Blind Ego is the solo project of RPWL member Kalle Wallner. That might seem obvious to many reading this, but I found this out quite some time after first listening to the band. As much as I can appreciate why so many people like RPWL, they don’t do it for me. Blind Ego, on the other hand, I have always enjoyed what I’ve heard. I do wonder how many people may not have given Blind Ego a chance, if they know the RPWL connection, because I have a feeling if I had known that, I may never have listened to them myself – and I would have been missing out.
So, first things first. Blind Ego do not sound like RPWL. It is a more streamlined, straightforward, harder-rocking sound. There are keys, but they have no dominance. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if fans of RPWL do not find Blind Ego to their taste (or, in my case, vice versa). Furthermore, Blind Ego is a solo project, with interviews promoting previous albums emphasising Kalle Wallner’s desire to work alone, instead of writing songs with a band. Differing line-ups have seen quite different sounding albums – or even quite different sounding songs within an album.
I first came across Blind Ego by way of Dante, who are on Kalle Wallner’s record label. The previous studio album was promoted on their Facebook page, and I duly gave it a listen, not knowing anything about the band. I liked it, but it didn’t blow me away, and I put the band aside to listen to again sometime. Sometime didn’t occur until Dante again mentioned Blind Ego, because Julian Kellner of Dante had joined Blind Ego on second guitar. I enjoyed the Liquid Live release far more than Liquid itself. Seven of the ten tracks on Liquid Live come from Liquid, but all seem to have an extra dimension and cohesion live, especially when sung by one vocalist. Liquid Live is a very solid set, played by some quality musicians, quite obviously enjoying themselves doing so.
Now, if you are wondering why I am giving all this detail, there is a reason. The new Blind Ego album, Preaching to the Choir, is not only my favourite yet from the band, but it is the first to have been released by a long-standing line-up. Since the release of Liquid, Blind Ego have had a touring line-up of Wallner, Julian Kellner, Sebastian Harnack, Michael Christoph and Scott Balaban. The consistency of the live line-up has solidified an identify for the band, that I had always thought missing, and they have taken that into the studio. Preaching to the Choir is a more consistent and cohesive listen than any prior Blind Ego album, and where Blind Ego has always been a solo project, it now sounds like a band.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that Balaban is a key to giving Blind Ego its own identity. Where on previous albums Blind Ego has appeared a collection of well-known artists – especially in regard to the choice of vocalists – Balaban is somewhat of an unknown quantity. As much as I might, for example, like Arno Menses, there is no getting away from the idea that I am listening to a song with Arno from Subsignal singing it. That is to say, another band than the one I am actually listening to is in my mind. I sincerely hope that Kalle Wallner keeps this line-up as long as he is able to, and especially Scott Balaban, as his vocals definitely fit the music incredibly well.
So, the music. The core of Blind Ego is still the guitar and keys of Kalle Wallner, but along with the rest of the band, it is manifestly audible that they have now played together and gelled for some time. This band sounds more fluid and in unison than on any other Blind Ego studio release. The fluidity and unity is reflected in the flow of the album, too. Where previous studio albums could sound quite different from song to song, almost sounding more like a compilation than an album, Preaching to the Choir sounds like a whole.
The drum-driven Massive is a fairly simple but very effective opening number to the album, and also a great introduction to Scott Balaban’s vocals. The chorus is one of several ear-worms I have found myself humming to myself at work. The title track follows, and is a little more bombastic. And if we’re talking ear-worms, then this is the one. If there is one chorus I find myself humming or singing to myself more often than any other, it will be this one.
Strangely, the next track is the absolute nadir for me. I say strangely as Burning Alive has been chosen as the lead single. Obviously Kalle Wallner and/or the band feels that this is the strongest song to promote the album with, and yet I find it completely uninspiring. In fact, I find it the least representative of the sound of the album. For an album full of exciting sounds, this track just sounds bland to me. It is not for lack of trying, either. I have listened to the album (and therefore this song) over a dozen times. In an attempt to see whether I just haven’t enjoyed this song so much, because I like the songs either side of it so much, I have listened to the album on shuffle so that Burning Alive is not necessarily sandwiched between two tracks I’d rather hear. Sorry, Kalle and company, this is the one track on the album that I just can’t get into.
The following track, however, is my favourite on the album. Line in the Sand starts with an electronic burst that makes one wonder just what is going to follow. For me, this is one of the strongest songs on the album, and the one which should have been the lead single. Blind Ego is a band which excels as much with the harder and heavier pieces as the calmer and quieter. Line in the Sand shows off both aspects admirably, although it is clearly heavier in general.
But just in case it were not obvious, Dark Paradise comes after and is a quite beautiful ballad. For me, this is one of the greatest strengths of the band. I don’t exactly hate ballads – but it is far more usual for me to dislike them than enjoy them. Ballads can so easily be cheesy and corny, and that is fine for a lot of people. Blind Ego with Dark Paradise show that they are a band that can play a ballad without resorting to cheese and corn. Perhaps this is due to the ‘Dark’ more than the ‘Paradise’, but whatever it is, it works.
The album finishes with an incredibly powerful one-two punch of Broken Land and The Pulse, which are my next favourite tracks after Line in the Sand. The Pulse, especially, I feel needs to be mentioned. I suspect this will be the favourite tracks of many people who listen to the album, and I wouldn’t be surprised if over time it takes over from Line in the Sand in my affections. Just as the album began in a drum-driven way with Massive, the drums play a big part in The Pulse. Actually there is a slight Tool vibe to The Pulse (through a Pink Floyd filter), with drums and bass providing a solid backbone and grooving together throughout. It is also the most overtly prog song on the album. Although all the members of Blind Ego come from a prog background, the band usually keeps prog exactly there – in the background. It is there if you listen for it, but it is only in The Pulse that you really know you are listening to a prog band.
Personally, though, I have never cared about labelling music. I think it is usually a pointless exercise. This album rocks, and ultimately that is all that matters. If this is what Blind Ego sound like, from here on in, I cannot wait to hear the next release!
01. Massive (5:25)
02. Preaching to the Choir (6:06)
03. Burning Alive (4:32)
04. Line in the Sand (4:09)
05. Dark Paradise (5:15)
06. In Exile (4:08)
07. Heading for the Stars (5:34)
08. Broken Land (4:43)
09. The Pulse (8:40)
Total Time – 49:32
Kalle Wallner – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Programming
Julian Kellner – Guitars
Sebastian Harnack – Bass
Michael Christoph – Drums
Scott Balaban – Vocals
Record Label: Gentle Art Of Music
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 14th February 2020