Riverside are one of the most exciting dynamic prog artists to come out over recent years. On this latest release 'Shrine of New Generation Slaves' (abbreviated as SONGS! Don't you love it?) Mariusz Duda is as masterful as ever on crystal clear vocals, and pulsating bass. He is joined by the incredible guitars of Piotr Grudzinski, the keyboard finesse of Michal Lapaj, and the piledriver drums of Piotr Kozieradzki. When I first listened to this album I was not really worried about whether the band would sound like previous albums as I have found that their albums differ greatly from one another over the years, and they are still able to maintain interest simply due to the virtuoso musicianship and innovative compositions. So I ventured into this without any prior knowledge of what to expect, conceptually or otherwise, and had not looked at a single review, and forgot the clip available of 'Celebrity Touch'. This was a good move because the album absolutely transfixed me from beginning to end, without prior expectation. It is an incredible album, and one of the best so far in the early stages of 2013; one of the top ten masterpieces of 2013. I am delighted that this is the case as I have really grown to love this band over the years and they never disappoint which is a rare thing these days.
'New Generation Slave' (4:18) opens with distorted vocals and a powerful prog riff crashing through. It builds to a fast fractured rhythm reminding me of Soundgarden's 'Spoon Man', or indeed the riff on 'The Same River' from Riverside's 'Out of Myself' debut. The heaviness is densely layered with Lapaj's shimmering Hammond. There is a fiery guitar and bass tempo and it is all refined by the glaze of Duda's pristine vocals; a towering start to the album and an absolute sure fire killer intro to the band for those who had not heard previous songs. The lyrics focus on the hate of the new generation, the lost hopes and broken dreams that pervade this dark world; 'Into this world I came, Filled with fear, Crying all the time, I guess my birth, Left a great scar on my heart and mind, Now I hand-pick cotton, And struggle to sing "I am happy and I do what I like", But my voice breaks and I start to hate my singing and simply everyone.'
'The Depth Of Self ' Delusion' (7:40) has the acoustic vibrations of Grudzinski's guitar, and Duda's melancholy vocals are executed with passion. The lead break and driving tempo is built gradually over an uplifting melody. It is bookended with more finger picking acoustics capping off a beautiful song with a compelling structure. The lyrics by Duda are all about feeling like a wall is being built up, similar to Pink Floyd's hypothesis, and it really touches a chord with me; 'I could be foreign forevermore to your neverland, One little brick then another and I will build that wall anyway, You can find me there rested and calm without mask, This is where I will stay.'
'Celebrity Touch' (6:48) opens with killer driller riffs that have an intricate time sig. Duda's vocals are crystal clear and work well with the electrifying keyboard and guitar driven punctuation. It is a heavy song with some magnificent syncopated rhythms. There are some higher vocals in the background too that augment the tranquil atmospheres generated in the quieter verses. It has an infectious melody in the chorus and moves along at an energetic pace. This is a very nice composition with layers of musicianship of the highest quality. It really grew on me with that bassline and crunching guitar riff. I love Duda's lyrics on the dangers and hypocrisy of celebrity status, the lies and fabrication of maintaining a false fa'ade that will please the masses but in in the end is an empty existence; 'In the center of attention, TV, Glossy magazines, My private life is public, I sell everything, Days are getting shorter, They'll forget about me soon, So I jump on the bandwagon, With no taboos.' This sentiment could represent any celebrity who is trapped by public attention, something that is craved but when it is gained the celebrity abhors being the subject of hysteria as their life becomes a tomb, their home a prison, it is a sobering thought. It is little wonder celebrities become cynical and crazy, jumping on a bandwagon with no taboos, as sometimes they are given little choice as products of consumer hell.
'We Got Used To Us' (4:12) is a song that has a measured tempo and some effective lead guitar motifs over layered harmonised vocals. The timbre of Duda's voice is always a drawcard for me, he is able to create the most powerful sensuous moods as he pours out the reflective lyrics. Once again Grudzinski's lead guitar break is present but this one is more subtle with Lapaj's moody piano augmentations. This sombre song sent chills through me, it is simple compared to other tracks on the album but it has such a haunting melody and some very potent lyrics that strike to the heart; 'I know we got used to new life, And I don't want to be there, No, I don't want to be there, Where we are, Silence fallen between, All the doors are locked, All the words unsaid, And we're still afraid of time, Started to keep ourselves, At a distance that we could control, Not too close, Not too far.' The protagonist is trying to come to terms wth the loss of his loved one, perhaps a good break up song as it captures the turmoil of emotions felt, the emptiness that drives nails into the heart, love being replaced by bitterness and the cold feeling that it is over. It ends with the pleading phrase echoing, 'so walk away with me'.
'Feel Like Falling' (5:19) is a real surprise eclectic package beginning with 80s retro synths buzzing, reminding me of the rhythm of 'Candy Man' by Suzi Quatro, one of my favourites. It is enhanced by 1968 style Hammond pads from Lapaj. The rhythm is quirky and similar to the style of Muse and high register vocals again backing to add a further dimension of harmony. A heavy guitar riff comes in with a half time feel, and some glorious effervescent Hammond quavers. It closes with an instrumental break with Grudzinski's muscular guitars in an odd time sig and some wah-wah pedal lead embellishments. This is one of the highlight tracks undoubtedly. The time sig is complex at times and I wished it would have gone on longer as it is one of Riverside's best compositions. The lyrics focus on the protagonist bouncing back after the loss felt from the broken relationships, expressed in metaphors; 'Could have been a tree of dawn, Rooted deeply in the ground, Bearing fruits, Far away from falling into blank space.' The blank space is that nothing box that has been opened when one's world has turned to despair and life is like a blank slate with nothing written on it. It is like starting over from scratch now that his lover has moved on, and he tries to forget but the memories are still too raw. Thatis why he feels like falling over the precipice, to rid himself of the burning pain. But these emotions will soon subside as long as he hangs on to what he has.
'Deprived' (Irretrievably Lost Imagination) (8:27) follows with Riverside in a more contemplative mood with reverberating guitars, violin strings and an ethereal atmosphere. Kozieradzki's drums maintain a strong tempo and Duda's vocals are more estranged and laid back. This has a lovely saxophone sound, or clarinet jazz break out, and it cascades over the music with astonishing power. There are a number of tempo changes The lyrics are the dreams of the protagonist that have become fractured over time in a life that has become deprived of so many things; 'I live surrounded by cherished memories, I have a weakness for collecting them, Alphabetize, As far as I recall my childish rituals, Icons of that world always filled my shelves and heart.' I love the section where the sadness and loneliness is conveyed by poetic beauty; 'In a world of synonyms and handwritten notes, My own puppet performances, Endless bedtime stories, I could touch the moon and switch off the sun, I could have my dreams and dream about better times.' Perhaps this is the ray of hope now, the next phase of his life is beckoning and he is moving out of a depressed state to embracing what may come in the future.
'Escalator Shrine' (12:41) is the longest song so I was hoping for layers of intricate musicianship and the band to launch full tilt into the heavier prog rock I loved so much on 'Anno Domine High Definition' and some of the songs on earlier releases. It surpassed my expectations and is perhaps the definitive track to check out if you are still wondering what all the fuss is about. This song absolutely blew me away. It begins with subtle quiet vocals and soft Spanish guitars over an ominous drone. The guitar takes on a complex signature and keyboard chimes sounding like The Doors' 'Riders on the Storm'; was Ray Manzarek in the studio? I loved this soundscape generated and the unusual signature works so well with the very innovative lyrics about feeling isolated in a crowded city, moving aimlessly along with the human traffic, as people move to places of mass consumption and buy things they don't need, and the protagonist feels more empty as nothing is real or still, and he is bitter and more convinced that everyone around him is putting on a fa'ade to hide their true feelings, that they too are as lost as him but are too self obsessed with the trivialities of life to admit it; even wrapping themselves in the cocoon of syber technology, laptops, mobiles and ipods, as they converse with faceless entities to compensate for friends, and pretend thay are not alone, 'We are stairway drifters, Made of cyber paper, Google boys and wiki girls, Children of the self care, We come to pray every single training day, Looking for a chance to survive, Buying reduced price illusions, Floating into another light, Melting into another lonely crowd.' Then it builds with a grinding Hammond harking back to the 70s era, and a hammering tempo blasts in like a tempest. The Hammond is given a workout and is an absolutely stellar performance from Lapaj. Guitars jump in and out of the keyboard freakout, a tantalising skin crawler, one of the best keyboard passages on the album. The pace locks into a crawl with beautiful guitar reverbs and Duda's echoing vocals. The time sig changes into the slow measured cadence similar to Pink Floyd's spacey atmospheres. The lyrics breathe out vehemence against the throwaway society we have become, and exude that our years are wasted trying to chase unattainable dreams as we drift from day to day; 'Dragging our feet, Tired and deceived, Slowly moving on, Bracing shaky legs, Against all those wasted years, We roll the boulders of sins up a hill of new days.' This builds into some powerful riffs with Grudzinski's heavy guitar emblazoned with stirring dramatic keyboard creating a wall of sound. At the end of this I was convinced I had heard a masterpiece track of immeasurable quality; simply a stunning achievement from Riverside.
'Coda' (1:39) is the brief closing track, that glistens with sparkling acoustics and Duda's vocals with the same melody as the opening. He concludes with the sentiment that he has come to the point where he no longer wants to fall into blank space; a ray of hope at last; 'Want to be your light, Illuminate your smiles, Want to be your cure, Bridge between self and us, Want to be your prayer, Wipe the tears from your eyes, When the night returns I won't collapse, I am set to rise.' It feels like the end of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' with the brief coda that wraps up the album.
SONGS is an amazing album full of dark and light shadows, and poetic beauty. It has some of their greatest songs, namely the chilling 'New Generation Slave', 'Feel Like Falling' and 'Escalator Shrine'. Those three songs alone are awesome, but the album also has the more subtle quiet moods that will appeal to the now generation. The one thing that really impressed me is that the album is progressicve in every sense of the word with intricate time sigs, shifting tempos, comtemplative lyrics, dynamic musicianship and innovative layers of sound. There are many bands coming out that sound like they belong on the radio and they are only interested in cash cow singles. Riverside stay true to the prog roots that progheads adore and they do it in style with inventive ideas and some of the most incredible melodies and riffs; though it is more symphonic than metal, with Deep Purple or Uriah Heep sounds, a bit like Opeth's 'Heritage'. The Hammond flourishes are amazing over the heavy guitar textures. The album also grows on the listener as I noticed on subsequent listens certain songs are drawn to the ear with their beautiful meloides, for instance on my third listen in a row 'The Depth of Self Delusion' soon became one of my favourite songs, it has a relaxing serene atmosphere and Duda's vocals are wonderful speaking to our spirit. 'We Got Used To Us' likewise strikes a real chord with me, the melancholy touch and overall melodies are absolutely mesmirising. There is not a bad song on the album, even after multiple listens nothing feels like filler. In fact each track is complimenting one another with a magical entrancing resonance, until we get to the magnificent finale; the crescendo of power captured in the tour de force 'Escalator Shrine' epic.
With so much quality displayed and with the layers and depth of musicianship executed here, I can only conclude by awarding this with the highest accolades. It is awe inspiring that Riverside maintains such a consistent high quality from album to album. 'Out of Myself', 'Second Life Syndrome', 'Rapid Eye Movement' and especially 'Anno Domini High Definition' are treasures of prog, and now 'Shrine of New Generation Slaves' is the pinnacle of their master class musicianship; a genuine musical epiphany. I hoped this would be an excellent album but I didn't expect it to have this much impact and resonate with me to such a degree. Strike this one down as another top notch brilliant masterpiece from one of the greatest prog modern artists on the planet.