In a genre so strongly acclaimed for its often obscure and uncouth nature, it’s always commendable when an act commit to their brand over a significant time span. In other words, in this particular corner of the musical world, there’s certainly no guarantee of fame, money or success (whatever that means), and so it’s humbling to be reminded that traces of artistic integrity often still linger. RIVERSIDE are no less than an archetypal example of this, maintaining a relatively consistent album cycle since 2004, and never wavering in delivering a charmingly authentic marque of progressive rock; consistently flourishing and growing, but always tipping the cap to the era that originally defined their sound.
If anything, RIVERSIDE are producing quality content on a more frequent basis than ever before, and just two years on from the tragic and untimely passing of guitarist Piotr Grudzinski, the Polish quartet have officially unveiled their newest instalment, Wasteland. A significantly shorter offering than its predecessor (a tributary compilation album) , but still assertively presenting nine tracks and 50 minutes of material, it would be remiss to assume that this is anything less than another commendable effort from this act. So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look.
‘Authentic’ is a term we’ve already used in introducing this review, but it’s one that simply must be used again. The overarching atmosphere and motifs of Wasteland become patently clear from the outset, significantly echoing what we would call ‘traditional prog’, boasting a palpable 80s vibe, and beckoning the listener into a different state of mind entirely. Frequently did we feel as though we were being regaled with sorrowful tales of ancient folklore, and introductory track The Day After sets this scene with consummate ease. In eerily emotive fashion, the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Mariusz Duda immediately take centre stage, each note trembling and resonating as if being performed in a grandiose, medieval banquet hall, the atmosphere reaching intense proportions with barely a minute on the clock. Serving to elicit yet more raw emotion and inexplicable nostalgia, this two-minute vignette concludes and fades out with a delicately enchanting violin melody, fading out and bleeding into second track Acid Rain. This is where we see the sonic landscape shift for the first time, the elements that make RIVERSIDE a ‘rock’ outfit very much entering the fore, flitting erratically between chunky, robust riffing and gently crafted chorus melodies, familiarly akin to the trademark OPETH approach. In the same way that clean and distorted sections continually tussle with one another, so too does formula and creativity, the last two minutes of the song veering away from the established structure, layers upon layers of dynamic, varying elements converging to form a rich, colourful soundscape. In a nutshell, outlined in these first two tracks are a series of juxtaposing but also curiously harmonious elements that reappear time and again throughout Wasteland.
For instance, tracks three and four offer an equation aptly microcosmic of the record’s balance. The former, Vale Of Tears, offers what many would recognise as pop-Esq, hook-laden thematics, whereas the latter, Guardian Angel, offers something far more deft, positing patience and poetry in equal measure. These stylistic discrepancies, whilst subtle, certainly prevail throughout Wasteland’s 50-minute entirety, establishing a sense of subtle balance that really takes the record to a new level. This approach seemingly carries forth into the length of the songs, a true variety being offered; some are short, simple ballads, some are extensive, meandering artworks. Whilst closing track The Night Before very much paints a picture of the former, track six The Struggle For Survival does the exact opposite, boasting nearly a full ten minutes of expert musicianship, with vocals often taking a backseat; this really is where we witness the full spectrum of RIVERSIDE‘s musical canon.
Fundamentally, what RIVERSIDE have once again contrived to produce, is a patient, thoughtful piece of work. No individual song takes on a guise of obnoxiousness or pretentiousness, nor does it try too hard to artificially become something in its own right; rather, each song represents a crucial piece in a much more expansive puzzle, a trope that again draws parallels to the aforementioned ‘tales of ancient folklore’. This is where the album’s negative elements present themselves: if you’re simply looking to cherry-pick two songs to add to a playlist, or if you want something shuffle on Spotify and listen to for fifteen minutes before moving on, then Wasteland isn’t for you. Despite it meandering from point to point so seamlessly, this is a record that requires patience and persistence, and rather than being a collection of standout moments like some albums, it is ultimately more akin to Picasso’s Guernica: you must take a step back, and observe it from a distance. So, call this a benefit, call it a downside, it really depends on you; but neutrally speaking, this is where many listeners may find themselves disappointed.
This being said, it feels appropriate to conclude that RIVERSIDE have once again delivered on a considerable scale, and again, just two years on from the tragic loss of an integral band member. Depending on your disposition, this album has the potential to represent perfection, and to an extent that’s what it was to us. At times it feels like being regaled with tales of woe by a peasant farmer in the 16th century, and at others it feels like being sung to sleep with alluring and beguiling lullabies. Whether this is intentional or not, there is a clear sense of substance and feeling, independent of the instrumentation and melody itself, and that is always a praiseworthy feat. It may be 2018, and the glory days of bands like KING CRIMSON and GENESIS may be a thing of the past, but we’re here to tell you that, with Wasteland, RIVERSIDE are offering the chance to relive it.