Review Summary: Powerful and aggressive, but not without retaining signature Riverside elements. The true definition of great songwriting. Listen up all of you Prog Metal bands out there, this is how its done.
Riverside have continuously grown in popularity since their debut was released back in 2003, and with good reason. Although it’s difficult for a band to create their own “unique” sound in this modern world with so many bands already blending various genres and styles to conjure up their own cocktails, Riverside certainly have distinct elements, which if are not unique to them, they at least excel in. Fans will already be aware of the gorgeous atmospheric keyboards, the powerful and inventive bass lines, the tasteful lead guitar work, and Mariusz’s distinct vocals.
They’ve been a very consistent band releasing 3 very good albums every other year up until their 4th release, namely Anno Domini High Definition
(in other words ADHD, yes it was intentional).
My main reservation with the first 3 albums is the production, which has been pretty inconsistent, with some instruments sounding better on one album and quite average on another. Maybe it’s just my opinion, or maybe it’s because I was comparing it to Porcupine Tree (probably unfair on my part), but the production needed a little more spark and clarity. To be fair it wasn't too bad on Rapid Eye Movement. But the main culprit were the drums which were usually; far too low in the mix, too muddy and dull, and lacked that extra kick to match the other instruments. The remaining instruments were done justice more or less.
This album marks a change of direction for the band. With the culmination of the Reality Dream
trilogy Mariusz had hinted that the album was going to be heavier and uptempo in several interviews. Normally when I hear modern bands deciding to opt for a heavier direction my normal concerns include the band sacrificing good melodies and instrumentation for heavy riffs, with the abrasive guitars overshadowing other instruments in the mix. So how does Riverside’s latest LP fare? Let’s find out.
• Mariusz Duda
– vocals, bass, acoustic guitar
• Piotr Grudziński
• Michał Łapaj
– keyboards, theremin
• Piotr Kozieradzki
First off its length is a mere 44:44. For a modern prog album that’s practically EP material. The reason? To achieve a more cohesive result. I admire the incentive.
1. Hyperactive (5:45):
The album opener starts with a nice simple piano melody which has a bit of a dark feel to it. The acoustic guitar and electric guitars come in playing the harmonies, hey this isn’t so heav…… Oh. Distorted drums and guitars fade in and we’re off. There's a good tempo maintained throughout and the guitar is pretty heavy. Very smooth transitions, great riffs, dynamic bass lines, incredible keyboard work, and really great “funky” elements (in a metal context). This song took me a while to appreciate, but when I did, there was no turning back. Unbelievably enjoyable track! 5/5
2. Driven to Destruction (7:06):
We’re treated to Mariusz’ gorgeous bass guitar tone with the perfect delay to begin the second track. The song effortlessly progresses through different moods with some very creative bass playing and drumming. The heavier guitar riffs are beautifully accompanied by Michals’ synthesizer and organ to give a polished overall sound (see metal guitarists? The keyboards CAN sound good and powerful with the heavy guitars, just something to take into consideration!). A good dynamic song. 4.25/5
3. Egoist Hedonist (8:57):
The songs get longer as we advance (how progressive is that?!). This track is divided into 3 terrific parts with good transitions. The song wastes no time and starts with the first verse backed by spacey keys and great bass work after which we’re treated to one of the heaviest riffs of the album, wow. There's some fantastic drumming on this track, a great guitar solo, a refreshing horn section that’s so simple that it was probably taken from the book “The basic guide to brass instruments”, and one of best instrumental sections composed by this band. This will be great live. 4.5/5
4. Left Out (10:59):
Time to slow things down a bit, and we get into the double digits. To be honest I was anxious as I’ve found that Riversides’ longer compositions aren’t as prolific as their shorter ones. They have interesting melodies but they can get tiring and feel disjointed. However I was pleasantly surprised with this track from beginning to end. The quality provided here is of herculean proportions. Terrific performances all round and progressions which are as sweet as Baskin Robbins’ mint chocolate chip ice cream, with the instrumental bridges ingeniously leading to the verses. Great guitar riffing, powerful bass tones, incredible keyboard work, and the most soothing part of this album are all present in this almost flawless progressive masterpiece. 4.9/5
5. Hybrid Times (11:53):
The final and longest track of the album (has it only been 33 minutes?), definitely one of the strongest Riverside tunes . Michal starts proceedings with the main theme on the piano, and it’s a great melody that returns in various interesting arrangements (which is how it should be done in prog). This track is carried by Mariusz and Michal, with great contributions from the remaining pair. It’s very heavy but classily done with shifting time signatures, great transitions, cool effects, great bass tones and riffs, powerful drumming, and one of the best choruses Riverside have ever conjured up. The final 3 minutes mostly consist of Michal treading further into electronic territory (which I had my reservations with initially, but which I have come to love now). Another epic progressive metal masterpiece. 5.5/5
What a journey it’s been, sure it’s only 44 odd minutes but it feels more complete than most 70 minute albums. The desire to compose a more cohesive album could not have had a better outcome. My only complaint is with the mix. The drums are ridiculously low (why can't they just get the drums right?!), and the keyboards are too high at certain times which can lead to the feeling of a lack of cohesion. It's annoying but forgivable in this case. At least the band improved their production, all the instruments sound great.
I’m going to be biased and say that I enjoyed Michals’ contributions the most (I’m a huge fan), and secondly I have to mention the incredible drumming by Mr. Piotr K. But this album really felt like a band effort with everyone contributing immensely. Riverside I have officially been converted.
Guitars and Keyboards
• Driven to Destruction:
"Cookie monster" keyboard tone
• Egoist Hedonist:
Horn section, final instrumental section
• Hybrid Times
: Electronica elements
• Hammond Organ:
Consistently gorgeous use of tones throughout