Review – Riverside – Wasteland – by Progradar

“The darkness of the ultimate light is better than the lights of the ultimate darkness.”
― Mohsin Ali Shaukat

One cannot truly appreciate the light unless one has first walked in the dark. We talk of the light at the end of the tunnel, you see this through the dark and it is the ultimate goal, you must, however, travel through the dark to reach the light.

The tragedy that befell in February 2016 called into question the very existence of Riverside. The co-founder and guitarist of the band, Piotr Grudziński, died suddenly just before his 41st birthday. The band cancelled all the concerts planned for that year and dedicated the album “Eye of the Soundscape”, released in September 2016, to their late friend.

To begin a new chapter of Riverside, they would have to record an album from the point of view of someone bereft, someone who has survived a tragedy. The fact that the album would be recorded without their guitarist might result in having to experiment musically a little more than usual but, most of all, it might translate into deeper symbolism and carry a more profound meaning. “I had a feeling we would be alright and we could make something beautiful and exceptional,” recalls vocalist and main composer Mariusz Duda.

In the spring of 2017, Riverside resumed playing live. During the “Towards the Blue Horizon” tour the band were joined on stage by Maciej Meller who officially joined RIVERSIDE as their live guitarist. Why has he not become the official fourth member of the band? “It’s not so simple,” Duda explains, “To catch up with 15 years takes time. I love Maciej but everything has to have its place and time. For now we are a quartet only live.”

So that band is coming back this year with their seventh studio album called “Wasteland”, recorded as a trio: Mariusz Duda – vocals, guitars and basses, Piotr Kozieradzki – drums and Michał Łapaj – keyboards and Hammond organ.

The band entered the recording studio in December 2017 and Duda assumed the duties of the band’s guitarist. “We recorded a demo. It turned out alright and we had come to the conclusion that I would manage to play all the rhythmic parts, all the melodies and some of the solos. Naturally, to enhance the sound of the album, we left some space for guests.”

And so on the new album, you can hear a few guitar solos by Maciej Meller, as well as one by Mateusz Owczarek, a young, talented guitarist, who played with the band during their Warsaw memorial concert for Piotr. For the first time in their music, there are also violins played by Michał Jelonek.

Touted by the band as the spiritual successor to ‘Second Life Syndrome’, the new album is a much heavier and emotive proposition than fan favourite ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’. From the opening strains of Duda’s a-cappella vocals on The Day After and the segue into the sparse, industrial riff of Acid Rain, this is immediately apparent. An underlying feel of apprehension and darkness takes over the first few tracks on the album, for an album whose theme is attempting to survive in a world after the Apocalypse this is, perhaps, quite understandable.

This opening may surprise long term fans but it is superbly well crafted and delivered music that seeks to find a way through an increasingly turbulent world full of new divisions and conflicts. The closing couple of minutes of Acid Rain seem to bring a feeling of light and hope but that is immediately dashed by the granite heavy, staccato riff that delivers Vale of Tears onto an unsuspecting world. A powerful and imposing track that is delivered in one serious and heavy manner. So far ‘Wasteland’ and its predecessor are proving to be polar opposites.

The symbolism of the album refers not only to the post-apocalyptic visions of the world, but also to the death of Piotr Grudziński, to the band’s attempt to find themselves in new circumstances. The wistfully heartbreaking Guardian Angel with its understated vocals and delicate piano and guitar is calmness personified among the dark, post-apocalyptic feel of the earlier tracks. There’s a melancholy feel and a longing at its heart that brings a lump to your throat, a sepia tinged look back in time perhaps?

The elegant acoustic guitar that opens Lament gives no indication of what is to follow, Duda’s keening vocal heralds the entrance of the heaviest riff on the album so far, one that Mikael Åkerfeldt would have been proud of. A song that will inevitably draw comparisons with Opeth (well, I’ve done it!!) with its spacious and melodious verse and thunderous chorus. It’s the song on the album that really hits home with me, emotionally and musically, and Mariusz Duda’s solo just bleeds passion.

There’s a slight change in feel on the album as we head into the ying and yang of the 9 minute-plus instrumental The Struggle For Survival, a feel of the fight to pull away from the hold of the darkness and fight to get to the light. An invigorating first half where Duda’s bass line orchestrates proceedings with a deftness of touch is replaced by the more frantic and chaotic guitar and keyboard heavy second part where Łapaj comes to the fore. The graceful River Down Below sees the seeker getting closer to the light but there’s still a slightly forlorn edge to the music and a fragility to the vocal, a touching and truly moving song that wears its heart on its sleeve.

Title track Wasteland has a world-weary aura, a feel of an ending to a journey of extreme hardship but also one of hard fought knowledge collected along the way. The song drifts along with a lightness of being that can only come from the triumph over adversity. There’s a break into a frenzied instrumental section that fights to overcome the calm before sanity finally regains control. This gives an epic and cinematic feel to the song, an allegory of the fight between darkness and light which has been at the crux of the whole album. For me, the best is saved till last, the wonderful The Night Before where the sparsity of just piano and vocals gives humanity and reality to the song. It’s sublime, almost intangible grace seeps into your very soul until the song finishes and all is left is the vacuum of total silence.

Simply put ‘Wasteland’ is two things, a triumph of the light over the dark and a fitting tribute to Piotr. A compelling and engrossing musical journey through darkness, grief and loss to emerge into the light. A spiritual catharsis that sees a new chapter in the life of Riverside and puts them back at the forefront where they truly belong.

Released 28th September 2018

Order the album from Burning Shed here

 

Review – Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape – by Kevin Thompson

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This was meant originally as a preview, but time and tide, as they say… By now many of you may already have this and be making your own minds up. So here is my review…..

Tragedy when it hits is never expected and the devastation, after initial shock, rushes out like waves and ripples flooding over all it touches. Seeping like damp into everyone’s hearts it leaves you cold and numb. Many bands have faced upsets in their lives, some have survived others not. Many losses are through age and/or self abuse taking it’s toll, but when you lose someone before their expected time, it hits hard. Over the last few years Riverside have become one of my favourite bands and watching them ‘live’ last year we got the feeling they were on the verge of breaking through to the next level and greater things.

But fate is a cruel mistress and I was surprised the sudden passing in February of guitarist Piotr Grudziński affected me so emotionally. Then going online to find the outpouring of sympathy from other fans and the support for the other band members, families and friends was overwhelming. Bassist/vocalist, Mariusz Duda then lost his Father in May and further personal issues have dogged him since. He, along with drummer Piotr Kozieradzki and keyboardist Michał Łapaj, could be forgiven for wanting to take some time away, but it is to their credit and the measure of the men that they have decided to continue as a trio and have started to make future plans as well as continuing solo projects in the wings.

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The band have already issued “Love, Fear and the Time Machine” in 5.1 and last Friday (21st October) they released the double disc instrumental “Eye Of The Soundscape”, a fitting homage to their  friend Piotr.

To misquote from Star Wars, ‘this may not be the Riverside you are looking for’. It is a collection of  ideas the band have composed and accumulated over a number of years, some of which have already appeared as bonus tracks with other albums. There are traces of the Riverside we know and love and the beautiful strains of Piotr’s guitar haunts the melodies, but this extensive work  has more in common with the likes of Tangerine Dream mixed with hints of Kraftwerk and Pink Floyd.

You may be accustomed to my reviewing album tracks on an individual basis, but in this case I feel the album works better if listened to as a whole. It will not be for everyone and with the best will in the world, you will find the direction and length of this formidable album (though the tracks on the second disc are generally shorter) tests you and it may be that only the hardcore Riverside fan will persevere and last the distance.

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The ambient mood and atmosphere of this album floats you down a dark river of keyboards and effects, the bass and drums causing the eddy and flow, with the guitar propelling “Eye Of The Soundscape” along a dreamy and immersive journey, some of which will engage you whilst other tracks will wash over you like liquid velvet. Jazz infused saxophone passages echo in the night-lit jungle as you drift along, the large bright moon of sound casting fleeting shadows of effects through the dense foliage of music.

 Piotr’s fluid (at times Gilmoresque) fretwork is quite sublime if understated in places, on what some may see as an album of pleasant enough background music, soporific or even uninteresting. Before the devout following tear me to pieces, I hasten to point out I do not fall into those categories as I am also a fan of Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd and own many of their recordings in my collection along with other ambient classics and instrumentals.

 Some may only listen to “Eye Of The Soundscape” once and place the album on a shelf, leaving it to collect dust or brushing it off occasionally to attempt further understanding and convince themselves they do like it; you don’t have to. It will split opinion with it’s diversification but I feel  it stands as a fitting tribute from the band and on behalf of everyone Piotr’s presence touched, to a sadly missed and greatly loved friend.

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There have been better Riverside albums musically, but none more emotionally charged from a band who truly have remained as positive as possible in the face of adversity. Never losing touch with their fans, sharing visions and hopes and updating everyone with every tentative step along this personal journey, they humble us. The quality of the instrumentation from the band is also first class.

I would recommend you listen before buying to ensure it is for you and those with a taste for the more chilled side of music give it a try, even if Riverside’s previous output has not been to your taste. There is light through this dark tunnel which will see this band emerge to you either as a bright new butterfly or a dull coloured moth, I know which I will follow as it flutters over the musical landscape.

On this occasion it seems only fitting to leave the last words in this review to the band as a parting farewell to Piotr:

“This is our last journey together so we dedicate this album to you, Brother. In our hearts you will stay forever.”

Released 21st October 2016

Buy ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’ from InsideOut Music

Riverside Live at Islington Assembly Hall – 20th October 2015 – by Aidan Campbell

Providing the first live guest review is Aidan Campbell. Not a bad gig either, Riverside live at the Islington Assembly Hall…..

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This will be the third time I have seen the Polish prog-rock band live and, for some reason, this will be the third time they are in playing in a venue in the North London borough of Islington.  I saw them in 2013 and 2014 at the Academy but this time they are at the Assembly Hall, a venue just up the road and about 10 minute walk from Angel tube station.

The band come on stage around 9pm and launch straight into Lost, the opening song from their new album ‘Love, Fear and The Time Machine’.

Consisting of vocalist and bassist Mariusz Duda, keyboardist Michal Lapaj and founder members Piotr Grudziński on guitar and Piotr Kozieradzki on drums, the quartet are on fine form tonight. The undoubted star of the show, however is Michal, using a Korg Kronos for piano, he creates some wonderful, delicate passages on We Got Used to Us and some mighty Hammond organ on songs such as Hyperactive and The Depth of Self-Delusion.

It is when he gets onto the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 that the real magic happens.  The pulsating arpeggios adding a futuristic element to the Riverside sound, a song like the superb 9 minute Egoist Hedonist would sound totally different without Michal doing what he does with that synth.

Song wise the highlight for me, probably, is Escalator Shrine. Divided into 3 parts with a mid-tempo first section, a fast heavy second section, with some excellent Hammond organ playing from Michal (he is a fan of the late Jon Lord), and a slow mellow third section.  As the 13 minute track finishes the crowd of 500 give it the biggest cheer of the evening.

Riverside only played 3 songs from the new album but that is not too much of an issue when you have so many great songs in their back catalogue and only 2 hours to play them!

The band end their set with Found, the closing song from the new album and a sister song to Lost, which, together, bookend a very fine album and one of my favourites of the year.  They finished at 10:50pm after playing for just short of 2 hours, everyone going home happy after a great show. I even managed to make it back to King’s Cross in time for the 11:30 train back to Peterborough!

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