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To-Mera - "Exile" (CD)

To-Mera - "Exile" CD cover image

"Exile" track listing:

1. Inviting The Storm
2. The Illusionist
3. The Descent
4. Deep Inside
5. Broken
6. End Game
7. Surrender
8. All I Am

Reviewed by on October 16, 2012

"'Exile' feels more comfortable and controlled than the last record..."

The British prog-heads of To-Mera are back with their third release, free of any "delusions" and once again opting to take the "transcendental" high road by releasing songs calling for absurd musical difficulty. This time around, the band begins the “Exile” album with a bit of an eastern flair called "Inviting The Storm." While the piece centers on one root note, the keyboards (this time featuring Tom Maclean's Haken bandmate, Richard Henshall) develop chords around it as ethnic percussion and drums start to kick it along. Before too long, we see the developments turning into themes -- something that the first album, "Transcendental," had that the second album then dialed back.

While the To-Mera pendulum swings primarily by the momentum of guitarist and composer Tom Maclean, the presence of Richard Henshall is immediately felt in the synthesizer patches chosen to voice the pathos of the sections. "The Illusionist" illustrates this by involving dramatic shifts in intensity and feel from airy and light to biting. The tone of Maclean's guitar is cold, gritty, and radiating high gain, making for an enticing (if sometimes muddied) contrast to the warmth of the synths. However, compared with the musical diversity from the last record, the songs benefit from less of a contrast overall and feel more organized and connected.

Songs like "The Descent" and "All I Am" stand out as particularly strong for vocals. Main vocalist Julie Kiss sounds a bit more psychologically close to the lyrics this time around, with the legitimacy of their story bleeding through what feels like genuinely pained enunciation at times. "Deep Inside" and "Broken" have lyrics that hit at several deep questions behind the forward motion of a life. Accented by Tom's signature jazz-prog guitar solos and professed love of angular riffing, the songs benefit from the rhythms thrown to the drummer Paul Westwood. For bassists, there is also much to love from Mark Harrington, whose slapping and tapping are brought to a great place in the mix by Brett Caldas-Lima.

"Broken" sees the album's darkest shadows and brightest lights as it develops a video-game-boss-level-worthy theme for its chorus, speaking of "emotional darkness." In To-Mera fashion, the middle section sees Maclean jumping into two hyper charged guitar solos and Richard Henshall swinging things back at him with feisty organ sounds and masterfully articulated arpeggios. It's easy to say that the interplay between Tom and Richard defines the album, although the additions by these guests are very welcome: violins by Stream of Passion frontwoman Marcela Bovio, vocals by Stephan Forte, and additional percussion by Haken mate Ray Hearne.

Over the course of three albums, To-Mera's evolution has thankfully not led them off track, as is the case with a good deal of prog bands heading into excessive self-fulfillment. At times, the mix of "Exile" is begging for more room to breathe (as is the protagonist voiced by Julie Kiss.) Aside from that, "Exile" feels more comfortable and controlled than the last record, and ends with an ominous low-level re-emergence of the opening theme, perhaps hinting at a connection to the next record.

Highs: The addition of keyboardist Richard Henshall and a more connected feel to the songs than prior records.

Lows: A bit of an over-compressed mix, and the guitar clarity could be better.

Bottom line: A well-sliced and thematically exceptional female-fronted prog metal pizza.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)