Album Reviews

Issue 2005-062: Riverside Special

Round Table Review

Riverside - Second Life Syndrome

Riverside - Second Life Syndrome
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:InsideOut Music
Catalogue #:IOMCD 231
SPV 48642
Year of Release:2005
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: After (3:31), Volte-Face (8:40), Conceiving You (3:40), Second Life Syndrome (15:40), Artificial Smile (5:27), I Turned You Down (4:34), Reality Dream III (5:01), Dance With The Shadow (11:38), Before (5:23)

Dries' Review

Riverside sent kind of a shockwave through the prog community, all of a sudden there was a band able to create a new sound while building on the music of bands of way back when. I was fortunate enough to receive Out Of Myself early, and was very much touched by this band like so many others. When they released Voices In My Head, (reviewed below), as a kind of in between album for the Polish fans it was hard to extract a musical direction out of it. Mariusz (Dudas) kept saying that the EP was no indication for what was in store. In fact he even mentioned that Acronym Love was not put on the second album because of it being too soft.

A couple of weeks ago I saw these guys in Baarlo, a show to which no more than 100 (!) people showed up for, however I feel very proud to be one of those 100. It was a once in a lifetime experience. The three songs off Second Life Syndrome they played put an end to my brooding, right there and then: Second Life Syndrome will be making a smashing impression. And now that I have heard the full album (over and over again), my number one choice for the poll has been decided. In a year as good as 2005 has been, that is a real accomplishment.

In my review of Out Of Myself I ended saying that Riverside would become the next prog icon. Pretty heavy words for a debut album but the only thing I can say now is: "I told you so". What else is there to say if a great debut album is surpassed by it's successor. Although Second Life Syndrome is not completely different from Out Of Myself, it is more mature and emotional. It has also been called heavier than their first offering, I disagree with that, in my opinion it should be called rough or raw, not heavy.

Many have stated that Piotr Grudziński's guitar is the main attraction of this album. And it is indeed one of it's biggest strengths, but not the only one. There is much more to this band: the emotional voice of Mariusz Dudas for instance, whispering, screaming, raw and soft. His bass lines are inventive and played like a solo instrument here and there (listen to I Turned You Down for instance). Michał Łapaj's keyboard: a bit in the background, enhancing the atmosphere, always there to serve the music, but the song Conceiving You is almost carried by him alone. And last but not least, Piotr Kozieradzki's drums: firm and creative.

Second Life Syndrome is part two of a trilogy. In Out Of Myself the prodigy fails to relate with the world through someone important to him and has convinced himself he is OK with that. In Second Life Syndrome he takes charge and makes up his mind to change his life. He decides to get rid of the memories and mental pictures from the past which always made him shut himself away. He resolves to overcome his fear of people and of open spaces. He determines to go out of his cave and gradually change into someone more immune to his own weaknesses by observing the life of other people. He tries to distance himself from the reality around him, and, most of all, from his own fears and prejudice. And he succeeds. He changes. He gets rid of the aforementioned mental pictures from the past. He erases all the worries from his mind. He becomes mentally stronger. He knows that he won't be easily hurt anymore. But does stronger mean less lonely? And hasn't he lost something important on the way, his sensitivity? Is this what he really wanted?

After starts of with a whisper that preludes a very rhythm oriented track with an atmospheric vocal harmony. Volte-Face is more up tempo, an intro with straight forward drums and some guitar riffs floating around. In between the lyrics that follow after that, Piotr (G) starts spreading his famous guitar sounds. The vocals have a rough edge. An excellent track. Conceiving You is a very emotional song, it is a sad, sad song. It is this song that shows what an excellent singer Mariusz is, with his own sound. The track that follows, Second Life Syndrome, is not only the title track, it is also the pièce de résistance of this album. Clocking in at almost 16 minutes, this track with an excellent build-up consists of three parts. It's hard to bring across what makes this track so superb but the refrain of the first part, the keyboards of the second part and the guitars of the third part should give some idea. Sometimes when the last note has faded, I just play it a second time. The only track that I had to get used to before liking it was Artificial Smile. It seems very unlike Riverside. I Turned You Down has that excellent bass line and of course the long weeping guitar again. Reality Dream III is related to Reality Dream I and II off Out Of Myself. It has a recognizable sound. Strange thing is when the 3 are played together it is noticeable that this part III is very different from the other two. Dance With The Shadow starts off very atmospheric but then picks up speed.

The fact that Inside Out offered them a deal for this second album should account for something. And if Inside Out are smart they will offer Riverside a deal for the 3rd part of this trilogy also. So far the reaction I have heard range from "I like this album, it is OK" to "an absolute masterpiece". I have not yet heard of someone really disliking this album. So if we assume that most progressive rock listeners at least like it, there is no risk in buying the album. Because you could also be one of the people that think this is a masterpiece, there is a risk in not buying this album: you miss out on a masterpiece. Hopefully my opinion is clear: I think Second Life Syndrome is a masterpiece.

Dave B's Review

Every once in a while a new band finds its way into your CD or MP3 player and immediately burns a bright path across your musical firmament. Riverside has done just this for me. Goodness knows how I missed their first CD, Out Of Myself, looking around the web I can now see rave reviews for it everywhere including on DPRP itself.

I must admit when I first heard the band's name I wasn't exactly enamoured, perhaps it sounded a bit too much like "River Dance" and having never heard any Polish music before I really didn't know what to expect. Nevertheless, my duties as a DPRP reviewer require me to frequently enter new territories so I did my bit for prog and gave it a first listen; what followed was sixty minutes of pure musical ecstasy.

This album is absolutely magnificent and it is my firm belief that every person on the planet should buy it right now! Like the first coffee in the morning or a cold beer at the end of a long hot day it's both refreshing and very more-ish. Riverside have mixed classic and new prog with very strong melodies alternately carried by the mellow and melancholy singing of Mariusz Duda (also playing the bass) and the rich, warm, meandering guitar of Piotr Grudziński. It is perhaps these two that give the music its main focus but we shouldn't overlook the super atmospheric keyboards of Michał Łapaj and the interesting and intelligent drumming of Piotr Kozieradzki.

The music is also nicely varied in terms of complexity - the band can obviously play their instruments but they're not throwing notes in for the sake of it and going over the top. There's also a good range of texture and tempo on display, for instance, the title-track (clocking-in at nearly 16 minutes) is full of the twists and turns that you would expect from a track of such a length - starting off with a style not unlike Pink Floyd and finishing in a way which I would say is more reminiscent of Tool although not as heavy. However, prog-seekers, don't be deceived by the shorter tracks either, I Turned You Down manages to combine more of a prog feel into its four and a half minutes than many bands will churn out in a career - again a thumpingly good melody, phenomenal guitar work and great keys - my personal favourite track on the album.

Reality Dream III continues where Reality Dream II (and I) left off from the first CD. In places this track could pass as either Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater and it's the heaviest track on the album. Speaking of the great Porcupine Tree, I've read many people saying that they think Riverside are just PT copycats. For sure there are some similarities - Artificial Smile could actually have been an unreleased track from In Absentia and there are some more PT moments in Volte-Face but overall the band have evolved more to their own signature sound now as compared with the first CD which does sound more like PT for sure. Another influence you may hear is perhaps Marillion and Pain Of Salvation springs to mind when Mariusz sings in a more aggressive style although this is not so often.

Conceiving You is a very radio-friendly prog track, this time not even breaking the four-minute barrier and would give Coldplay a run for their money. The penultimate track, Dance With The Shadow, is the second longest track and again evolves though several moods and tempos. Closing the album out is the contemplative Before - another showcase for the fantastic vocals.

Overall I would say it's more cohesive than Out Of Myself, less experimental and certainly better produced, sounding lush and warm throughout with lashings of reverb for the voice and rich sustain on the guitars. All instruments are clear in the mix and although the voice and guitars dominate they don't detract. I particularly like the keyboard patches which I find very tasteful indeed – some very fresh sounding strings along with standard piano and organ patches are used and although there's not a lot of lead keyboard, when it does come it's not such a bad sound – nothing so pervasive as Jordan Rudess' cheesy lead patch for instance.

To state again (in case you didn't get it), this is a very fine album - perhaps my favourite of the new millennium. Surely a must-have CD for lovers of good progressive rock both new and old.

Yalcin's Review

With Out Of Myself, Riverside delivered an amazing album and were easily labelled as the best newcomer of 2004 by many. Their blend of neo prog combined with some Pink Floyd, Anathema and Porcupine Tree influences was truly amazing and the album was one of the most successful debuts in the last few years. 2005 saw the release of the EP called Voices In My Head, which reflected the more mellow side of the band. And the wait for the second album began with high expectations. It’s always a big pressure for a band to release the second album after a debut of such quality. Actually it is the real challenge to prove your skills as a musician and show that the debut wasn’t recorded by accident, as the band also states on their website. And yes, now we know that Out Of Myself was not an accident.

Second Life Syndrome surpasses the debut in some ways, but it also falls behind in a few aspects. One of the most frequent reasons of negative critics for their debut was, that it sounded too much like Pink Floyd, Anathema or Porcupine Tree. My personal view on this issue is that it’s not a big deal. Every musician feeds on inspirations in order to find its identity which is also stated by the band a couple of times and every band can be accused of this, but Riverside’s approach never reached the borders of plagiarism. More important than that is that it was clearly obvious that they poured their souls into their debut album. Otherwise it couldn’t have been even remotely possible to create such an emotional atmosphere.

With Second Life Syndrome, Riverside has faded away from those old references a little bit, but the neo-prog aspect of their sound is almost completely cut down and leaves its place to a somewhat heavier, metal sound. While most of the songs contain a heavier touch they still keep the aspects that make Riverside truly special. Intimate, passionate, mostly melancholic and intelligently written music still makes its way to the listener’s ear.

Apart from the Voices In My Head EP, Second Life Syndrome, as a full length album marks the premiere of a new member. Mariusz Duda’s amazing vocals and intricate bass lines, Piotr Grudziński’s extremely emotional and melodic solos throughout the album, Piotr Kozieradzki’s solid drumming are now accompanied by a proper keyboard player, Michał Łapaj. He mostly stays in the background and enriches the atmosphere of the songs with his beautiful textures and piano. He also contributes to the album with some soaring solos which is a big improvement over the band’s debut. But in my opinion, the most important addition to the sound are the Tool and A Perfect Circle influences, which I’m sure will be another reason for accusations. Both instrumental and vocal departments contain these inspirations, yet still maintaining the typical Riverside elements. This combination is very vital since the album’s concept evolves around the inner struggles of the protagonist and the aggressive approach a la Tool in most songs really strengthens the bridge between the music and the words. As it is understandable, this also makes the album very metal sounding. While it was very hard to put Out Of Myself into any drawer, SLS is a lot closer to prog metal than its predecessor.

Another important fact about the album is the great artwork done by Travis Smith. I wonder, when is he going to create something really awful?? Apart from the beauty of his works, the most striking aspect is that all of his images fit so well into the concept of the albums he designs the artwork for. Clearly a living legend… The crystal clear production is also worth mentioning.

If one takes a close look at the band’s discography and tries to compare each record they’ve released, it is obvious that Riverside is a band full of surprises. And after Second Life Syndrome’s heavy sound, it is a big question mark how their next one will sound like. Being unpredictable indeed is a good thing for a band, especially in the prog realms. But was this aggressive approach necessary? I for one prefer the mellow side of their sound and believe that the band’s future lies in that direction, which in no way means that Second Life Syndrome is a weak effort. It indeed is a highly successful prog metal album, but in my opinion Riverside is THE band that can bring balance to the force by bringing mellow moments to the forefront of their prog blend and I believe that their next album will be very crucial for their future. Or, maybe it is just me who thinks that way…


DRIES DOKTER - 9.5 out of 10
DAVE BAIRD - 10 out of 10
YALCIN INEL - 8 out of 10

Riverside - Voices In My Head

Riverside - Voices In My Head
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2005
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Us (2:33), Acronym Love (4:44), Dna ts. Rednum or F. Raf (7:20), The Time I Was Daydreaming (4:53), Stuck Between (3:56), I Believe [live] (3:59), Loose Heart [live] (5:27), Out of Myself [live] (3:42)

For Polish fans it is two years ago that Riverside released their stunning debut album. Internationally their album was released almost a year later. To make up for the fact that the in between album gap is bigger for the Polish fans a (mini)-album has been released for Poland only. There are of course ways for international fans to get hold of this album and that is why a review is written here.

Their debut earned them the title best newcomer in the DPRP poll for 2004, and on top of that the album received enough votes to place it in our top 10. So many are probably hoping their second album will match the quality of the first. If this mini album is any indication of what is to come we are in for another surprise. The tracks on this mini album are a bit different: more spherical and mellow.

The band announced their next full album to be more heavy, but this mini album is more in the vein of late Marillion/Porcupine Tree. The acoustic guitar, keyboards and vocals of Us give it a very sober atmosphere. In Acronym Love Piotr Grudzińsk's guitar takes another leading role but not by being speedy and complex but by placing the right notes at the right time filling the song with emotion. Of course the other band members also put in their thing, and everything is just right in this track. Dna ts. Rednum or F. Raf is a bit dreamy, Marillion's Marbles might be used for reference. It is easier to describe The Time I Was Daydreaming, just imagine what a song with this title would sound like, than you have a very good idea. An acoustic guitar with a floating synthesizer and electric guitar sound next it. Stuck Between has the same feel but a more forward rhythm, (by a drum computer), and is one of the better tracks of the album.

The three live tracks are of course taken from Out Of Myself and show that Riverside can add an extra dimension to the studio tracks if played on stage. The sound quality is perfect while the live feel remains.

Although this album only has five new tracks it is quickly becoming a collector's item. At the moment is was released it was hard to predict what the tracks of the next album would sound like. Riverside have been saying that Second Life Syndrome would be a bit heavier and indeed it is. This album shows Out Of Myself was not just a lucky shot. For all not from Poland: there should be ways to obtain this album and although it is not easy it is certainly worth trying. Becoming a Riverside fan club member or buying it at a concert are two ways that work.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


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