Company: Candlelight Records Release: 2008 Genre: Progressive Reviewer: Etiam
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.
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