Riverside Remind Us Who We Are – ID.Entity – Album Review

Riverside, ID.Entity, InsideOut Music, January 20, 2023
Tracks: Friend or Foe? (7:29), Landmine Blast (4:50), Big Tech Brother (7:24), Post-Truth (5:37), The Place Where I Belong (13:16), I’m Done With you (5:52), Self-Aware (8:43)

It’s been a long four and a half years since Riverside gave us their brilliant Wasteland, an album we seem to have been living in the years since its release. In 2019 I saw the band live for the first time, and I was blown away. It may have been the best concert I’ve ever attended. I was a fan before, but after that I became a FAN. I’m even a member of their fan club, Shelter of Mine, and I rank them up with Big Big Train as one of the finest bands in the progressive rock scene.

Perhaps you’re thinking there goes all objectivity in this review, and perhaps you’re right. Or perhaps Riverside really can do no wrong. I can think of very few bands that have never put out a bad album, especially over two decades of writing and touring. And yet here we are – their eighth album, multiple EPs, a few live albums (including one only available to fan club members), and they’re still putting out winners. Whether they’re heavy, quiet and atmospheric, or somewhere in the middle, Riverside have mastered all aspects of their sound.

Upon first listen, ID.Entity struck me as being a slightly new direction. I thought I remembered the band saying a couple years ago that their next album would be heavier, which made me think it might be more like Anno Domini High Definition, arguably their heaviest album to date. ID.Entity isn’t that heavy, but it’s heavier than Wasteland, which was, to be sure, a different album for Riverside. An excellent album, but different. Their first record without Piotr Grudziński on guitar, after his tragic passing in 2016, but before Maciej Meller joined them as a full member (he toured with them from 2017-2020, joining them as a full member in 2020). This album sounds like a more traditional Riverside album, with guitars taking a more prominent role again.

The more I listen to it, the heavier it sounds. The guitar riffing towards the end of “Big Tech Brother” is brilliantly headbangable. Michał Łapaj’s keyboards come in on top of that at the end, but it doesn’t lighten the sound at all. Łapaj’s touch on Riverside’s sound may be more recognizable than any other keyboardist in progressive metal, besides Jordan Rudess, of course. Łapaj’s signature Hammond along with his other synth sounds have long set Riverside apart from more generic progressive metal crunchers. I was especially impressed when I saw them live. He brings a real tube-powered Leslie speaker (or some similar speaker) to get an authentic Hammond sound out of his modern keyboard.

As usual, Mariusz Duda demonstrates why he’s one of the best bassists in the business. His crunchy bassline to open “I’m Done With You” is extremely satisfying, and it sets the stage for some grittier vocals in the chorus. Much of the song is stripped back a little, with pretty basic drums and a relatively simple bassline, but the guitar and keyboard lines are distinctly Riverside with a very catchy melody. Taken together, the song is actually pretty heavy.

You are not my judge
You are not my God
You are not my own CEO
Why don’t you simply shut your mouth
And take your poison from my soul
Far away

I’m Done With You

Some of the vocal lines on “The Place Where I Belong” are a bit crowded in the quieter parts of the song – a lot of words condensed into a smaller musical space. But it’s a long song – their longest since “Second Life Syndrome,” in fact. And yet the song delights in the final third with this heartfelt lyrical passage:

I don’t have to be the best
Feel pressure all the time
The ‘winner takes it all’ is not my thing
Stop comparing me to someone else’s dreams
Let me stay in the place where I belong
For your bar is set to high
I’m sorry, I’m getting out of this race
Don’t want to take my part
For your bar is set to high
I’m sorry ,I’m checking out of this race
Don’t want to share my part
For your bar is set to high
I’m sorry, I’m getting out of this race
Don’t want to take my part…

The Place Where I Belong

I suppose the ironic thing here is Riverside really are the best.

Lyrically this album touches on themes of disconnection from others via social media and the associated polarization, as well as themes of big tech and government overreach. Considering the band members grew up in the waning days of communism in Poland, their words of warning on “Big Tech Brother” should wake all of us up.

So what’s it like
To stick your head in the sand
To choose ignorance
“I’ve nothing to hide,” you say
“It’s all okay and fine”
Being tracked
Being parsed
Being mined
Modified
Being used
Being searched
Being lied to
Monetised
All that we’ve got
Is not for free at all

When this life for everyone becomes too hard
What we must give in return is a bit too much
Mass control

Big Tech Brother

“Post-Truth” deals with the frustrations of the constant news barrage designed to keep us all perpetually enraged. How do we go on living in a world like this?

In a constant lie
In a constant lie
I live
Can no longer tell
Days from nights

Post-Truth

All these ideas, along with the other songs on the album, share common themes related to how we interact with and through the digital world. How we relate to each other, how media entities influence us, how companies and governments spy on and control us. Extremely relevant lyrics that aren’t pushy but remain a call to wake up to what’s happening. It’s a message pleasantly packaged in Riverside’s signature style of hard progressive rock. Lyrics have been an integral part of Riverside’s appeal to me since I first began listening to them. Thankfully that streak continues on ID.Entity.

This album contains everything I love about Riverside. Duda’s stunning vocals, his intricate bass, Floydian drums, synthy soundscapes and driving organ, and the Floydy guitars. Riffs abound, making it a very enjoyable listening experience to rock out to. With all that, is it too early to declare ID.Entity THE album of 2023? Maybe it is, but other bands are going to have to work awfully hard to top this.

https://www.riversideband.pl/en/
https://riverside.lnk.to/IDEntityID

Album out Friday, January 20, 2023.

Concert Review: Riverside Rock Chicago – 5/19/2019

Riverside, Live at the Chop Shop, Chicago, IL, May 19, 2019

Setlist: Acid Raid, Vale of Tears, Reality Dream I, Lament, Saturate Me (instrumental intro only), Out of Myself, Second Life Syndrome (first part only), Left Out, Guardian Angel, Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By a Hat?), The Struggle for Survival, Egoist Hedonist (without third part, extended second part), Wasteland

Encore: O2 Panic Room, River Down Below

Last night I saw Riverside for the first time. If I can help it, it won’t be the last. Wow. You don’t really get an appreciation for how good these guys are until you see them live. For me, there wasn’t a single moment of disappointment during this show. From the setlist to the performance to the crowd, everything was exceptional. They deserve to be playing much larger venues here in the United States.

Contrive

The show opened with Australian heavy metal band, Contrive. Contrive are a two-man group comprised of identical twin brothers. Both were great, and the drummer was particularly exceptional. The guitarist was quite good too, mixing many different styles throughout their hour-long opening set, including a few seconds of Hackett-esque tones. Opening bands can be hit or miss, but they did a good job of warming up the crowd for Riverside. They even started a few minutes before the stated showtime, which was nice since the 8pm start time on a Sunday evening with work the next day was already a bit much.

I’ve never seen a road crew break down and get ready for the main attraction so quickly. Everything was already set up for Riverside, but they had to take down all the gear from Contrive – and they did that and got everything ready for Riverside in less than 10 minutes. It was entertaining just to watch that.

The Mighty Duda

Riverside didn’t waste any time getting into it, starting out with “Acid Rain” from Wasteland. Within seconds I learned something I had never realized about Riverside – Mariusz Duda’s bass drives the show. I originally thought the driving riff on “Acid Rain” was from a guitar. Nope. All bass. I didn’t realize he was that good. I had a blast watching him play the whole night. I’ve seen John Myung live (probably the most acclaimed bassist I’ve seen live), and I’d say that Duda’s performance matched or surpassed that. At some points during the show, he was strumming one of his three or four bass guitars. Who the heck does that? The mighty Duda, that’s who. Maybe this is old news to most of you who have been listening to them for years, but allow me as a relatively new fan (I didn’t start listening to them until after Piotr Grudziński passed away) to gush over how great Riverside is.

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