Review Summary: Overall, the ending of the trilogy is not as good as I hoped but a brilliant ballad and a great special edition keep the Rapid Eye Movement experience quite enjoyable.
Over the last couple of years, this band has quickly established itself as one of the key members of the modern progressive rock movement, a movement that is quickly becoming more and more popular as bands like Porcupine Tree, The Mars Volta, Opeth and many others are getting more and more exposure. Their debut 2003 album Out of Myself was heralded as one of the greatest debuts for a band in quite a while and was awarded the title ‘best debut of the year’ on many websites. While Out of Myself was being released elsewhere in the world, the guys went back to the studio and wrote 5 new songs to be featured on the Voices In My Head EP. While this fantastic new EP was not heard outside of Poland until after the release of their second album, it was extremely well received and contains some of their more mellow material with some electronic effects, material that contrasts with most of the material on their second full length.
Their 2nd studio album, Second Life Syndrome, proved to be a huge breakthrough for the band, as it was released on Inside Out, one of the largest prog rock labels. Many people considered it quite as good as Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing and Opeth’s Ghost Reveries, two CDs that were released the same year by larger and better known artists. Second Life Syndrome was mostly a progressive-metal album with a much more raw sound than either Out of Myself or Voices In My Head but it still contained trademark Riverside elements like Mariusz’s soulful and sincere vocals and Piotr’s signature guitar sound.
Here, with Rapid Eye Movement, Riverside finish off their ambitious Reality Dream Trilogy with an album that the band describes as more ‘alternative and psychedelic’. Their lineup remains the same from the previous album with the following members:
Mariusz Duda- Vocals, Bass, Acoustic Guitar
Piotr Grudzinski- Guitar
Piotr ‘Mitloff’ Kozieradzki- Drums
Michal Lapaj- Keyboards
1. Beyond The Eyelids 7:56 – The album gets kicked off with an epic start with low synthesizer and vocals. The distortion kicks in from the guitar and soon the full fledged distorted jam comes in, back and forth once and then an awesome bass riff comes in. All the while the keyboards keep the epic background going. Distorted guitar battles quick keyboard work in the next part, sounding a little bit more like Dream Theater than usual. Not until the 3:41 mark do the vocals come in, backed by a psychedelic keyboard effect that is quite neat. Mariusz’s vocals definitely aren’t that catchy in this song and the guitar and synthesizer do pretty much the same thing most of the song. The metal elements of SLS are definitely here for quite awhile and not until the distortion goes away do we get some of the beautiful guitar work that we expect from Riverside. From the 6:30 mark on the song slowly gets mellower and mellower, which is quite a nice contrast from the middle of the song. Keyboards keep a really nice background and Mitloff does some cool cymbal stuff and the song fades out quite nicely. Strong in the beginning and ending but rather weak in the middle but either way a strong start to the album. 3.75/5
2. Rainbow Box 3:26- A cool descending bass lick and a repeated piano note begin the new worst Riverside song. Mariusz’s vocals are uncharacteristically annoying in this song, often sounding like Pearl Jam in the chorus. Distorted guitar is present throughout nearly the whole way through and Piotr’s distortion is definitely not as convincing as most other guitar players. At only 3.5 mins it doesn’t have time to go anywhere and its rather repetitive. This is fefinitely Riversides new worst song. 2/5
3. 02 Panic Room 5:29- Starts with hi-hat and a sweet drum beat and then huge bass guitar comes in and starts a great groove. Piotr comes in to do a neat solo/motif and then distortion joins the pulsing bass. One more motif transitions us into the verse which is pretty cool. All the while the synth stays in the background, adding a spooky effect. The chorus is again distorted and the vocals aren’t that catchy but it’s not bad. There are a lot cool electronic effects here and there and during the last chorus, strings come in, which aren’t really that tasteful but they don’t kill the song because they are short lived. After one more solo/motif the song dies out, ending the single version. But on the album the song keeps going after 3 secs of silence. Mellow guitar and piano come in and lay down a mellow and melancholy atmosphere. The vocals then come in, the lyrics referring to the album cover which is kind of cool because most albums don’t do that. This part is short lived and it isn’t bad but it doesn’t make the song better. A pretty solid song. 4.25/5
4. Schizophrenic Prayer 4:20- One of the more original sounding Riverside songs. Starts with drums and then it jumps right into the verse with quiet vocals and a mellow but quick guitar line. Drums remain light in the background and then the chorus comes around and it is pretty catchy. A few minutes in, tribal bongos begin along with whispered gasps, adding a very ritualistic feel. The chorus happens a few times more, with the band layering guitars and vocals for awhile and then fading out soon after the climax. Not really a great tune but definitely not bad and one of the few songs on here to not use distortion. 4/5
5. Parasomnia 8:10- The second long song begins poorly with only vocals. It’s really very irritating until you get used to it. Piano chords sound for a while after and the bass comes in with a good line that is pretty catchy. Vocals here are not catchy enough in my opinion and this song suffers heavily from the ‘falsely epic’ distortion feel as I like to call it. A little too similar sounding to Volte-Face and that was one of my least favorite on SLS. When there isn’t distortion and bland keyboard melodies, there are ok guitar soloing with ok keyboard background but once Mariusz comes in he makes it even more bland. There definitely isn’t that emotion in these heavier songs that are in some of the lighter ones but there are still the dynamics he uses to make it slightly more interesting.
Things eventually slow down a bit and after a bit of bouncy bass and drums a really pretty middle interlude begins with great vocals great keyboard and great guitars. If it wasn’t for this part, the song would be probably be quite as bad as Rainbow Box. The guitar solo that transitions into a fade out is pretty cool and after the fadeout, a cool bass line brings it back to life but the rest of the song takes way too long to go anywhere. First there’s a solo then the guitar eventually distorts and the band does a very poorly done crescendo up and up until they just stop. The distortion is half hearted, the keyboard riffs aren’t that catchy and the band really don’t go anywhere interesting in this song. 3/5
6. Through the Other Side 4:05 – The first of two quieter songs which they definitely should have not put back to back. This starts out a lot like A Perfect Circles ‘A Stranger’ song, with similar sounding but quick acoustic guitar notes, and the over all feel is very similar. The vocals are quiet and the percussion is absent at the beginning. The chorus here is kind of catchy but not catchy enough for a ballad. Light drums come in and then the pulsing bass drum but still light. So the song goes for awhile, adding a bit of percussion and a few spacey effects after another verse and chorus. Pretty chill song but nothing too catchy. 3.75/5
7. Embryonic 4:10- It’s a good thing that Riverside haven’t completely forgotten what there good at. Slow wind ambience begins this awesome ballad, Riverside’s best yet probably. The quiet and simple acoustic guitar chords come in and soon after Mariusz’s once again soulful vocals, quiet and sincere. Lyrics here are fricken’ brilliant and poetic. The second verse begins, with the most enchanting synth chords playing in the background and it really makes the song even more beautiful. After the second verse the beautiful middle part begins, now with quick acoustic guitar to accompany the chords and the vocals here are hauntingly beautiful. All too soon, the beautiful guitar solo begins and it is completely sincere and completely amazing this time. No cheese splashed on with some fake epic distortion. Just well placed and heart-felt notes soar from Piotr’s hands and once it’s over, you will be crying because of its beauty. No other song has made me cry every other time I listen to it. At only 4 minutes, it is waaay too short but it is one of their best. 5/5
8. Cybernetic Pillow 4:45- Nothing can easily follow a masterpiece like embryonic and this track is no different. It begins with light distorted guitar which mixes very poorly with the last note of embryonic and the drums come in soon after that. The verse is highly standard but the chorus is pretty catchy, with some neat guitar work to back the vocals. Here and there in the verse Piotr will throw in a guitar solo that isn’t too bad but not great. This is a more uptempo song with less distortion than Parasomnia and Rainbow Box so it isn’t too annoying. The electronic effects from the keyboards in this song are very well done. Before the last chorus, a solo begins, fading in rather nicely to the next chorus. After some more riffage, similar to Beyond the Eyelids, the track begins to mellow out after a keyboard and guitar duet. Then they combine to play the same thing which is cool. The song finishes well with Mariusz coming in one last time for one last line. A good uptempo song which is rare on this CD. 4/5
9. Ultimate Trip 13:12- Starts quite cool with just drums and the bass and guitar come in soon after with a soaring piano atmosphere. They tease us for 40 seconds and then they come in with one of their catchiest riffs yet. The guitar plays this a few times and then the bass comes in to do a weird variation that is slightly different which makes a great effect. Then the vocals enter but don’t kill the groove. After the chorus and one sweet spacey effect, the cool riff continues and the keyboard adds some cool riffage over the next verse. But like anything great, it can’t last, so they soon transition out of that segment with a few light hearted power chords and one motif later a cool keyboard solo begins. It lasts for like 45 seconds and then the song quiets down a bit but it is really rather boring and unemotional. I yawn like every time I hear this part. The vocals continue, now in a different verse. Mariusz plays his bass with the vocals in the next part and it is kind of dumb. After some more falsely epic vocal/distortion part, a neat solo comes in, backed by cool atmosphere but it is taken away quickly again.
Quiet guitar commences and the newly whispered vocals go back and forth for awhile as the music dies out but power chords recommence. Once again the distortion is very bland. Maybe if you listen to this stuff louder than usual it would be bearable but you shouldn’t have to do that to notice good distortion. I won’t really give the end of the story away but the lyrics do leave a bit to be desired. The main problem with this song is the transitions are way too long and boring whereas the transitions in the SLS title track were rather quick and they had strong melodies. The trilogy ends very poorly with a crescendo that is really rather dull, adding first a slight distortion and then electronic effects then vocal layers. It takes way too long to work to a boring climax but the fade out is rather cool and the very ending will make you grin. So overall this long song does not compete with The Same River, The Curtain Falls, SLS or Dance With The Shadow. The transitions are slow, the riffs are bad and vocals are rather sub par. The only good part is the first four minutes or so. A very poor ending to the trilogy as I was expecting much more of an epic. 3.25/5
The special edition contains a bonus disc with these songs as well as some other features such as a video clip for 02 Panic Room.
1. Behind the Eyelids 6:18
2. Lucid Dream IV 4:32
3. 02 Panic Room Remix 3:23
4. Back to the River 6:28
5. Rapid Eye Movement 12:39
The two new songs that weren’t on the 02 Panic Room single (as well as Back To The River) show a side of Riverside that I know and love, a side that is pretty much absent from the main album.
Behind the Eyelids 6:18- This is a very slow and atmospheric alternative to Beyond the Eyelids with quite a bit of synth backgrounds and keyboard use. The guitar work and bass work here is quite catchy and Mariusz even does a little slappin. Had they made new verses and lyrics then they could have a great song on their hands but it is a little to slow to accompany Beyond the Eyelids’ vocals. The fadeout/ ending jam is awesome here because the keyboard effect that Michal is using is highly awesome, sounding quite abit like Division Bell Era Pink Floyd. There are quite a few more catchy things in this song than Beyond the Eyelids so about 60% of the time I would choose to listen to this over that version. 4/5
Rapid Eye Movement 12:39- This should have definitely been on the main CD. This is a fantastic ambient and vocal-less piece that is simply awesome. This song does everything an ambient piece is suppose to do but in the Riverside style. It starts with awesome atmosphere and electronic noises from the keyboards. It took me awhile to figure out the low electronic noises were bass string scrapes which are simply awesome especially with the effect that Mariusz is using. During the quieter parts, Piotr does guitar swells mostly and it sounds quite a bit like MGR’s (Michael Gallagher of Isis’s solo project) Nova Lux. Once the actual bass comes in slowly with a tight effect it starts to sound more and more like something early Porcupine Tree but with the Riverside twist. At first I thought most of the random noises were electronic but they are really vocals, with a lot of hisses and almost beat boxing. At about 4.5 minutes the bass drum comes in and the atmosphere is not really atmospheric any more, a bit more like a verse of a regular Riverside song but with psychedelic vocal and bass effects. The atmospheric synth is ever present as are the vocal effects.
After a couple minutes of loud ambience it quiets down quite a bit and only vocal effects and guitar swells remain. The wind ambience becomes more noticeable and this goes on for like a minute before a quiet guitar riff comes in followed by one of the catchiest bass riffs I have ever heard. Mariusz’s tone is perfect for this piece, with a light effect that still fits the ambience. It then becomes a bit techno-y for a while as the synth swells and the bass plays a tight syncopated line. Another guitar melody comes in over the swells and riff and it really adds to the feel of the piece. An awesome piano lick then plays and variates over the next minute while the bass pulses on. After the climax of the ambience the keyboard plays a cool spacey motif and fades out along with the guitar riff and bass. Overall, one of the best ambient pieces I’ve ever heard and it should have definitely been on the CD. They could have taken out Rainbow Box and thrown this in as track two or three, with slight edits. 5/5
So the main problems with this album are:
1. a really boring and unconvincing distortion sound
2. Too many distorted parts provide for a mostly undynamic experience
3. Vocals are not really catchy enough
4. keyboard solos and motifs are rather bland and have that ‘falsely epic’ sound mostly
So basically this is a step back for Riverside in my opinion and definitely not the best of the trilogy. The overall album experience is less dynamic and more samey than the other three releases. On the bright side, Embryonic might be their new best song and the bonus disc has some really cool stuff on it. Hopefully the fourth full length will be a big departure for Riverside like Mariusz has said.
Final Rating: 3.5
Definitely get the Special Edition with the bonus disc, especially if you don’t have the 02 Panic Room Single, available here: