Review Summary: Mariusz Duda and co. find themselves in a dystopia, but they're as confident as ever.Wasteland
is quite simply an apt representation of where the band finds itself at the moment. I think at some level, an album like this was due even if Grudziński were still around- a status check, if you will on where the musicians stand currently, reflecting on their work so far, and what they’re moving towards (a la the eponymous album of a rock band). Like the artworks suggest, gone is the pastel coloured subterfuge of Love, Fear and the Time Machine
replaced by a much more forthright approach. The greys from the bleakness of this album are accented by thick blacks and the sounds have a certain sharp edge to the way they’re presented. It takes the heavyweight progressive elements from the band’s earlier work and also retains the best part of their most recent- i.e. the melody.
The album begins with The Day After
, which is a short vocal track. Duda bares his voice as he betrays parts of his paranoia (you can really tell how confident he has gotten with his vocals). It makes you feel like you’re in an empty tunnel approaching a foreign world. His voice gradually increases in reverberation before being drowned out by the sound of a single processed violin. Great way to start off the album.
is a typical well composed progressive rock track. It has two very different phases. The first one starts off with an angular riff which builds up a well defined verse before flattening out alongside the hum of a Hammond organ for the smooth chorus. The second phase is a much looser Floydian exploration through layers of stretched out guitar, speech samples, the light gallop of piccolo bass and drums and the softened notes of an e-piano. We also get Duda’s vocals in an arena rock like chant, which will likely be very conducive to a great concert moment. This is a track that captures the feeling of finding oneself in a strange (and undesirable) new world.
Increasing the aggression is the following track, Vale of Tears
which is all manners of heavy. The band channels its inner Nine Inch Nails here by alternating a darker riff with angrier vocals singing about perfidy, but find a melody in the chorus. The later part of this track has a mosh pit provoking guitar breakdown, very much in a thrash metal vein. We also get to hear Michał Łapaj’s organ in the chorus and a synthesizer solo towards the end of the track. The closest thing I can relate this to is a bitter dark chocolate with a lot of nuts, but also a soft center.
, in stark contrast to the previous tracks is a stripped down southern rock ballad. The first time I heard this track, I thought of it as a metaphorical oasis in the world space that the album is trying to paint. The second time however, I started to wonder if this juxtaposition was welcome or if it was jarring. Nonetheless, the track itself is a great composition written on acoustic guitar and piano and is a testament on how far Duda has come as a songwriter. For the vocals, he goes into Nick Cave/Johnny Cash mode and sings in a lower octave, giving the track a very intimate and personal flavour.
is the big, bold and cinematic moment of the album, featuring a massive sounding chorus driven by guitar and Piotr Kozieradski’s powerful drums. The verses however sound quite pastoral, especially once the freshness of a mandolin comes in. This creates the impression that perhaps the track is recounting the events that happened elsewhere in a more idyllic place. The bridge has glockenspiel and a string arrangement that sounds like the music used in the dramatized flashback parts of Hollywood movies. The track ends with a saturnine ambient section that pulls us right back into the wasteland.
The Struggle For Survival
is a 9 minute instrumental track that I felt, has a great intro and a great outro but the body of which is a little overcooked. By this I mean the track wants to take wild turns through the abandon of two (very modest) guitar solos by guest musicians Mateusz Owczarek and Maciej Meller and a synth solo by Łapaj, but is ultimately dampened by the strange stiffness of the drumming. It’s a shame because the track never gets to take off, it simply stagnates on a line till the end. It’s clear that the band wrote the parts for themselves and not around the void of Grudziński. This doesn’t necessarily have an effect on the composition, but the lack of chemistry from what was supposed to be a quartet is sadly evident in a track like this.
River Down Below
is a perfectly crafted rock ballad. It is the track that not only the album, but also that the band needs- a monogram, a concise representation of their music and their past. It has a melancholic melody in the chorus, the unmistakable sense of atmosphere (at one point, you can hear gulls on top of a soft feedback noise) and also the meatiness of a guitar solo at the end, submerged by a sea of distortion. It reminds me heavily of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Lazarus’. And much like that song, River Down Below has the potential to become not only a fan favourite but also the entry point for many people into the music of Riverside.
The title track, Wasteland
is a shape-shifter presented as a pseudo-jam. In one moment, you have an Anathema-esque acoustic guitar arpeggio and suddenly in the next, there is a heavy metal guitar riff taking the fore. Right when you think that it has settled on a structure, it breaks free again. It has a lively sense of improvisation to it- the guitar might introduce a new riff at a whim and the drums and organ will follow it naturally. It reminds me of the jagged musicality of Lunatic Soul’s Fractured
, albeit with much fewer instruments. There is no drama here- this track is very capricious to the point where I didn’t even realize that it had ended. And although it is full of dynamics, it’s never disorienting.
The Night Before
provides an interesting bookend with the opening track. Perhaps, we were always in the wasteland? Anyhow, this is the other track in which Duda goes into Johnny Cash mode, but it didn’t bother me as much as Guardian Angel did as we’re now at the end of the album. The track is a singer-songwriter style composition based solely on the piano and is almost an instant classic. It’s like the music that plays at the end of a movie where the protagonist comes to terms with all the problems in his life. Great way to close off the album.
, the guys in Riverside are not trying to explore the psyche of a fictional character like they did in the Reality Dream
trilogy or provide a reflection of society like in ADHD
and Shrine of New Generation Slaves
. Instead, they have painted a reflection of themselves in a nondescript dystopia. It is very much post-Grudzień both musically and mentally, but it is not an exhaustive eulogy for him. It is a solid and proper Riverside album. Production wise, the choice of instruments and sounds is austere. The staples of piano, overdriven guitar, piccolo bass, 80s style drums and Hammond organ really pack a punch in their respective arrangements- we have both the grizzled progressive rock/metal stuff as well as the tender ballads. But this very contrast felt uncanny and conspicuous in some spots. Also while there is an appreciable weight to musical space and texture, the album does lack the characteristic aftertaste of a Riverside outing. However, it might just be their most accessible- especially with tracks such as River Down Below, Vale of Tears and Guardian Angel that are forthright and have a confident honesty to their style and substance. Wasteland
is in the end a great addition to the Polish band’s increasingly robust catalog and one that Piotr would definitely be proud of.