May 22, 2020

Subsignal like their music coated in a patina of melancholy, isolation and gravitas. This is music which speaks to you, but doesn’t talk about the weather.

Okay, for starters it may be prudent to begin by explaining who Subsignal are, for those who have not previously entered their singular orbit. Hailing from Munich, they originally started life as a side project for Sieges Even members Arno Menses (vocals) and Markus Steffen (guitars). This became a full time band when Sieges Even disbanded in 2008 and, since then, Subsignal have been ploughing a rather successful, and also rather dark, furrow with the odd line up change along the way. In 2018 they released the acclaimed album La Muerta, and this live recording is taken from a show on that tour during which, by all accounts, all of the stars aligned, with sound, performance and audience all making it a particularly memorable evening. Fortunately – because we all know how rarely this happens – the show was being recorded, and this reportedly as-it-was document is the result.

Image from album booklet by André Wilms

Now, stepping back a moment, let’s return to what I said about the band’s particularly dark furrow. Because the fact is that, while they project many things, frivolity and light-heartedness are not conspicuously among them. Subsignal like their music coated in a patina of melancholy, isolation and gravitas. This is music which speaks to you, but doesn’t talk about the weather. It sits you down and addresses the darkness in your soul. It doesn’t do small talk. There is an underlying feeling of cold, bleak, wintry ennui which calls to mind the work of FM (the grim Canadian prog band that is, not the relentlessly cheerful AOR-merchants from a decade or so later). This, of course, is absolute catnip to a certain persuasion of prog fan, as progressive rock in general is music which is ideally suited to soul-searching and pondering life’s great questions. The overall sound is the important thing here, with the guitar given to embellishments rather than grandstanding solos. Everything is in the service of the song, the sound and the show. Egos are subsumed and the ‘Subsignal experience’ is paramount. A reasonable idea to begin with would be to imagine perhaps something like Riverside, recent Marillion and a dash of 1980s Rush. It creeps over you like a blanket of uncertainty, leaving the listener feeling that something is somehow amiss, without knowing what it is. As I said, it’s dark. And in its own way, it is incredibly powerful.

Not that all of this means the band are not possessed of a way with a melody. Far from it. In fact, several tracks here – not least the closing crowd favourite Paradigm, and the almost joyous The Bells Of Lyonesse – contain choruses which can be – and indeed are – taken up by an entranced audience choir. The most impressive track here to these ears – along with the previously mentioned Bells Of Lyonesse – is the superb The Passage, though one should be warned that it does contain a drum solo. Literally warned, in fact, as the band point the fact out in the track listing. Don’t under any circumstances skip the track, however. There are seven glorious minutes before the drum solo, which is of a digestible length compared to those monstrosities of the 1970s, so ensure you take it in.

As one would expect from the band’s overall air of serious gravitas, the cover artwork matches this. All stark shades of wintry blue, the front cover image has a lone car approaching along a lonely snow-lined highway, as a skull hangs overlain in the sky, with a bleak sun shining from within its left eye socket. The back cover shows you a desolate ferris wheel with a large and ominous moon shining from behind its silhouette, while the booklet compounds this with images of overgrown, ruined buildings, with those overlaid skulls never far away. Just so that you realise that all of this is just the image and the ambience of the music, however, live shots of the band show them presenting an energetic, lively show and, in some cases, even smiling! It is clear that, for all the claustrophobic feel the band embody, their live shows are a shared celebration between band and audience, of a common musical vision.

This is, when all is said and done, a quite extraordinary band with a massively devoted following. And, if you are on board with their peculiar brand of melancholic heft, quite possibly one of your new favourite bands. As George Harrison once said, ‘Beware Of Darkness’. But still, enter and check it out! The video below gives a good impression of the band’s live show, far better than mere words could convey, so do come in…

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