Most people will no doubt be aware that Kalle Wallner is the ‘W’ in RPWL, and a much admired guitarist. This solo album is his first since 2016’s Liquid, which he released under the band name Blind Ego. Whereas that was more of a group effort, this is very much Kalle with help from some friends – and he has some good friends to call upon – and it’s very much a guitar album, and predominantly instrumental. There tend to be numerous guitar albums appearing regularly, and to stand out they need some differentiating factor, a ‘voice’ of their own if you like. Voices achieves that with apparent ease. Kalle’s style is fluid and melodic, naturally easy on the ear in a way that is reminiscent of Joe Satriani at times, although Wallner is less prone to bouts of shredding. He tends to explore timbre and texture and builds his music in a beautifully structured way. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t make unexpected turns or breakdowns on a regular basis, but everything has a natural flow to it. Moreover, the album builds track by track into a whole experience, cleverly repeating certain phrases or chord changes from one song to the next. This makes for a really cohesive record, and a satisfying listen, and it works best when you play the whole thing rather than cherry picking tracks at random.
I mentioned friends, so let’s introduce them. Unsurprisingly, Kalle is aided and abetted by his partner in crime, the ‘L’ in RPWL, Yogi Lang. He, of course, provided extra keyboards and programming, but also recorded, mixed and mastered the album, and his experience shows as the sound is full and rich, a joy for the ears. I’m pleased to say that Wallner opted for real drums for this project, but how he managed to secure the services of one of the best around in Marco Minnemann I don’t know. Glad he did though, and his performance is spot on, being quite restrained by his standards, but perfectly measured. Wallner plays everything else, but there are vocals on two tracks. Arno Menses from Subsignal sings on THREE, and his contribution is excellent. He also sang on the Blind Ego album, so is an old friend. Carmen Tannich, known as Tanyc, also provides some subtle vocalisation on SIX.
So why call a largely instrumental album Voices? Well, I suspect it is an assertion that music need not necessarily have the human voice in order to speak to the listener. I’m sure we all realised that long ago, but it’s worth being reminded. I distinctly recall reading an interview with the late great Frank Zappa in which he stated that releasing an album of instrumental music was considered commercial suicide. He had just put out Jazz From Hell, an album of synclavier compositions. At the time he was probably right, but we live in different times, and I doubt Wallner expects to sell bucketloads of Voices, but it deserves some recognition and support. This is carefully written and recorded with skill and passion, and that endeavour shines through in the music.
ONE sets the tone for the album, fading in with burbling synth then a clipped riff, before bass and drums chime in and we’re off. More layers of keyboards fill out the sound, and lead guitar picks out the tune in fine Satch style. Things get a little heavier and darker on TWO. Proceedings are regularly interrupted with brief passages of gently picked guitar before returning to the soaring soloing and stabbing riffs. Minnemann is in his element providing simple but swinging drum patterns and clever fills as the tension in the music mounts. It’s a fabulous piece of guitar wizardry, but restrained and compact.
THREE is the vocal track, Arno Menses turning in a good delivery, and it’s not a total surprise that this is the first single release from Voices. Whilst not representative exactly, it certainly isn’t out of place, and provides good contrast to the guitar workouts elsewhere. FOUR has a typically repetitive riff, but which quickly mutates into a complex beast with soaring slide guitar. The mid-section dissolves into a Mellotron-like keyboard wash with acoustic guitar and spacey sequencer bleeps, upping the Prog quotient somewhat, then returning to the main riff and some nice solo guitar. FIVE is a great uptempo rocker, with a catchy melody and tasteful guitar lines twisting over the straightforward rhythm.
SIX and SEVEN. OUT stretch things out a bit, allowing more time for the pieces to develop. The first begins slowly with electronics and a gentle guitar melody which then erupts into more glorious slide playing from Wallner. The song ebbs and flows between the gentle melody and the thunderous slide sections. As the atmosphere builds, Tanyc adds her voice to the mix very effectively. The result is quite moving, with Wallner showing a delicate touch on the quiet passages, before both he and Minnemann let rip on the crescendos. The final track begins as many on the record with a synth intro and gentle guitar picking with overdubbed lead guitar and bass pedals adding gravitas as the piece builds. Kalle shows on this album that he is a master of crafting layers of sound, building to peaks of joyous guitar heaven before breaking it down and building up again. Each new wave brings a more emotive solo than the last. It’s dynamic, satisfying, and just hugely enjoyable. Highly recommended if you like guitar playing without the shred factor!
01. ONE (5:15)
02. TWO (7:54)
03. THREE (5:56)
04. FOUR (6:00)
05. FIVE (3:53)
06. SIX (9:30)
07. SEVEN. OUT (11:14)
Total Time – 49:42
Kalle Wallner – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Programming
Marco Minnemann – Drums
Yogi Lang – Keyboards, Programming
Arno Menses – Vocals (track 3)
Tanyc – Vocals (track 6)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 25th February 2022