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.