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In the metal world, the concept of a female-fronted band has gained something of a bad reputation lately. Legions of tame and mediocre metal bands throw females in front and center to try to help their groups have a shred of distinction (and if that fails; sex appeal) to gain a bigger fanbase. One such exception to this string of cookie cut female fronted bands however, is To-Mera. A progressive metal band hailing from Britain, this group takes complex and intricate musicianship and works it in with the strong vocal pipes of singer Julie Kiss. With this EP 'Earthbound,' To-Mera have proven that they stand above the other bands that attempt to go their route, and outweigh their faults with strengths.
Despite being only four songs long, 'Earthbound' gives a good scope of what To-Mera is all about; a strong guitar presence with lots of atmosphere, rhythmic experimentation and alot of melody. On a very positive note, the instrumentation of To-Mera is always fresh and interesting. Just when you think you have worked out the structure of the song out and can be predict the next thing coming, To-Mera throws a curveball, giving something exciting and fresh. While it is a common ailment for modern progressive metal bands to fall into the rut of sounding like a Dream Theater derivative, To-Mera manages to put enough math metal (and themselves) into the compositions to give the band a relatively unique feel.
One weaker note of the band is not necessarily the vocal work of Julie Kiss, but more so the melodic lines she sings. While the woman is certainly a skilled singer and very capable of fronting a metal band of this caliber, it feels like theres a bit too much flair and unnecessary warble thrown into her melodic passages; it ultimately distracts the listener from the rest of the music. There are a few sections in which the vocal work is much more streamlined and to-the- point, which ends up being alot more enjoyable and effective as a result.
In any case, To-Mera have sparked my interest with this EP, and while I am sure they have some stronger work on their full-length recordings, 'Earthbound' has impressed me with it's technicality, and host of interesting rhythmic traits.
To-Mera are certainly an anomaly in metal music: one of the few progressive metal bands with a female singer that I am aware of even existing. Julie Kiss has a vocal style which recalls Anneke (formerly of The Gathering). She uses a lot of emotion and inflection within her voice, instantly separating her from a lot of the talentless gothic metal band fronting hacks. To date, the band has released a pair of decent full-length albums in Transcendental and Delusions, and this new 4 track offering serves to further the band's exploration into shifting rhythms, and dense atmosphere driven by the guitars and synthesizers.
Unfortunately, it does not always succeed. "Mesmerized" has a nice layer of chords and keyboard melodies, kind of a hybrid of post-metal and psychedelic 70s synth-prog rock, but I didn't feel like Kiss' vocals really matched up. Their rhythm follows that of the band, but they feel like they are often wandering off into their own stratosphere. It's like hearing two musical artists performing in-time, but to separate audiences. "Earthbound" works a lot better, not only is the music superior but her vocals cut right into it, with a little less of that separation (though the style is still the same). This track sounds like early The Gathering jamming in their prime with Yes or Marillion. "Arcane Solace" has some good bass digging and jamming, groove guitars, reminiscent of Madder Mortem's more trippy nu-groove elements, and once the band begins to elevate the track through the start/stopping with rolling double-bass and beautiful, lush keyboards, Kiss' vocals again sound pretty good, far less of that disconnect. "Another World" is the most orchestral of the pieces, with more big grooving guitar chugs and the band gets good and jammy later in the piece.
The EP is almost 30 minutes long and it sounds quite good. Musically the band has much to offer a stale genre of metal music, and To-Mera has one of the better fusions of modern metal and a rich tapestry of progressive influences dating back to the late 60s/70s. Kiss is a talented vocalist, but she is often hit or miss for me, especially on the first track here. I'd like to hear her offer a lower range in some spots, I think it would fuse her style in more firmly with the band's writing.