Over the last few weeks I’ve found it hard to find the motivation to dig into the growing pile of CDs I’ve received for review. Not that there’s anything wrong with those albums. They’re actually all quite good. It’s just that I keep finding myself returning to Riverside’s music. There are very few bands that have produced such high-quality music on every single one of their studio releases. Whether they’re playing metal or more atmospheric prog, everything Riverside does is brilliant.
Seeing them live on their Wasteland tour helped open my eyes to just how good they are. Everything about their performance was astounding: from the mind-blowing musicianship to the endearing way Mariusz Duda interacts with the crowd. They’re a band that should be playing in concert halls that seat thousands, yet here in the US they’re forced to play in bars with stages in the back with room for maybe 300 people. If someone un-initiated in the wonders of progressive rock asks me for new music recommendations, Riverside is one of my top recommendations.
Riverside jumped into the prog metal scene in 2004 with the extremely mature-sounding Out of Myself. This was a band with a developed sound right from the start. They didn’t have a sophomore slump either, releasing the moody and emotional Second Life Syndrome a year later. 2007’s Rapid Eye Movement completed the Reality Dream trilogy of albums, and taken together as a whole the three albums are some of the finest music in the history of progressive rock. The slow but steady build on “The Same River” to open Out of Myself showed that Riverside wasn’t afraid to take chances. Not many bands are willing to open their debut album with a 12-minute epic. Even fewer bands are able to pull it off so well with compelling melodies, storming bass, and a unique guitar tone.
The band’s 2009 album Anno Domini High Definition showcased their heavier tendencies, proving that they could go toe-to-toe with the heaviest bands in prog. Their next release, Memories in My Head (2011), foreshadowed lyrical themes they would cover at greater depth on 2018’s Wasteland, after the tragic passing of their brilliant guitarist Piotr Grudziński. Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013) has some of their best and most poignant lyrics. “The Depth of Self-Delusion” and “We Got Used to Us” frequently run through my head… ha voices in my head. Love, Fear, and the Time Machine found them at perhaps their most Floydian. Wasteland found the band retaining their identity even after the loss of Grudziński in 2016. It also found them willing to experiment. The musical tribute to Ennio Morricone and the music of the spaghetti westerns on “Wasteland” was unexpected, but it fit the theme of the album so well. As a fan of those Clint Eastwood films, I absolutely love it.
Riverside’s music absolutely nails everything for me – the heavy, the quiet, the atmospheric. But without brilliant lyrics Riverside wouldn’t be what they are. Duda is one of my favorite lyricists. There’s no nonsense with him. He’s open and honest in his lyrics, but he’s also a cutting cultural critic. Not in the same way that Andy Tillison is, though. It’s much more subtle with Duda. New Generation Slave is a precise critique of modern society without being in your face.
Look around where we are
Who we are
What we always want
Three sixty five
Sometimes little more
I was chasing your shadow
I’d become your slave
– “The Depth of Self Delusion,” Shrine of New Generation Slaves
Even though the album was written in 2013, the lyrics on “Escalator Shrine” remain just as relevant in today’s identity-obsessed crisis-driven culture:
We are escalator walkers
In the brand new temple
Came to reshape identities
Shed our skins
And feel the same
That no one here is real
We are moving standees
In the shrine of choices
Incarcerated between floors of
Hope and disappointment
We feel the same
That no one here is real
We feel the same
That nothing here is still
You aren’t satisfied with something in life? Don’t bother searching for real answers. Just change your so-called identity. That’ll fix it. But you’ll just end up feeling the same… or worse.
On a personal level I connect a lot with Duda’s lyrics. Sticking with Shrine, the track “Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)” seems to describe my far too frequent approach to life:
Now I shelter from the rain
Hole up in my cage
You don’t have to think too much today
They filled in for your brain
I shut away
Please don’t call my name
Maybe I find comfort in hearing that I’m not the only one who feels this way sometimes. There are other extremely personal lyrics in the band’s discography that I’m not going to admit to connecting with, if not now than at some point in the past in my life. So often it’s like Duda’s lyrics precisely describe my own thoughts and emotions, perhaps more than any other band. Seeing as the band’s official fan club is called “Shelter of Mine,” I’m probably not the only one who feels that connection.
While this is a bit anachronistic of me, the lyrics to “After,” off of Second Life Syndrome, pretty aptly describe the life that’s been imposed upon so many of us by our governments over the last year:
I can’t take anymore
I can’t breathe
I’m sick of this goddamn darkness,
Sick of sadness and tears I throw it all up every single day
Together with last night’s dinner
I have lost myself completely
I have convinced myself I am someone else
For God’s sake,
I need to be real
I need touch
I need… people?
I have to turn my life around…
But… I will still be myself, won’t I…?
I could spend all day going through the band’s lyrics from every album and EP and describing what they mean to me and how they’re relevant to today’s world. That’s how brilliant Riverside is. Musically and lyrically they never feel like they’re copying anyone else. They’re just doing their own thing and inviting us to join them on their journey. That realness connects with the fans, who are very dedicated. When I saw them in Chicago, people had come from all around to see them. Those of us actually from the area were probably only half the crowd. When you make music as open, honest, and profound as Riverside do, you’re going to get a dedicated fan base.
As a fan of music living in an ever-darkening world, it’s a joy to have bands like Riverside to make my days a little bit brighter and warmer. Even though many of their albums are actually rather dark lyrically, the comfort that I’m not alone is uplifting. If I were a musician, this is the kind of music I would want to make. I imagine that every band and artist (at least every band or artist who cares about their art) wants their music and lyrics to connect with people at a deep level. Rush mastered that so well. The critics always hated Rush’s music and labeled their lyrics pretentious while heaping praise on the ephemeral trash of the day. Yet 3-4 decades later Rush sold out stadiums while everyone had forgotten the ephemeral trash. Riverside have that same impact on their listeners that Rush had, and I think their lyrics are just as profound as Peart’s were.
Thank you, Riverside. Your music makes life just a bit more bearable as we wander through the Wasteland.
When the night begins to fall
You and I
In a safety zone
The former world shall not return
But we’ll survive intact
… in this sweet, oh so sweet, shelter of mine.