1/7/2010 - Review by: Etiam
Company: Candlelight Records
They fall over themselves for lack of restraint
For such a young band, To-Mera have checked off an impressive number of boxes on their application for the big time. Their personal presentation and album production are professional and their musical identity is original and well-established. They've played with Emperor, signed to a major label, drawn notable praise for their technical prowess, and have released two LPs that, while not too loudly heralded, have been widely embraced by the prog community. Indeed, it seems that To-Mera may indeed be new prog kings (plus a queen) in this era of increasingly niche-oriented marketing. That is, if 'progressive' is defined as unrelated riffs spliced together, oppressive modality, and manifold sonic textures haphazardly following one another for an unrelenting hour.
Whereas To-Mera's debut, 'Transcendental', showed some compositional promise, 'Delusions' affects to maturation by developing nearly all the band's most frustrating features. Its press material avers that this album is "more sophisticated...and coherent" than its predecessor, even while "all the elements from the last album have been greatly expanded upon." It's obvious that To-Mera have an abundance of creativity, but they are so anxious to make points that they fall over themselves for lack of restraint.
An average song consists of some technical chugging riffs (pulling liberally from the modern tech-core-death camp), moderately atonal solos from obnoxious synth patches or displaced piano, admittedly grooving but structurally insignificant instrumental passages, maybe even a flighty saxophone solo, and smatterings of meandering verses from Kiss. To be fair, Kiss has improved some from her previous outing, which was too affectedly operatic and shaky. On 'Delusions', she is more of a crooner, occasionally breathy, and sounding best in the lower portion of her range. Despite these adherences to her strengths, her continually wandering and charmless vocal lines simply cannot be helped. She undoubtedly adds a unique flavor to the band, but not one that is distinctly memorable. When the album is through, we recall her general presence, but not any sensational passages or memorable refrains.
Handling all guitars, Tom MacLean still wields his seven-string with indisputable prowess, ranging from unorthodox self-harmonizing to all kinds of staccato rhythms and protracted tremolo patterns. On the one hand, it's a welcome pleasure to hear extended range guitars used to as such (i.e. range-extending) rather than just to shift every riff down a fourth to make it more brutal-er. On the other hand, MacLean and To-Mera still seem largely incapable of writing neatly and succinctly. One song of eight on 'Delusions' is under six minutes while a full five exceed eight minutes; each could be jumbled, dismembered, and re-sewn back together inside out without making much difference. The mid-section solo of 'Fallen From Grace' is perhaps the album's finest point. Tom's rhythm groove and solo are mid-paced, faintly plaintive without being overbearing, and best of all, unified. It's a minute of surpassing clarity in a mire of misdirection (as the section immediately following reminds us).
In sum, To-Mera were right to tout 'Delusions' as the bigger, 'more of everything' version of 'Transcendental'. And, to be clear, To-Mera have tremendous potential as instrumentalists, a tight dynamic as a group, and a clear passion to compose. But in the coming years, such excessive measures will offer diminishing returns as more bedroom fanatics get their hands on affordable DAWs and compose slavishly complex symphonies, shouting an infinity of nothing. With every genre-bending prog release that emerges, the genius of Spiral Architect, Cynic, and company continues to appreciate--progressive metal that eradicated boundaries and challenged listeners without sacrificing the narrative and emotional power of song. Now that's a progressive idea.
Reviewer: Raising Iron
For the metal connoisseur looking for something very unique
To-Mera's sophomore effort, Delusions, is an enterprising excursion for the adventuresome (prog) metal fan. Starting as recently as 2005 and hailing from the UK, these guys (and girl) are making waves not only in proghead circles but also metal in general; the reason being is their uncanny ability to fuse strong elements of jazz into their metal revolutions. There are even subtle, gothic underpinnings in the whole affair.
The album starts off with a riff directly out of Dream Theatre's modern-day playbook in a song called "The Lie", and by the time it hits the chorus you may be wondering if its To-Mera's Julie Kiss singing or if Christina Scabbia is moonlighting. At times the similarities are remarkable, but Julie's vocals wander into traditional jazz territories throughout the album, allowing her to make her own singular mark on the recording. This is often accompanied by meandering keyboards again using jazzy scales. Now, lest ye think To-Mera are some kind of plagiarists, think again, these are merely points of reference as they are really forging new ground here, the idea of melding jazz and metal has probably not occurred to many, and of those only a few would even try (or have the skill set to!). The compositional movements are sometimes seamless, sometimes not, and given the juxtaposition of styles presented that's not an easy task. Oft times the changes can be a bit jarring though, see track six entitled "Asylum". The movement at about the two/two and a half minute mark reminds me of Lisa Simpson going off in her own direction much to the chagrin of the other players in the opening credits of that venerable TV show. Yes, it is a sax solo, and no, the melody is nowhere near being a rip-off, it's just the composition of the movement that will have you thinking such.
The musicianship is absolutely outstanding with far-out time changes wrapped around a wealth of styles, with every instrument breathing open and freely, but as usual with most progressive albums, the production is beyond squeaky clean, which by definition makes the listening more of a cerebral event than a headbanging one.
There is a lot of good stuff crammed into this 62 minute trek, allowing you to discover new things upon repeated listens, but it's clear this is only their second album. Songs can feel disjointed at times but hey, like I said earlier, the fusion of disparate styles being mashed together is not an easy job, and I'd imagine there isn't anybody out there who attempting such could come close to how well To-Mera do it. All in all, a worthwhile purchase for the metal connoisseur looking for something very unique, and in today's glutted prog world, that's not an easy task either.