Review – Subsignal – A Poetry of Rain – by John Wenlock-Smith

I’d not really bothered much with Subsignal until now, I’d seen folk talking about them online but not investigated them for myself, fearing that they were German prog metal and as such possibly best avoided, especially when my taste is for towards symphonic prog like The Emerald Dawn, Big Big Train and the like.

Well, I could not have been more wrong in my view for this album has definitely impressed the hell out of me. It is rather exceptional, just ten songs in all (on the bonus version) but with such style grace and variety running throughout. Okay, there are a few more heavy tracks but, in everything, there is melody and intelligence that go hand in hand to create some really strong and fine music. I did think that, perhaps, the album started off slowly but by the time you reach the fourth track, Silver (The Sheltered Garden), things really improve and very dramatically so.

What I like here is the fantastic use of dynamics to really make an impression and all the touches that they add to help in this realm but let’s start at the beginning shall we? Subsignal are a five piece, German, band who have been around since 2007 when they began as a side project for Arno Menses and Markus Steffen of Sieges Even after they disbanded.

The album begins with a brief overture called A Poetry Of Rain which leads into The Art of Giving In. The overture is gentle with good acoustic guitar over a wash of synthesised sounds and then a strong drumbeat ushers in the second track with some almost Dream Theater like guitar with strong bass and double bass drums to give a metal feel. However, within this power there is the band’s secret weapon, the sublime voice of Arno Menses who sings rather than growls and has a strong voice without any accent, he really is an accomplished and fine vocalist. There is also a suitably ferocious guitar break which impresses greatly. This is an exciting track that definitely grabs your attention from the off, the song ending on a high note with a strong driving performance with, oddly enough, an almost country feel with its pedal steel guitar and almost Americana sound, it is most impressive. Marigold is next and although you can almost hear The Power Of  Love (Jennifer Rush) in the opening, it thankfully moves in a different direction. There are lush vocal harmonies and some gentle guitar licks and fills, this is a layered and sumptuous sound which adds greatly to the songs strengths and is really rather fine by any standards. Silver (The Sheltered Garden) opens with a powerful crunchy guitar and an equally aggressive bass but behind the power there is a beast of a song. With great instrumental support from guitar and bass respectively, this track really deserves to be heard far wider than just prog circles as it is brilliant, strong most satisfying.

Impasse is even better than its predecessor, this track is remarkable with some very nifty bass runs throughout. It is a slow burn of a song, one that really grows on you with its acoustic mid section which really is impressive in style. A great chorus leads to a beautifully melodic guitar solo that puts you in mind of Steve Rothery and the impression doesn’t end there as the song has more than a touch of Marillion to it in many respects. For me, this is the track that really makes the album so good and so strong. Embers Part II: Water Wings has a great looping guitar line that sticks with you long after it ends. There is a build up of power in the mid section with chiming guitars and a prominent bass before the power riff resumes and the band add in soaring vocals and great piano runs against the looping guitar line. All of these together make this another highly impressive track, think of AOR with prog touches, utterly sublime and fantastic. Melencolia One is a punchy little rocker that marries great dynamics and intelligence with strong songwriting and performances. Again, more great bass runs add to the dynamics and the return of the crunching guitar works well, almost too good as I am totally swayed and won over by now. I really am liking this band a lot, so much so I am going to investigate their back catalogue as soon as I can!

A Wound is a Place to Let the Light In opens with an accapella vocal before a grand piano enters, along with more strong bass runs, add in a highly emotive vocal and you get another spectacular track with a stunning chorus and. It’s totally compelling and I’m on the ropes here now. The Last of its Kind is the final song proper on the album and opens with sequenced keyboards noises before some heavy bass and a muscular riff. The vocals are now sung growled and all the better for it on this track. An active drum beat and fills add to the surging power of the track with good keyboard textures floating over it all before a neat guitar solo leads in to the next verse and chorus. The song then takes a left turn with a jazzy saxophone solo which, when set against the heavy riff, is very impactful, as is the growling bass that carries the song forward before the punishing riff is reintroduced as the track draws to its conclusion. There was a bonus track, A Room on the Edge of Forever, on my download and it is a more restrained, gentle number with acoustic guitar and Spanish guitar trills The good clear vocal helps greatly before sweeping guitar chords usher in a multi layered vocal section and a delicate acoustic solo plays to fine effect. A key change adds emphasis and lift to the track which is very strong and ends on a gentle note

Well that’s it, it certainly does make a hugely positive impression when you listen and their great mix of heavy and soft sounds works really well for the band and makes this a truly exceptional album, why have I not heard these before now? This is a really excellent release, if you don’t know this group then maybe its time that you discovered them for yourself.

Released 22nd September, 2023.

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Review – Kalle Wallner – Voices

It’s a known scenario. One sits in their own studio in the lockdown and tinkers with ideas but has the mild impression of gradually losing it. After twenty years of full throttle, you’re feeling run down, yet the head is still racing. Well, it’s a known scenario if your name is Kalle Wallner at least. To take a break, however, that has never been an option. So the ideas, fragments and motifs piled up and on an indeterminate evening he took a step back and had to accept the fact that he had an instrumental album on his hands. That’s pretty much how ‘Voices’ came about, the now fourth solo album by the busy musician from Freising/Bavaria, perhaps better known as the guitarist in the perennial prog band RPWL.

Pragmatically numbered serially, the album is mainly an instrumental where the individual tracks are always related to and intertwined with each other. The one track out of the seven that contains vocals being Three, where Arno Menses of Subsignal lends his cultured vocal to proceedings.

Opulence has always been an integral part of Wallner’s solo work and that is ramped up to the max on this excellent work, thunderous riffing being another and that is present and correct in spades! There’s an energy infused in every note on the album, starting with the high-tempo momentum of One with Yogi’ Lang’s delicious keyboards lending some gravitas to Kalle’s powerful, monolithic sounding guitars. What you always get with this superb musician is tons of melody though, the often riotous and dynamic guitars giving every note an edge but a very tuneful one. Two is another plethora of monstrous riffs that combines with Marco Minnemann’s mighty drumming to deliver an all-encompassing, forceful track that has a definite thoughtful underbelly at times. The calming sections where Kalle’s guitar takes things back a notch are a touch of genius and lay a veil of refinement over things.

As already mentioned, Three is the one and only vocal track on the album but it opens with a stirring guitar from Kalle over Marco’s potent drumbeat. Arno Menses has a voice just made for tracks like this and he puts in a stellar performance on this pensive, slow burning song, especially on the electrifying chorus, it’s the emotionally intense guitar playing that is the highlight though. There’s a funky note to the opening of Four that gives it a vibe not unlike Faith No More, all staccato notes, fat grooves and a restless drumbeat. Kalle’s piercing guitar lends a contrast to that alt-metal feel, the guitar solo towards the end is inspired, it’s a clever and inventive piece of music.

Five basically sees all the musicians turn things up to 11 and is an incendiary four minutes of compelling and authoritative music where everyone just seems to be having an utter blast! I really like Six, Kalle Wallner has always been an excellent musician and songwriter but, here on ‘Voices’, he really seems to have gone up another level. The songwriting is superlative and his guitar playing just gets better and better. This piece of music is reflective and contemplative while also having the satisfyingly punchy foundation of guitar and drums when things start to get serious.

Seven.Out is a thoughtful almost melancholy eleven minutes of wistful serenity and closes ‘Voices’ perfectly. The most intimate and heartfelt piece of music on the album, Kalle gets to show his more softer and sensitive side on this track with piercing, fervent guitar lines that really touch your heart and soul. There’s a sombre and plaintive edge to his guitar work and the meditative drumbeat mirrors this, it really leaves you in a reflective and thoughtful mood as this exemplary record comes to a close.

‘Voices’ is fifty minutes of utterly immersive music that really gets under your skin, there is an immediate need to listen to this bewitching album again. At times mesmerising and at others thunderously magnetic, I’d say it’s possibly this enigmatic musician’s finest piece of work in his twenty-six year career, it really is that good!

Released 25th February, 2022

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Review – Blind Ego – Liquid – By Rob Fisher


I first came across Blind Ego courtesy of having originally discovered the delights of ‘World Through My Eyes (2005)’ by German based band RPWL. In the process of discovering more about them it emerged that lead guitarist Kalle Wallner was also running a solo project by the name of Blind Ego who, by pure coincidence, had just released a second album entitled ‘Numb (2007)’.

My interest was piqued by the superb musicians he had assembled to play with him. Paul Wrightson (ex Arena, replacing John Mitchell who sang on the first album), John Jowitt (ex IQ and Arena), Michael Schwager (ex Dreamscape) and Yogi Lang (fellow RPWL band member), with guest appearances by Sebastian Harnack (Sylvan) and Iggor Cavalera (Sepultura, Mix Hell).

Listening to ‘Numb’ was – and whenever I play it, still is – a happy revelation. Honest, fresh, atmospheric, it is full of punch and packed with energy and inventiveness. There is a steely drive and an exciting raw emotional power which resonates at all levels across the album. The intensity and the ever shifting flow of our emotions becomes the elemental force which powers and gives meaning to the music.

Wallner believes ‘Numb’ is all about the intensity of emotions, “snapshots of extreme feelings flooding one’s consciousness for a short time, siegeing the mind and letting nothing else reside next to them.” He emphasises this by using only one word for the title of each track: Lost, Guilt, Numb, Leave, Death, Change, Seek, Risk, Torn, Vow, Change. The music perfectly mirrors and captures this rollercoaster of emotions through solid rock-style drumming, crunching power riffing, all interspersed with acoustic arrangements and melodic solos which captivate and surprise.


It has been a long seven years since then and I’ll confess that news of a third studio album from the Blind Ego stable certainly put me in a state of agitated excitement. Wallner’s choice to lead with another single word title, ‘Liquid’, certainly seems to signal a clear intention to carry on where the previous album left off.

The musicians he has gathered around him this time are equally impressive. Vocals are shared between Arno Menses (Subsignal), Erik Ez Blomkvist (Seven Thorns) and Aaron Brooks (Simeone Soul Charger), whilst the always impressive Sebastian Harnack (Sylvan) returns alongside appearances from Heiko Jung (Panzerballett) and Ralf Schwager (Subsignal) on bass. It is also wonderful to see the inimitable Michael Schwager remaining behind the drum kit for this third instalment.

‘Liquid’ is an album of profoundly stark and unexpected contrasts – lyrically, emotionally and musically. Where ‘Numb’ has a relentless and intensely focused momentum, ‘Liquid’ to some extent takes its foot off the pedal, gives itself some time to breathe, and offers a more varied, versatile and challenging range of music with which to grapple. There is a greater sense of maturity about this release, a more reflective and contemplative approach to the song writing which takes the edge off the direct rawness which characterised ‘Numb’ and in the process, opens wider possibilities for emotive expression in and through the music.

The passion, the intensity and the focus are all still present in abundance. But there is now a more deliberate and even meditative quality coming through. When passion is spent and the rage of emotion has run its course, reason quietly returns and adds its voice once more. Indeed, this is often how the album feels; torrents of sharp, powerful, aggressive passages are followed by calmer, soothing almost heightened moments of tranquility and clarity, the instrumental ferocity dialed right back to leave an airy, almost passive, healing aftermath.


Kallner’s guitar work is blisteringly brilliant. Listening to the sheer precision of his playing, the eagerness and constrained passion he exudes and the forcefulness of his attack when he abandons controlled discipline and lets his virtuosity soar in some jaw dropping solo work belies the impression that this is something deeply personal. You get the feeling that he is working things through, maybe in his own mind, and riding the ebb and flow of shifting, troubled emotions as he goes along. Some people are good at expressing themselves through words; he lets his guitar do his thinking out loud.

To this extent, ‘Liquid’ becomes a fascinating insight into the turbulent thoughts and emotions which are swirling throughout the album, sometimes expressed in symphonic eddy’s churning just below the surface, at others gushing in anthemic, foot-stomping torrents before cascading into serene, harmonic waters. There is a natural momentum which carries you along from track to track and into the seamless, almost intuitive transitions between moods, thoughts and feelings.

Not everything on this album works. Just as you can become lost in your thoughts, so there are times when the music feels as if it has lost a little of its direction and focus. Some of the ideas don’t quite work as I suspect they were intended, upheavals in rhythmic timing perhaps too hasty and maybe one or two of the hooks not quite transiting to where the music wants to lead us. But then, thoughts are never complete, feelings are always on the way to somewhere else and the exuberance, fervour and excitement of the music is more than enough to carry us through the choppy waters to the next part of the river.

Wallner believes that ‘Liquid’ “completes a comprehensive artistic process that saw its beginnings years ago”. This new release certainly brings significant developments and unexpected progressions to the Blind Ego project. My sincere hope, however, is that rather than reaching the end and completing the journey, there are more bends yet to come in this particular musical river.

Released 21st October 2016

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