Somewhere there’s a nice little bar or coffeehouse where the more progressive amongst Metal’s fan base interact with every other sort of beatnik and would be street poet, sipping lattes with tucked in t-shirts, beards and ponytails and going on and on about the need for a new direction, taking care not to be too conformist and actually specify what the subject of this new direction would be. Naturally such a place wouldn’t be conducive to the normal performances of free styled poetry of random, socio-political ramblings would do, nor would all of the goofy bongo fill-ins, as such things are too mundane and simplistic for your hyper IQ level shred lover. Nonetheless, an endless barrage of Thrash riffs and dark vocal work wouldn’t work in this sort of environment, because who wants to burn the skin clean off their lap with a scalding cappuccino while attempting the fine art of head banging?
The ideal headlining act would definitely be Italian act FARTHER PAINT, whom walks a fine line between being a Metal band and being a lounge oriented, improvisatory Jazz act. Their image is fairly clean cut, the music is technical yet structured in a way that can be followed by your average beatnik plebian, and even the spider on their logo lends itself to something shown as a headline outside a nightclub in 1950s New York. Just give them a small stage in the corner with the lights dim, pick up that cup of concentrated caffeine to keep your brain ticking, and let the keyboards and off-kilter guitar effects do the talking. Once you get into things, the guitar’s interesting mix of bizarre STEVE VAI and JENNIFER BATTEN meshes perfectly with all of the elongated Jazz ballad sections and minimalist Rock riffs to form something pretty enjoyable if you like music you can nod your head and tap your foot to.
The one aspect of this music that really differs with what your average coffeehouse would eat up is the brevity of each song and the slight tendency towards structural symmetry. Most improvisatory acts tend to drag out their solos for a good 10 to 15 minutes, if not longer, while Francesco Federici and his keyboard toting foil are content to keep it brief and let the song do the talking. They both make some really impressive ruckuses of virtuoso showmanship on the extended instrumental “Anger”, but largely the solo sections complement the songs rather than lead them. Likewise, vocally oriented songs like “Hold Me” are fairly impressive technically, but are structured for relatively easy memory retention. Other songs load up on the stylistic changeups, going between piano oriented Jazz ballad sections and funky beat patterns matched with Avant-garde sound effects and keyboard work.
Vocalist and front woman Monia Rossi proves to be something of an odd person out in the fold. Though she does a fair share of speaking that resembles the narrator-like character of your classic lounge band singer, her vocal character draws heavily from Pop singers ranging from Cyndi Lauper to Christiana Aguilera. When you combine this with all of the strange technical devices, what you get is something that works pretty hard on your established premises about Metal music, perhaps a bit too much for the average non-Progressive fan to swallow voluntarily. Her voice is powerful and always on point, but when combined with all of the Techno, Jazz and other non-Metal elements here, pulls this away from your traditionally oriented fan of the genre and only makes room for the most eclectic among us.
If you spend a good deal of time at your local coffeehouse, or other low key dining establishments where live music tends to be pleasant and fairly technical, this might be a good album to simulate the experience with a bit more of a Metal edge. The biggest hurdle that it has to climb is the limited scope of people who would accept both the Pop and Avant-garde elements yet still be able to tolerate the heavier aspects of the song. This is definitely something that a musician could appreciate because of its originality and virtuosity. It is worth checking out if you’re willing to try something different out, and if you wonder what TO-MERA would be like without the Death/Doom influences.
(Online February 19, 2009)