Few new bands can release killer debut albums like To-Mera. Formed only a year ago by Lee Barrett of Extreme Noise Terror and Julie Kiss of Without Face, To-Mera quickly grew into a full band with the addition of fantastic drummer Akos Pirisi, keyboardist Hugo Sheppard, and guitarist Tom Maclean, both of whom are schooled musicians. Sheppard's keyboard and piano playing lends the songs a very dynamic edge, often delving into classical and jazz territory, while Maclean's challenging fretwork is nothing short of mind-blowing. Not only is he technically superior to most prog bands' players, he also covers a wide spectrum of styles, fusing brutally heavy death metal-like riffs with intense, harmonically rich melodic signatures.
Most female-fronted metal bands write material that undeniable gives off a gothic air, relying heavily on orchestrated keyboard parts with the occasional crunch-filled guitar work. Some listeners will be quick to compare To-Mera with the likes of Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation, and perhaps even Nightwish and The Gathering. Not that anything is wrong with these bands, but To-Mera is a completely different beast musically. For starters, they are crushingly heavy progressive metal, serving all aspects of this much stagnated genre, but they do inject calmer acoustic passages along with jazzy interludes into their craft as well. Vocalist Julie Kiss whose Eastern European accent lends her already dark voice an extra layer of depth and character is a great fit for the band. Her soft, fragile soprano-like vocals in the intro "Traces" turn into expressive and melodic singing on the haunting "Blood", putting her semi-operatic delivery on display. The somewhat thrashy intro and cool percussion bring in extra dynamics colliding with monstrous riffage and beguiling piano melodies. In its second half, the song launches into an instrumental landscape, merging slightly electronic synth work with super technical guitars and explosive bass.
One of To-Mera's strongest aspects is their unbreakable rhythm battery. Drummer Ari Pirisi has officially become my new-found talent of the year. I don't know whether he played on other albums before, but his performance on Transcendental is awe-inspiring. He has the ability to inject ultra-complex Meshuggah-style polyrhthms into the dark "Obscure Oblivion", which starts out like a quasi-ballad decorated with killer jazz piano, but then morphs into a pulverizing number marked by weird stop-start sections and strong vocal harmonies. Then there is "Parfum", punctuated by tribal drumming a la Tool meets Dead Soul Tribe in a free-flowing avant-garde environment. Lee Barrett's bass solo is thick and chunky, underscoring Maclean's precise guitar work which alternates between complex, multi-segmented riffery and solemn acoustic moments. "Born of Ashes", arguably the song that highlights Julie Kiss' vocals the best, begins with a nice acoustic guitar that lends itself to vague folk references before Sheppard puts in a soaring synth patch that slowly blankets and surrounds the whole piece. The song is then carried into a maniacal instrumental frenzy with pounding drumming and rampaging bass, Maclean's lead guitar work at the end being the apex of everything.
"Dreadful Angel" and the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired "Phantoms" are heavily jazz-infused, particularly during select moments. The former is slightly more experimental; it blends stomping bass and bone-crushing rhythm guitars with enchanting symphonic elements. The sound is simply huge and arrangement absolutely intricate. The song features a sick guitar and keyboard solo respectively, marrying atonal notes with jazz breakdowns and even a brief Opethian acoustic interlude. As if that's not enough, they seal the piece with killer death metal riffery at the very end. On "Phantoms", they blend mathematical guitars with chord progressions that take a few listens to grasp. Pirisi proves he's also perfectly capable of playing death metal type of drums with Barreth's low-end bass growling beneath. Kiss' clean vocals are simply beautiful, especially during the slower mid-section.
Though new to me, Brett Caldas-Lima is a killer producer. The album sounds incredible. Thick guitars and chunky bass, perfectly mixed vocals, and a fabulous drum sound. Add to this Sheppard's invalubale keyboard and piano performance and the result is Transcendental, the best debut album of 2006.