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Progressive metal has been plagued in recent years by a phenomenon known as specialization. This is common to all genres of music, as even classic maestros such as Bach and Chopin would tend to gear their music towards a specific audience, but Progressive metal is unique in that it is a genre that seeks actively to avoid this happening on a mass scale. During their inception, bands such as Dream Theater and Symphony X were quite revolutionary, but now their sound is widely imitated and the genre itself is beginning to become an easily defined creature.
However, it is at times like these when a new sound arrives to challenge the established reign or Urizen, the personification of conventional reason, and this is where To-Mera comes in to it. “Transcendental” embodies its own name as it essentially transcends every conventional definition of metal, even the extremely varied sub-genre of progressive metal. The marriage of Jazz ballad sections, Middle-Eastern themes, speed, doom, baroque organ and harpsichord ambiences, gothic imagery and lyrics, and Julie Kiss’ luminescent voice is both a witty scoff at convention as well as a fit of sheer artistic brilliance. If there is any flaw to this formula it is that simpler minds will dwell upon Julie’s voice (which is a bit similar to that of Cristina Scabbia and Amy Lee, though with more power and finesse) or her appearance (her face will probably inspire thousands of poems professing an undying yet courtly love from fans and detractors alike).
The music on here requires at least 4 or 5 listens in order to fully comprehend, in addition to an open mind and an affinity for the varied approach of the Progressive Metal style. The complexity of this entire album is implied by the large amount of stylistic variation in the opening instrumental track “Traces”, which lives up to its name as it gives samples of nearly every style that this album blends together in later tracks. The most accessible tracks on here for listener consumption are “Blood” and “Phantoms”, both having plenty of varied sections and tempo changes, but containing a clearly defined chorus and verse section with catchy melodies and simple instrumental themes, the latter containing an organ part that leads the mind to dark places resembling the Carpathians. “Obscure Oblivion” is lyrically the most gothic, while musically being a rather impressive 3 way marriage of jazz music, doom, and speed metal.
“Born to Ashes” begins with a quiet folk guitar and voice intro before morphing into a quasi-symphonic Prog Metal fest that would make bands like Symphony X proud. “Dreadful Angel” is probably the heaviest track on here, sounding like an industrial/death metal hybrid with a clean voice at the top. We have occasional quiet sections and rapid transitional sections that throw a tiny bit of Dream Theater into the mix, not to mention a well placed guitar/keyboard solo interchange. “Parfum” has a brilliant neo-classical piano intro that throws some Chopin influences into the mix, before going into a rather dissonant sounding set of jazzy changes and finally some complex Dream Theater inspired riffs, all culminating in what seems to be a musical nightmare sequence.
The most musically complex song on here is also the longest and the last, properly titled “Realm of Dreams” as it succeeds in challenging the conventional approach to song structure in the same spirit that Fates Warnings’ “Ivory Gate of Dreams” did nearly 20 years before. You’ve got a little bit of every influence that this band cites as inspiring their music, all molded together into one rather large musical event of synchronicity. The only drawback is that you need a pretty large attention span in order to fully process this song into your memory and get the proper impression from it.
To all fellow fans of Progressive Metal, this is definitely worth the money, as the band is equally worthy of all the praise it’s received. All of the musicians here are technicians as well as musicians, and the latter is definitely something that has been lacking for a while in the Progressive scene. To-Mera may be just what the metal scene needs to keep it from falling into the trap of being a collection of history worshippers whom are mocked as being hostile to innovation.
Later submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on July 30, 2011.
To-Mera's debut album "Transcendental" is an album I'm sure I'll be listening to again and again. It's not without its misfiring moments, but most of the time my jaw is on the ground while I'm listening to it, and that can only ever be a good thing.
There are a number of comparisons being made here to Opeth, and that's probably the most useful jumping-off point for To-Mera. In my case, it helps that I think Opeth are superb, since it's sort of pre-conditioned me to enjoy this astounding prog-metal album. The key difference, though, is that while Opeth have death metal influences very clearly displayed - even through a fog of progression - To-Mera are more simply a progressive metal act.
The major reason for this, of course, is the voice of Julie Kiss. It's too easy to say that there are two types of female metal vocalists - represented by either Angela Gossow's rasp or Tarja Turunen's soprano - and Julie here demonstrates why this is a false claim to make. With the exception of some points where she comes across as a slightly operatic type, she's just singing relatively normally. If anything, I'm reminded of Anneke from The Gathering a lot of the time, in that the two ladies have similar vocal ranges. Julie, being Hungarian, also gets to sing in her mother tongue for much of "Blood", which is the second track here but the first with real lyrics. I can't claim to understand what she's singing, but it adds to the atmosphere nicely.
The real winner - as well as the weak point, which I'll return to later - on this album is the musicianship, however. The band is able to switch from a fast metal riff to an acoustic piece and from that to a jazzy piano interlude at a moment's notice. At no point do these transitions sound remotely forced (see "Parfum" for a classic example of how it all comes together), which they so easily could have. They're then lucky enough to have Julie able to keep pace and modulate her voice accordingly. It sometimes gets in the way of picking up precisely what she's singing, but for me that's hardly a problem - after all, the music is just awe-inspiring, so she could be singing a shopping list if need be. On my first listen to this album, there were several points where I was just left stunned and thinking "There's no way they just did that, is there?" as the band worked in yet another mind-boggling riff or changeup. Listening to it again, I'm still taken by surprise, but frequently at other points of the music.
The overall package is also very absorbing, which when most of the tracks are in the 5-7 minute range is particularly important. A lot of bands come up with these sorts of "epic" tracks, which end up feeling twice the length they really are. At no point do I feel that way on "Transcendental" - rather, I'm surprised at the end of each track that it's all finished.
I mentioned a weakness earlier on, and it's also to be found in the music. To return to my Opeth comparison, the strength of Mikael and the boys is that every change in melody or time signature is clearly part of the whole. The listener doesn't get the impression that there are musical ideas being thrown into the mix just for the sake of it, in other words. To-Mera occasionally - and I mean very occasionally - seem to have just added some ideas without any real logic to them (at about 2:30 in, "Obscure Oblivion" turns into a nightclub jazz jam which goes nowhere and takes forever getting there, for example, although it then develops one of the catchiest riffs on the album). It's possible to argue, therefore, that there's an element of progression for the sake of progression here. With a group of musicians as talented as these, I imagine it's an urge that they all have, but with any luck they'll be able to curb these tendencies on future releases.
In conclusion, "Transcendental" is an absolute pleasure to listen to. As debut albums go, this one's going to be very hard to top indeed. I for one can't wait to see how the band goes about equalling their sound for a followup.
When I first heard of To-Mera, and first listened to a MySpace sample of their song "Parfum," I was quite enthralled. The thought of a female-fronted band with some interesting music absolutely delighted me. However, the hype was short-lived, at least for me, and probably much the same in the hearts of many other metal fans.
As you know, To-Mera is some progressive metal out of Hungary with a lot of jazz influences, and even some gothic influence, I'd like to believe. The greatest parts of the album were probably the jazz interludes between different parts of some songs, but what saddened me was that it was mainly just interludes. It can go from prog metal riff --> jazzy piano --> another prog metal riff in less than thirty seconds. If you're going to use it -- fucking use it! Being able to incorporate that into your music should be taken advantage of as much as humanly possible. Sadly, here, it's not.
Musicianship is very great, at least in my opinion. The guitars -- and even bass guitar -- sound great, especially against the drums which at times even remind me of After Forever in some ways. Their keyboardist is also very talented, and a great example of how keyboards should be used in metal. Sadly, many of their songs don't reflect the instrumentalists' talent.
Out of all the elements of this band, the female vocals irk me the most. Miss Julie Kiss, the female vocalist that made them well-known [we all know To-Mera wouldn't have gained so much overnight popularity without the chick; come on] is an on/off good/bad singer, almost like Simone Simons [Epica] in her early days. At some points, the vocals are very nice and beautiful, almost reminding me of Liv Kristine [ex-Theatre of Tragedy, Leaves' Eyes] with a richer, darker voice, or maybe a bearable more-talented Amy Lee [Evanescence]. Very versatile, very good. When she goes into her higher register, the vocals become very thin and lacking of power, almost turning into uncomprehendable wailing. I do, however, commend her for not embarassing herself and her band further by jumping on the "I can sing opera!" bandwagon that sadly plagues many new female-fronted metal acts these days. Hard vocal lines in "Traces" and "Born of Ashes" are her best work.
The songs are good... but not great, depending on how you look at them. "Blood" is their first single, the one they made an edit and video for. It's enjoyable for the first few times, before you realize that the only reason you're listening to it is because it's so damn catchy. Highlights include "Dreadful Angel" and "Born of Ashes," which were actually songs off their 2005 demo that got them signed to Candlight and made me at first quite disappointed in this album.
Overall, they're a very talented group of musicians who I believe did not live up to their potential, let alone the hype created by crazed "omg femme metal!" fans who will lap up any metal-based shit with a chick singer and call it absolute gold. While "Transcendental" does not live up to many's expectations, I'm gladly awaiting what I believe will be an amazing and improved follow-up.
To-mera is an English-Hungarian quintet that swept the metal world by storm with their first demo in 2005. It was hardly a surprise taking into consideration its eclectic blend of extreme metal styles, prog, jazz and classical, the instrumental prowess within the band, and the fantastic production.
With their first full-length album To-mera surely doesn’t disappoint. The production has improved slightly, while the musical value has remained high. There are moments of extreme fury, with blastbeats and downtuned guitars, moments of melancholy, and everything in between. The riffs are heavy, the rhythms are complex and the melodies are beautiful. The music is technical, but not to the point where that is an impediment. You won’t find tasteless and overdone soloing here. The angelic voice of Julie Kiss compliments the music very nicely, but unfortunately it gets hidden under the heavier parts. But that’s very much a part of her style.
With all the stylistic ambition comes a major hindrance: the songs are not cohesive, but instead wander through many changes, not really getting anywhere. A romantic piano intro, followed by fast thrash metal riffing, followed by a smooth jazz section is similar to the structure they have on every song on this album, making it difficult for the listener to distinguish between the different songs. The one exception is “Blood” which is the shortest proper song on the album. This song is fairly compact without all the unnecessary breaks, and indeed it is the single with a video. The album is highly recommended to fans of progressive metal.
Since To-Mera gave me a great impression with their 2-track demo released in 2005, “Transcendental” became one of the most anticipated albums of this year to me. Now that it has been released, they haven’t dissapointed me. “Transcendental” is a truly impressive progressive metal album which successfully combines the technical skills of Dream Theater and Symphony X, the enchanting beauty of Pain of Salvation and Opeth and even an slight extreme touch in some certain parts. Female singer Julie Kiss (formerly in Without Face) adds a lot of atmosphere with the dark and evocative tone of her beautiful voice. The music is mainly driven by the powerful riffs of guitarist Tom MacLean (very Michael Romeo-influenced), supported by fantastic drum and bass playing. Keyboards are surely worth mentioning, as Hugo Sheppard proves to be an incredibly talented player with strong classical and jazz influences. The piano sections are outstanding; just listen to the first minute of “Parfum” to know what I mean.
This album has a very dark and ‘dreamy’ mood that fits perfectly with Julie’s lyrics. There aren’t too many technical bands able to create such an overwhelming atmosphere. The production is almost perfect: powerful and crystal clear. Most of the songs are quite complex and they often surprise the listener with lots of tempo changes. “Phantoms” is one of the most amazing tracks, containing an incredibly beautiful mellow part in the middle that suddenly turns into death metal aggression near the end. Some fantastic death metal riffs also appear at the end of “Dreadful Angel” and “Parfum”, which contains some nice tribal percussion and a wonderful piano intro as well, as I mentioned above. Jazz influences are obvious in “Obscure Oblivion” and “Dreadful Angel”. Even the album intro “Traces” is worth mentioning, as it might be the best intro I’ve ever heard, featuring a wonderful guitar solo in the vein of Riverside. But the most special thing about this album is the ending track “Realm of Dreams”. Beautiful, intense, melancholic, emotional… it could only be compared to Opeth. I cannot imagine a better ending for the album as I cannot imagine a better title for this song either.
“Transcendental”: a work of art coming from a very young band that will bring a lot of glory to the fans of this genre. It’s easily one of the best progressive metal albums I’ve heard in quite a long time. Recommended for any fan of technical, forward-thinking music with an intense emotional feeling.