While I’ve never been a particularly avid listener of Poland’s Prog Metal institution RIVERSIDE, I’d always had a respect for the kind of romance of a band that, after assembling a stable lineup, never changed musicians. They went through pretty significant stylistic shifts over the years, and controversy over the rise and fall of heavy metal influences in their playing. I also have a lot of respect for musicians who can move together through changes like that, and I can’t help but think about their stylistic peers in PORCUPINE TREE and how divergent opinions on jazz influences eventually encouraged bandleader Steven Wilson to pursue a solo career in lieu of the band.
But two years ago, tragedy struck this band, in the death of guitarist Piotr Grudzinski, and it’s impossible to ignore this at any point on Wasteland (September 28, InsideOut Music). Rather than trying to replace Grudzinski, bandleader, vocalist and bassist Mariusz Duda takes up duties on both a piccolo bass as well as some electric guitar work. The resulting near-masterpiece makes you really wonder if RIVERSIDE should have always been making music this somber.
Mariusz starts things off with an echoey poem set over atmospheric synths. The lyrics are sorrowful, but there’s a real feeling of pain and loss coming through the performance that sets a tone for the rest of the album. But it’s not just that the band has slowed down, they’ve been on that course for several albums now. No, more than slowing down, RIVERSIDE has gotten a whole lot heavier. Perhaps out of respect to Grudzinski, or perhaps out of a sense that everyone should play to their strengths, this album is largely constructed out of disparate rhythm parts.
The first single, “Vale of Tears,” doesn’t have a lead to be found in the entire song, and the first track after the intro is basically Doom Metal. The real triumph of the record though, is smack dab in the middle with “The Struggle For Survival.” It’s nine minutes of fairly instrumentals, at times ominous and somber, at other times downright angry. It’s a stunning journey through what I can only imagine was the mix of sorrow, anger, and pain the band must have felt in the aftermath of such a tremendous loss.
This album sounds so personal, it almost feels inappropriate to score it in criticism, but it has the added benefit of being the best RIVERSIDE album since Anno Domini High Definition. Taking their usual smart approach to tonal color and song structure, and headed in a direction towards what I can only describe as proggy doom metal has paid dividends and this is a must-hear album from 2018.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “The Struggle For Survival”, “Wasteland”