Review Summary: With their sophomore effort, Riverside finds their own style and proves to be on a songwriting level and level of musicality that is on par with other, more prominent bands of the genre.
Chances are, you haven’t heard of Riverside. And it’s a real shame to, as these guys create some of the coolest music that is around today, prog or otherwise. I will now provide you with a track by track review of their second release. On this album, each musician shows a distinctive and welcoming growth, proving them to be a powerful force in the progressive scene.
1. After (3:30)- As this album is part of a trilogy, the first track is so named because it is the first song after the first album, Out of Myself. The album opens with quiet and quick whispering which is coming from a person who is apparently sick of himself and in a lost state of mind. Halfway through this whispering, an ambient wind begins and leads into a very tribal and frightful chant, using at least four different vocal lines, one extremely low some others taking over a moving and repetitive background harmony and the last one providing us with the melody. Even though we cannot understand the words we can understand the atmosphere that they provide us with and it is one of deep emotional stress and possible impending doom. Some highly experimental and tribal sounding percussion begins somewhere in the mix as well as the signature Riverside organ/synth. After about 2 minutes of this chanting a quiet and dreamy guitar enters, only to fade out soon after, along with the voices. A final bass drum echo ends one of the finest beginning tracks to grace my ears.
2. Volte-Face (8:38)- One of the three longer tracks of the album. This begins with some strange electric noises and a low synth note, followed by some drums which soon come to the forefront after a strange studio effect. A low bass line takes over the notes of the distorted guitar line when the guitar is soloing which is like every thirty seconds. The distorted guitar line adds much to the build up and growth of the song and drives us along. A key factor in Riversides music is the keyboards which are hardly ever in the forefront but always crucial in establishing atmosphere and creating that signature Riverside sound. They always compliment the guitar solos perfectly and aid to the crescendos in the music. After about three minutes of these wandering guitar solos and keyboards, the vocals are introduced rather suddenly but still very emotional and heartfelt. At first the verse is fairly quiet and minimal but soon the band adds a bit of distortion and heavier synthesizer to create the build up.
The first interlude is rather quiet, with actual piano and quiet, crisp drums. The piano then hands the melody to the guitar, which builds up the intensity slightly only to die off leaving only bass, and quiet synthesizer. Some quiet vocals enter which gradually grow in intensity along with other instruments. Eventually, distorted chords are added and even some guttural vocals which leads into the highly action packed climax, utilizing some double bass pedaling and distorted guitar. Lyrics in this song deal with the protagonist and how he must turn his life around and he isn’t afraid to make changes. One reason I hesitate calling this band metal in any way is because the periods of distortion are more often than not only for brief periods and only to serve the intensity of the song. This, while action packed, lacks some of the catchier riffs and creative songwriting of the other two longer pieces but will likely be a favorite to many others due to the fact that it is almost always up-tempo.
3. Conceiving You (3:39)- A quiet and peaceful piano motif starts this song and provides great groundwork for some of Duda’s more heartfelt and melancholy vocals. The other instruments begin after the first verse in a very cool way: A guitar flourish, a bass falloff and a steady and fitting drum beat all at the same time. The bass here is quite good at providing a base for the vocals and one cannot help but admire Duda’s versatility on both his instruments. A catchy guitar motif continues after the verse into the chorus which is quite touching. The first guitar solo of the song follows the chorus and transitions quite well into another chorus, this time quiet, like the beginning. The piano part plays one last high flourish of notes to begin the final part of the song which consists of one last chorus and a pair of guitars dueling for dominance while the synthesizer provides background. The song ends well with a final keyboard chord and guitar note. This beautiful song would do fine on any modern rock radio station and would break up the monotony of boring indie and emo rock. This is a good track to download to get the gist of Riverside’s sound.
4. Second Life Syndrome (15:35) – Beginning with a low organ note, a clean and mystical guitar enters with perfect tone followed by some higher synthesizer. From these first thirty seconds we can tell this is going to be one hell of a ride. After sufficient suspense, some high bass notes begin which gets the song moving in a mid-tempo direction. The snare drum enters with a steady beat followed by once again awesome sounding guitar in that perfect solo tone that Piotr often uses. The high bass motif soon dies off and is replaced by a lower line that carries the song through a build up which has some slightly distorted guitar chords and the ever-present and mystical organ. The build up drops off, leaving us only with a quick moving and catching bass line. Not only does Duda lay down this sick bass line but he also comes in with the vocals which fit this music spectacularly. A very tight drumbeat drives this verse as well as that same bass hook which leads in to an awesome distorted guitar motif, backed by some sweet synth work.
One more guitar driven verse leads into the chorus which is absolutely amazing. Duda’s choices for notes in the chorus was excellent and the volume is right on target, complimented by the slightly distorted yet perfect sounding guitar chords which weave in and out of the vocals. The chorus goes into an interlude which leads into the next chorus. The following interlude uses a repetitive yet effective energy-laden guitar riff . The synthesizer plays steadily higher chords to provide perfect build up into what is sure to be an explosion of sound. But it doesn’t come. Instead, a low and slow bass with a breathtakingly tasteful effect rolls on while other instruments drop out. This quiet section which begins at 1/3 the way through the song is simply amazing and very well orchestrated. Here, the piano dominates along with Duda’s quiet and melancholic vocals and are aided by some inventive symbol work. One final chorus sounds, much quieter this time and it is extremely admirable how Riverside can change the pace on us, utilizing quiet guitar and perfect pauses in synth and bass to create a highly emotional atmosphere. A slow guitar solo follows, which is very relaxing. The final following verse is excellent and transitions perfectly into the instrumental section.
Once the vocals have subsided we are left only with a low synth based atmosphere with high pitched and discordant guitar. Quick and highly inventive whispering follows soon after which drives this instrumental section along with the drums and synth. Riverside displays incredible use of structure and dynamics, never using the same amount of volume or same riffage for more than thirty or forty seconds. On and on the instrumental goes with occasional chants from Duda, adding a foreboding feel to the music. The pinnacle of this instrumental comes when the guitar suddenly becomes quite quick, with repetitive yet catchy motif aided by a big bottom line and some excellent synth chords. Just when you think the song is dieing down, the guitar solos, once more. The riff played at the climax follows and one practically leans in to hear weather the song is still going, it is so quiet. Some cymbals and bass come in and build up to the second climax of the song which gives us a great twist. This song never gets stale and is one of the better songs of its length I’ve heard. Even the page of text I used in Microsoft Word does not give this song justice.
5. Artificial Smile- (5:25) This is one of few Riverside songs that begin on an upbeat note, with a driving and medium distorted guitar line and moving drums. The verse vocals here are assisted by same-note keyboard playing. Lyrics here are rather strange and deal with the protagonist spouting off against someone he clearly does not like. Vocals here even go to the point of practical screaming, showing just how versatile Duda is. The bridge here is quite good, going off an on between distorted riffs and soloing. During these quieter soloing parts the keyboards lay down some cool licks that compliment well the guitar as well as some very crisp high hat work and a crunchy bass line. This middle section is definitely the more enjoyable part of the song although the ending climax is quite adrenaline pumped and interesting.
6. I Turned You Down- (4:33) A slow bassline with a neat effect starts this song off and the drums and guitar enter soon after. The drums provide a steady beat while the guitar quietly flies over the rest of the instruments. Distortion commences soon after but dies before the verse in the vocals and guitar do a cool question and answer type thing. Meanwhile, keyboards keep that mystical feel to what would otherwise be somewhat of a bland and 2 dimensional song. This chorus is neat, with a repetitive but cool guitar motif over the vocals. The chorus soon comes to a sudden halt and the tone of the song changes considerably while a guitar with distortion and delay continues the rhythm. Keyboards and whispers keep the melody. The solo near the end is quite good and Riverside does a very good job adding prog elements to a song that would otherwise be rather boring.
7. Reality Dream III- (4:59) High bass harmonics start this song, the heaviest of the songs on the CD. The beginning has quite an ethereal quality with the synthesizer mixing with the harmonics and quiet cymbal hits. A lower bass-line enters soon after and a melody is provided for us by a guitar that soon grows in intensity, aided by organ chords. About a minute and a half in, the power-chords come in and the organ takes over an extremely awesome melody, sounding like something out of Final Fantasy battle music. Even in their heaviest moments, Riverside adds melody which proves extremely effective in creating a non-repetitive song. The bass work here is quite good during the guitar solo. A weird sounding piano bridge comes in about three quarters through and soon turns into the song around into an organ dominated climax. This song proves to be on par if not better than their past two instrumentals from the first album.
8. Dance With the Shadow- (11:38) The final epic of the album begins predictably with low keyboard and slow yet moving vocals. An equally slow and moody guitar begins soon after, only to be transformed into one of Riverside’s most syncopated and catchy riffs to date, moving at what is now a quick tempo. Distortion follows and drives the song until a low bass line takes over. Vocals come in, this time not sincere but rather defiant. The song continues and plods along, driven by that bass line and occasional distortion. The middle section is especially cool. Bass and guitar play the same part, steadily louder until Duda quietly says, “Shall We Dance My Friend?” where Lapaj’s keyboards take over in a cool solo.
After a few cycles of repeat, the song gets steadily quieter with the keyboard and quiet guitar dominating. Where lyrical content in tracks five and six perhaps deviated from the general theme, they return here and are now once again centered around our protagonist. After a quiet and slow vocal dominated part, distortion returns as well as the fast tempo. After a few minutes of this, Gruginski brings in some of his most heartfelt guitar work on this album and later it is interspersed within an awesome piano lick. When the two combine, they provide for one of the coolest parts of the album. The song soon dies and fades into the final track. While this song looses momentum during the middle, the beginning and ending is quite good and overall a good tune.
9. Before- (5:22) This final track starts slowly with mournful chords and quiet and remorseful vocals. Guitar swells and cymbal rolls add ambience to this moody atmosphere until some tribal drums enter. Vocal performance in this song is truly convincing and Duda’s bass effects are very tasteful as well, adding a more dimensional quality to the music. Slowly the song builds in a crescendo, adding a guitar line and more prominent synthesizer. On the song goes, layers of volume being added every minute to create a grand scene. Eventually the guitar begins a soaring solo motif, backed by what is now an extra big bass line and hammering drums. Mariusz releases one last roar of frustration and the album ends, but not without a hint of something yet to come.