vocal lines on the album, and that's really saying something given the excellence of the vocals throughout.

'Surrender' is the first of two long tracks that close out the album, and it begins with a solo guitar part that uses hints of atonality to create a very unique atmosphere. Within the first three minutes of the song, the band manages to pull out a huge variety of instrumentations and themes that nonetheless fit together very well in a wonderful combination of beautiful, soaring melodies and jagged, crunching heaviness. This trend continues for the full duration of the track's 11 minute run, creating a piece of progressive metal music that, if not the most cohesive song I've ever heard, is certainly a compelling listen.

The climactically titled 'All I Am' begins, like a few of the other tracks, with a simply beautiful piano solo. Some minimalist percussion is the next element to appear, and when vocals make their appearance they're more subdued than they have been elsewhere, which certainly suits the music. The heaviness in the music grows into prominence more smoothly than elsewhere as well; as a result, the track comes off as much more cohesive (and, to my ears, better) than the previous one. The piano also plays a larger role here, and as a result the track plays for much of its duration in a much more subdued, melodic mode than many of the heavier tracks on the album. Personally, I feel that the band really shines in this style, and if I had to pick a favorite track on the album it would be this one. The track does pick up into a more energetic mode toward the end of its hefty 12-minute runtime, but even then, for the most part, it focuses on melody and drama over heaviness. 'All I Am' is a stunning, dramatic, closer and a really excellent song overall.

If I have to voice one criticism with the album, it's that the extremely eclectic composition leaves some of the tracks with a somewhat jagged feel. While the songs are technically masterful and the individual parts of each track are quite good, the songs and the album as a whole haven't really clicked with me even after many, many listens. Nonetheless, there is plenty to like here and most prog-metal heads should find this a very enjoyable listen.

3/5

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 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by sleeper
Prog Reviewer

5 stars 4 ˝ years. That's the amount of time that fans have been waiting for Exile since To-Mera released their previous album, Delusions. For such a young band, that can be seen as a long time between releases and unsurprisingly there have been a few changes made along the way. Keyboard player Hugo Sheppard has made way for Haken leader Richard Henshall, whilst founding bassist Lee Barrett left to be replaced by melodic metal band Pythia's bassist Mark Harrington. In that time the band also split from their record label Candlelight Records and have gone it alone and set up their own label in Illusionary Records. Those 4 years weren't completely barren for fans though, the band recorded and self released a 4 song EP, Earthbound, in late 2009 to have a recording from their current line up and get that group of self-contained songs out there.

I remember that at the time I bought Delusions (as well as the bands début, Transcendental) I was about to give up on the "vanilla" Prog Metal style, that is largely characterised by bands trying to sound something similar to Dream Theater, because of the complete lack of creativity evident. Those two albums, then, hit quit hard as their mix of jazz, classical and extreme metal elements set to a loose Prog Metal frame work was something very unique and captivating, offering up constant surprises. Exile very much continues in that vein but this is far from a case of recycling old ideas, guitarist and main composer Tom MacLean has evolved the sound, and his playing style, somewhat. Anyone that has heard the Earthbound EP will have an idea as to how the band have changed since Delusions. The more overt, calmer, keyboard led jazzy sections were integrated into the heavier metal sections on Earthbound, creating a sort of jazz-metal feel to the EP with it being mostly heavy with few of the extended breaks that previously featured so prominently. And that style has continued and been further refined on Exile in many of the metal sections of the album, however those extended keyboard led sections have been brought back as well, but with a far greater breadth of style and sound giving the album a very diverse feel.

Exile is apparently a concept album, though I must admit that at this point I have no idea what the concept behind it is, though the lyrical phrases that stand out the most to me do appear to point to a recurring female protagonist, but it's a fact that seems to be pretty evident in the music. The album opens with a short instrumental piece that features a distinctly middle eastern theme to it (fitting, given the supposed Egyptian mythology that the band name originates from), something that appears again in places throughout the album. From there, the first seven tracks all segue between each other, giving the distinct impression that though they are all individual pieces, they fit together to form a single, whole composition. The odd one out is the final track, All I Am, which acts more of a coda to the album than as a disassociated separate piece.

If I had to describe this album in one word, it would probably be "intense". From it's frenetic, fast paced sections to the calmer, more jazzier or soft rock parts to slow, deeply powerful sections, there's an intensity and passion evident in the music and it's delivery here that is rarely conveyed well in Prog Metal. The ending to Deep Inside probably illustrates this best to me but there are many parts in all the songs that fit well. However, there are moments of levity offered, mostly coming from Henshel's keyboards, that I think rather importantly stop this album from being a tiring experience to listen too.

Production wise, this is an excellent album, particularly when you consider that it was effectively recorded from the band members living rooms. All instruments and vocals are crisp and clear and I'm particularly pleased that Harrington's base has a prominent part of the mix, never once feeling like it might get lost under a wall of kick-drums, guitars and keyboards. It's great opportunity to hear a very talented bassist perform to a very high level, effectively anchoring the songs without falling into the trap of a monotonous rhythm. MacLean's contribution to the playing is rather different to the usual metal guitarist, he offers up the main riffs which lead the songs but seemingly prefers to avoid the full on lengthy solo's that have become a mainstay of the genre, performing only a handful of short, concise solo's that serve to compliment the songs rather than steal the limelight. The short solo at the end of Broken is of particular note as it's in a very different tone to those uesed on the rest of the album and even played in a very different style, for a while I even thought it was a guest solo provided by Adagio's Stephan Forte!

Paul Westwood provides a typically robust, precise and powerful performance on drums in a markedly different manner to that he performs in Black Metal band Fen, but it's Richard Henshel, though, that very much does stand out as the main man here. While his performance on the Earthbound EP was top notch, it feels like he's allowed much more of his personality to flow through here. The moments of levity I mentioned earlier come largely from his more offbeat, quirky moments that are a standard feature of Haken and that he's brought along with him. At first it may actually seem a little jarring, certainly on the first listen, but after a little while it starts to make sense as it breaks up the dark, intense atmosphere that pervades the majority of the album quite nicely. The fact that he's the only keyboardist in To-Mera and has no guitar duties either (at least for now) means he gets to concentrate far more on his synth work and the result is some truly brilliant playing throughout the album.

I've mentioned in my review for Transcendental that Julie's vocals can be something of an acquired taste to some since she has a much richer, slightly huskier timbre than most female singers in metal. As I tend to like more unusual sounding voices, I guess it's no surprise then that I've gained great appreciation for her talents which have matured greatly since the days of Without Face 10 years ago. And so has her song writing, there were a couple of lines on earlier albums that stood out as being a bit clunky but there's no sign of that at all here. In fact she's married that great voice to some very strong song writing and the impassioned performance has been at times a large part of the intense atmosphere. A final mention must be made of the guest performances as well, Marcela Bovio supplying an excellent violin part over the synth strings at the start of The Illusionist, and Stephan Forte of French band Adagio offers a deep, gutteral growl at the end of The Descent.

I've had this album for 3 weeks now (and thanks to the band for the promo, the chance was very much appreciated) and have been listening to it on my PC and MP3 player regularly, not because I feel obliged to write this review, but because I love this dark and intense album. Previous albums Transcendental and Delusions had several great songs on them but they also had a couple of songs that didn't quite match up to their best. That's not the case here, Exile has 8 excellent songs of fairly similar, and very high, quality that makes picking out highlights a struggle, though at a push I'd say The Illusionist, Deep Inside, Broken and Surrender are all exceptional songs. A brilliant album, one that gets me worked up every time I hear it.

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 Exile by TO-MERA album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.97 | 113 ratings

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Exile
To-Mera Progressive Metal

Review by dtguitarfan

5 stars To-Mera was born in 2004 out of the meeting of current vocalist Julie Kiss, formerly of the Hungarian Progressive Metal band Without Face, and former bassist Lee Barret, who previously had played for Extreme Noise Terror, Disgust, and Mussolini Headkick. They have gone through a few personnel changes since their first album, and Exile is now their third full studio album since their inception. I first heard of To-Mera when I heard a song of theirs from their 2008 release, Delusions, played on a streaming internet radio station. Sometime later, they caught my attention again when I heard that a favorite of mine, Haken, was formed by To-Mera keyboardist and guitarist Richard Henshall. So I picked up a copy of Delusions and listened to the whole thing ? I liked it quite a bit, thought it had a very original and interesting sound, but also thought it could use a little?"polish", at least as far as the production went. Now, if you shared this same opinion, you may have become excited just from seeing the album cover for their new album, Exile ? comparing it to the album cover for Delusions, it certainly does look like they may have received some polish, as it is a very bright and shiny looking album cover. And the album is a concept album of sorts, where the Protagonist is dealing with tragedy, loss and hardship, and has plunged herself into a self-imposed state of "exile" in order to protect herself from further harm. But the consequences of this are that she has thrown away much of what is meaningful in life.

So now I find myself listening to the album for the first time, putting the "new polish" theory to the test. Well, the first track - an introduction of sorts (being all instrumental and the shortest track on the album) ? did catch my attention. The track starts out with a low hum that builds up volume, and then the band kicks in with an Arabic, dessert feel to the music, coming from the rhythm and drums, as well as the harmonics, but they mix this with what sounds like a Didgeridoo (interesting choice, and a very cool sound), and then add some piano to this. I think the combination of the Arabic feel with the Didgeridoo makes an interesting musical statement that goes along with the theme of the Protagonist having exiled herself to strange and faraway lands, and this musical theme reappears a number of times throughout the album. This atmosphere builds up a very nice suspense, and then BAM! The band hits home hard with crunching metal guitars and a very full sounding keyboard section and I find myself banging my head in sincere enjoyment. Throughout the album they continue to provide some very nice atmospheric contrasts between cinematic tranquility and crashing into driving metal rhythms. The vocals of Julie Kiss add a very interesting ingredient to the mix ? her voice comes across in a way that almost sounds like a mythical creature from fantasy realms. One thing that I find quite unique is the way this group can switch so quickly from a Progressive Metal texture to a very Jazzy atmosphere, at times even sounding like Smooth Jazz, and then BAM, they are right back to the heavy hitting metal crunch with full, cinematic keyboards. The band members never really take too much of the spotlight but all seem to work together very well to create a very full, rich sound, with each of the members taking turns adding flourish to this. However I do think that perhaps the standout element of this album is Mr. Henshall, as his keyboard work on this album provides a fantastic atmosphere ? I was impressed by how quite often throughout the album he seemed to be using different sounds for each hand, and piano and organ sounds are featured very nicely, mixed in with some very rich synth sounds. Indeed, the usage of many different sounds and textures seems to be something this band has mastered as they switch between acoustic, orchestral, Metal and Jazz atmospheres quite regularly throughout the pieces. This usage of multiple musical textures and atmospheres is, I believe, what earns them the description of being "genre busters", a phrase I have seen used to describe them in various places on the web. With this album, To-Mera has proven to me that, not only is this album quite a polished piece of work, but also that, in my mind, this is one of the best Progressive Metal albums of the year for 2012!

Originally written for www.seaoftranquility.org

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