Album Title: La Muerta
Label: Gentle Art of Music/Soulfood
Date Of Release: 25 May 2018
When I heard the news that Sieges Even were to cease, I was hugely disappointed. Here was a band that not many years before, had released ‘The Art of Navigating By The Stars’, a record that, by all accounts, was a progressive metal masterpiece. I listened to it on repeat for weeks as I studied for some important exams and it remains a frequent visitor to my playlists well over a decade later.
However, the two main protagonists within Sieges Even, namely Markus Stefan and Arno Menses, realised with the release of ‘Paramount’, that they wanted to try something a little bit different. It’s the hallmark of good musicians and truly creative types after all. Apparently inspired by the song ‘Eyes Wide Open’, they decided that they wanted to venture down a more melodic path, as well as being less blinkered and open to new influences. And so Sieges Even was laid to rest, with Subsignal rising from the ashes.
Under the new Subsignal guise, the Germans didn’t abandon their progressive roots entirely, as was evidenced via their stunning debut, ‘Beautiful and Monstrous’ in 2008. The song writing was certainly more honed, more succinct in many ways and arguably more accessible, but there was still a level of intelligence and sophistication to the material overlaid by more pronounced melodic sensibilities that shined through from the outset. The debut, on balance, remains my favourite to date. It features the exquisite composition, ‘The Sea’, which is also my favourite ever song under the Subsignal moniker. Melancholic, dramatic and emotional, I’d go further and say it is one of my favourite songs by any band.
Since the debut, I have followed the band with interest and they have never disappointed. Although the debut remains their best in my opinion, it doesn’t mean that subsequent releases have not been good. They are all superb albums actually, full of great music lovingly constructed and delivered with unerring accuracy and pin-sharp ability. They are all slightly different too, with a character all of their own. For many, the sophomore release, ‘Touchstones’, is their high water mark and it is honestly tough to argue with this assertion. But, for me, it doesn’t feature ‘The Sea’ and that’s essentially the difference.
And now, in 2018, Subsignal bring us their fifth studio recording, entitled ‘La Muerta’. Naturally, I was intrigued to hear what the quintet of Steffen and Menses, alongside bassist Ralf Schwager, drummer Dirk Brand and keyboardist Markus Maichel would offer us next. With the increase of social media, we’ve been cleverly drip-fed information over the past few months to increase the anticipation, which has only served to heighten the interest further.
The answer is that ‘La Muerta’ is once again different from past Subsignal outings. It is at once very recognisable as Subsignal but also it embraces new influences, or at least there’s a more pronounced use of other influences. There is certainly some truth in the statement that ‘La Muerta’ is the most mainstream-sounding record that Subsignal have ever recorded, with plenty of pop-like choruses and AOR embellishments. However, it is also satisfyingly ambitious, with plenty of variety within the eleven tracks and, as it turns out, a pleasing amount of progressive intent.
The perfect example of just about all of this is the track ‘Passages’, that’s nestled in the latter stages of ‘La Muerta’. It opens up with the kind of huge, bombastic, all-encompassing synth intro that’s the preserve of the prog rock scene and which gets my attention every time, raising the hairs on the back of my neck without fail. From there, the track descends into full-on AOR territory, complete with acoustic guitar, swathes of bright and breezy synths and melodies that get lodged in your head after just a couple of spins. ‘Passages’ is also the longest track on the album, and it wrings every last second out of its seven-and-a-half minute length to delight us with extended instrumental sections, emotional solos and tempo changes. In short, it is a thoroughly tremendous composition.
The AOR influences again loom large over ‘As Birds’, one of the most upbeat songs on ‘La Muerta’ which, at times elsewhere, can be quite a raw and emotional listening experience. There’s a cheeky exuberance about this song that I adore, with even the faintest hint of The Beach Boys in some of the layered vocals.
I must admit that it took quite a while for me to fully appreciate the excellence of ‘La Muerta’. As ultimately accessible as this album is, it took some time for the melodies to make their full impact. And because there is so much subtlety within this collection of songs, your full attention is required at the outset to extract as much out of the music as possible. But the effort is not wasted and, as I sit here now, I’m wondering whether this might be my favourite Subsignal album of them all. It might be too early to say, but the fact that I’m considering this, it must mean that the album is pretty great, even by Subsignal’s lofty standards.
The title track is another superb track, with a wonderful trademark opening lead guitar melody from Markus Steffen, enhanced by some excellent and varied drumming courtesy of Dirk Brand that is both understated and ever so slightly cocky at the same time – I love it, just as I love the expansive chorus that emerges from the highly structured and tightly-delivered verses.
‘Bells’ then delivers arguably one of the most powerful choruses on the record, hugely melodic and full of depth of emotion. This is juxtaposed with a contemplative intro and verses that are a quieter and much more introspective proposition.
The introduction to ‘Approaches’ that emerges after the gorgeous instrumental ‘Teardrops’, is very reminiscent of Shadow Gallery. However, this is short-lived as the unmistakeable character of Subsignal shines through the remainder of the song, one that allows bassist Ralf Schwager and keyboardist Markus Maichel to take their share of the limelight, to great effect.
The icing on the cake is the intro to the laid-back, almost wistful ‘Trains’ which, if I’ve heard it right, features a recording of a station tannoy announcing the departure of a train to Norwich. If that’s the case, the train will almost certainly have travelled through the small market town in which I live. It’s a small thing, but a nice touch for me at least.
Lastly, before ‘La Muerta’ comes to a close, we are treated to the sublime melancholy of ‘Drowning’, a piano-led piece full of raw human emotion and drama that sees Menses joined by the angelic voice of Iamthemorning’s Marjana Semkina. It is a devastating way to conclude, one that leaves an indelible mark upon my soul and ensures that it isn’t long before the album is spun again.
As we’ve come to expect from Subsignal, ‘La Muerta’ is a pin-sharp, smooth and hugely professional album, aided by a flawless production courtesy of RPWL/Blind Ego’s Kalle Wallner and Yogi Lang . But more than that, it is an artful and thoroughly fulfilling collection of melodic progressive rock songs that have genuine depth, plenty of sophistication and, once under your skin, become essential musical companions to gladden your heart and lighten any mood. What a superb album.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Amorphis – Queen of Time
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse