Progressive metal sometimes isn’t very progressive – it’s become easy to predict that an album in that genre is going to offer dense, snaky rhythms, soaring vocals and perhaps a smattering of synthy sci-fi grandeur. What you might not expect, then, are delicate female vocals laid over contorted compositions, with random bursts of smooth jazz, beatnik lounge and symphonic pomp erupting from between coils of downtuned, dissonant guitar. And that’s just the first track (“The Lie”) off To-Mera‘s second release, Delusions. In seven minutes, we’ve gone from beatniks to barbarians, and each track afterwards offers its own bizarre surprises.

On “Glory of a New Day,” cascading piano glides into a stutter of bongos, and then later, the track becomes a full-on Steely Dan gig (a band that any fan of progressive metal should be in awe of). An even more brazen jazz combo flails on the floor of “Asylum” before the song returns to bashing itself against the walls. And “Mirage,” which I think is the album’s most successful track, whips back and forth from an odd, dreamlike ballad to a succession of increasingly frenetic prog-whirlwinds.

You usually don’t see this type of creative audacity from many bands – Arcturus and Opeth come to mind – and while it may not always work here, it’s certainly an impressive attempt. You’re going to get your money’s worth – as with a lot of dense prog-metal, it’ll take a number of listens before you can begin to process and anticipate the flow of these songs – though it would’ve been a lot easier if it weren’t for those vocals.

Now, some may scoff at the notion of a female vocalist over this type of prog metal, but I think it’s a fine concept. There’s no reason women should be limited to gothic or beauty-and-the-beast metal, i.e. Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, Tristania, After Forever, etc. Problem is, I don’t think it’s executed very well in this case.

Julie Kiss has a very pretty, crystalline voice, but it lacks impact, and rarely reaches any kind of emotional peak. A more full-bodied vocal might have suited these songs better, but that’s the lesser issue here. The biggest problem is that the vocals frequently feel disassociated from the music, always floating on top of it and attached by a faint tether. Many of Kiss’ vocal lines are overly capricious and wandering, as if she’s making it up as she goes, and so what is supposed to be airy and soaring just comes off like a drunk pilot attempting to skywrite. Some tracks fare better, when her melodies are more restrained and straightforward, or when the churning prog-burble below her thins out to a sparse backbone, but for the most part, I found the vocals to be distractingly and unnecessarily indulgent.

And that pretty much sums up this album – overindulgent, which seems an oxymoron when critiquing progressive metal. The genre is supposed to be about excess and unrestrained creativity, but there still has to be some kind of flow. Even with as much interesting material as To-Mera throws at you, the structures do jerk you around too much from moment to moment. It got to be that I was waiting for the next bizarre element to surface, rather than trying to get sucked into the guitarwork, as that element never built any kind of satisfying flow – a problem intensified by the vocals.

There’s obviously loads of talent here, and on the next release, I hope the band will be able to temper their wild creativity with some more disciplined songwriting. For now though, Delusions feels like more of a curiosity than something truly compelling.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
June 10th, 2008


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