Self-Imposed Slavery: Riverside’s ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’

Image    Riverside’s recorded output began with three albums that are collectively known as the Reality Dream Trilogy (‘Out of Myself’, ‘Second Life Syndrome’, and ‘Rapid Eye Movement’).  These are all very good albums, although I wouldn’t call any of them great albums.  However, in 2009, Riverside took a big leap forward with ‘Anno Domini High Definition’ (ADHD).  The music took a noticeably different direction from its three predecessors, and reflected well on the album’s subject matter, i.e. the frenetic pace of modern life and accompanying dissatisfaction that sometimes goes with it.  After a two-and-a-half year wait (with the EP ‘Memories in My Head’ thrown in during the meantime), Riverside has returned with ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ (SONGS).  And once again, they have taken a big – no, huge – leap forward.  Quite simply, this is Riverside’s best album to date.

Conceptually, the album relates to dissatisfaction with modern life, so much so that many people feel that they are slaves to something beyond their control.  Thematically, there are some common threads with various lyrics on SONGS predecessor, ADHD (in particular, the lyrics on the excellent ‘Driven to Destruction’).  Nevertheless, the lyrical (and thus conceptual) content extends beyond that to into areas such as stagnant relationships, the depravity of celebrity culture, surrender to nihilism, and ultimately, redemption.

Musically, the album is just fantastic.  In contrast to its predecessor, it does not feature a barrage of notes and thus gives the listener a little more space to contemplate the lyrics. That being said, I wouldn’t call it dimensionally sparse either, as there is plenty going on.  The music is probably the result of a different approach.  Bass player Mariusz Duda stated in a recent interview:

I had some problems before as I was a little bit tired of the formula that we had in the past and I didn’t want to do another album with complicated structures. I just wanted to finally focus more on the arrangements and the composition. To focus on some details, like a way for playing drums, a way of playing guitar. I really, really wanted to focus simply on songs. Simply songs, ambitious songs should be the foundation of this album. The metal parts I skip and replace them with hard rock elements.

Confident in the chops honed on previous albums, the band has taken more of a big picture approach to the music on this album – an approach that seems to have served them very well.

‘New Generation Slave’ opens up the album, featuring a heavy guitar riff interleaved with verses of Duda’s protagonist lamenting his life and dissatisfaction with it:

Ain’t nothing more to say

Your Honor

Don’t look at me like that

The truth is

I am a free man

But I can’t enjoy my life

The tempo then picks up, and keyboardist Michał Łapaj announces his presence in this piece by getting in touch with his inner Jon Lord (RIP), and repeats this a number of times throughout the album.  The opening track segues into ‘The Depth of Self Delusion’, which is less heavy and a bit slower, but no less good.  The use of acoustic guitar and atmospheric keyboards make their first appearance.  I don’t recall this much use of acoustic guitar on any previous Riverside release, and it’s great to hear them expand their sonic palette in this manner.  The song includes some interesting bass work in the latter half and closes with light acoustic guitar.  The band then blasts into ‘Celebrity Touch’ as Duda offers his critique of our Kardashian-ized culture and the pathological need some have for attention and approval from others:

I can’t afford to be silent

I can’t afford to lose my stand

What matters is to be in view

I am seen therefore I am

I can satisfy my hunger

I can satisfy my thirst

What about the feeling of importance

Now I’ve got my chance

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

The song includes a nice juxtaposition between a heavy riff that accompanies the above lyrics, to a less heavy, more reflective section:

But what if we start to talk

Not only say out loud

What if we sift the babble

From what really counts

What if we disappear

Go deeply underground

What if we hide away

From being stupefied

‘We Got Used to Us’ follows, and is yet another slower track that has somewhat of a Porcupine Tree-like vibe as our protagonist ponders a stagnant and dissatisfying relationship.  This one is pretty emotional.

Next up is the punchy ‘Feel Like Falling’, a song with crossover appeal having upbeat music that belies the lyrics, as our protagonist begins to realize the path he has chosen in life has led him astray and left him wanting to simply give up:

Had allowed that life to drift

For I’ve chosen a different trail

When light fades

I feel like falling into blank space

‘Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)’ is up next with music that is slower, mellower, and decidedly more melancholy than the previous track.  The music includes a nice, Floyd-ian interlude at about the halfway mark leading into a jazz-infused instrumental section in the latter half featuring some excellent sax playing.   Our protagonists dissatisfaction seems to be so intense at this point that they have gone beyond the mere desire to give up as in ‘Feel Like Falling’ – now we have a full fledged surrender to despair:

Curled up

Deprived
Curled up

Deprived
I shut away

Please don’t call my name

‘Escalator Shrine’ begins as another slower track, but picks up the pace after a few minutes.  Once again we hear the Hammond organ with the Leslie cabinet, some excellent bass playing, and some heavy (but not necessarily metal) guitar.  Like the previous track, it includes another Floyd-ian interlude at about the halfway mark.  Lyrically, ‘Escalator Shrine’ approaches the new generation slavery from more of an intellectual level than an emotional one, as our protagonist channels Albert Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus:

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

‘Coda’ is the final track on the album, and maybe the most emotionally heavy, even though it is instrumentally the lightest – a single acoustic guitar.  Perhaps our protagonist has read some Epictetus, or maybe the serenity prayer, but it appears he has realized that his happiness and satisfaction with life is ultimately in his control and his own responsibility:

Night outside grows white

I lie faceup in my shell

Open my eyes

Don’t feel like falling into blank space

Indeed, for all of its darkness and all of its sadness, SONGS ends on an upbeat note, as our protagonist casts off his self-imposed chains:

I won’t collapse

I’m set to rise

It’s interesting to note that, although ‘Coda’ is the final track on the album, it is also numbered as Track 1, as is ‘New Generation Slave’.  Indeed, our protagonist has hit the reset button and is starting over.

I simply cannot say enough good about this album.  As thrilled as I was with ADHD, my response to SONGS is in a completely different realm.  Musically, the album has a perfect blend of heavy and light, of complex and simple, emotional and intellectual.  Nothing is overdone, nothing is incomplete.  The lyrics have a strong message, and as dark as the album’s atmosphere, it’s ultimately a message of hope for those that get it.  And if this album is an indication of what we can expect in the future from Riverside, then it’s another strong piece of anecdotal evidence that we are in the midst of a progressive rock golden age heretofore unseen.

Oh, and in case you didn’t get it, I strongly recommend this album 🙂

12 thoughts on “Self-Imposed Slavery: Riverside’s ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’

  1. Frank Urbaniak

    Excellent review. Only two listenings so far and I have the opposite reaction-I miss the ballads and dreamier stuff that reminds me of PTree, but your review motivates me to give it a deeper listen this weekend.

    Like

    1. eheter

      Thanks, Frank. Perhaps it will grow on you. Some of my favorite music didn’t wow me at first but instead took repeated listenings before I really got hooked. ‘Close to the Edge’, and a significant amount of Rush comes to mind.

      Like

    1. eheter

      Thanks, Tad, and I couldn’t agree more in regard to comment about how they have opened up their sound. And obviously, I’m going to have to check out some Lunatic Soul.

      Like

  2. Frank Urbaniak

    Finally had a chance to listen at suitable volumes Erik. Your review was spot on-great CD and I am really looking forward to their Rosfest headliner performance!

    Like

  3. Pingback: The Perfect Storm: Riverside at the O2 Academy, Islington, London on Thursday 14th March 2013 | Progarchy: A Celebration of Music

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