It must be tough being a prog virtuoso. You spend years practicing scales, studying advanced tonal harmony and digesting centuries’ worth of music history, and then you’re expected to show some degree of restraint? Progressive metal band To-Mera calls bullshit on all that on its second album Delusions. The London-based quintet throws out the moderation of its exceptional debut, Transcendental (2006), indulging in all the Byzantine song structures, jazz-fusion breakdowns and keyboard-drenched Gothicism that it possibly can. Choppy Meshuggah rhythms collide with cheeseball keyboard sounds straight out of a Return to Forever record; Middle Eastern percussion abuts grindy blast-beats and progified power ballads.
Tom MacLean’s dazzling guitar work frequently looses its moorings and flies in to the red on the wank-o-meter. Sometimes the money shots are deserved — those wide open chord voicings half way through “Fallen From Grace” just scream for a Satriani, and MacLean is more than happy to oblige — but there are just as many moments where the band’s abilities overshadow its tastefulness. We didn’t need the big dumb biker rock section tacked on to “Inside the Hourglass,” and the tepid jazz-funk break in the middle of “Asylum” says less about To-Mera’s versatility than how rigid the rhythm section plays when outside its prog-metal comfort zone.
Fault To-Mera for its grandiosity, but creatively, the band runs polygons around its prog-metal peers. Hungarian singer Julie Kiss works as the perfect foil to the rest of To-Mera’s indulgences, her laser-beam soprano slicing through the dense instrumental matrix no matter how difficult the melody she’s singing. Kiss is also a refreshing alternative to the spotlight-hogging femme-goth vocalists of Lacuna Coil, the Gathering and Nightwish, She’s the only force for temperance in a band that revels in its excesses. And while that might not matter much during any of the many tongue-wagging shred moments on Delusions, it sure helps To-Mera stand out.