Issue 2009-034: Riverside - Anno Domini High Definition - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: Hyperactive (5:46), Driven To Destruction (7:06), Egoist Hedonist [i. Different?, ii. Hedonist Party, iii. Straw Man Dance] (8:57), Left Out (10:59), Hybrid Times (11:54)
Alex Torres' Review
Anno Domini High Definition has recently reached the number 1 spot in the Polish album charts. Clearly, the Polish people are in love with one of their finest progressive rock bands: rightly so too because, with Anno Domini High Definition, Riverside have come of age. Whilst they have nurtured their growing popularity during the excellent Reality Dream trilogy on comparisons of being a sort of cross between Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, now the time has come to leave those comparisons by the wayside. This is, now, simply, Riverside. Welcome!
The band have reached maturity with Anno Domini High Definition. It is a very brave album, coming in at only 44:42; the material being restricted to ensure that the album carries a coherent sound. I applaud that desire: it is always so much better to listen to a short, coherent album that leaves you wanting more than to a long 70-minute plus opus that has you in tatters! Riverside have succeeded in their objective, delivering a consistent soundscape that, compared with their previous work, has raised the sustained heaviness of the music significantly. It would be facile to say simply that Riverside have looked at the commercial success of Porcupine Tree’s Fear of a Blank Planet and Dream Theater’s Systematic Chaos and decided to emulate the heavier sound in search for their own pot of gold at rainbow’s end. There remains plenty of progressiveness about Anno Domini High Definition and we mustn’t forget that the roots of Riverside’s musicians is in metal: after all, as they themselves say, this is rock!
As a fan of the Reality Dream trilogy, I’ll admit that the heaviness and high pace of most of Anno Domini High Resolution took me by surprise at first and it took three listens to really “get” the new sound. I would say that there are a couple of major changes from before. First, the pace, intensity and heaviness are increased several notches: at times this leads to a different approach in the vocal sections; it almost seems as if the band think that they need to provide a lull in the barrage to allow the vocals to be heard. This might just be the compositional structure of course, but that’s how it can seem! Staccato is not quite the right word for the resulting structural effect, but it’s not too far off. Whilst the heaviness is not a new factor in Riverside’s music, the way it is sustained on this album is, and it can take a couple of listens to get into the new groove if you have come to Anno Domini High Definition from the Reality Dream trilogy. Second, one of the sources of the increased heaviness is the greater emphasis in the soundscape given to the keys generally but, in particular, to the Hammond organ sound: this really becomes very pleasing as you allow yourself to be immersed by it. It’s exceptionally powerful and takes the overall soundscape back in the direction of early 1970s “heavy” bands. Mariusz Duda himself cites Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple - certainly the latter are more appropriate as far as the Hammond is concerned - but for me the tempo here is systematically higher and the fact that they’re not the bands I would have come up with just reinforces, to my mind, what I said before – you now just have Riverside.
The concept of Anno Domini High Definition is the pace of modern life, its stresses, anxieties and concern about the future: a topic for which the increased pace and intensity of the soundscape are entirely appropriate and so perhaps suggesting that they may not be a permanent feature, depending on the specific subject matter of future albums.
Hyperactive’s pretty, gentle keys introduction doesn’t prepare you for the onslaught of the intensity to come, heralded by some distortion in the guitar and drum sound. This is one of the songs in which the “staccato” effect in the music-verse structure appears, the urgency of the music kept alive during the verses by Duda going falsetto a couple of times. Despite its relative brevity, the song has a number of phases – good start!
Driven to Distraction continues in similar fashion with a powerful instrumental opening before again easing for the verses, progressing through a few cycles. Great contribution from Michael Lapaj on keyboards!
The three part Egoist Hedonist begins more gently courtesy of the verses starting straightaway, then explodes through the instrumental parts. Its second section, Hedonist Party features a marvellous contribution from three invited guest musicians on brass - Rafał Gańko on trumpet, Karol Gołowacz on saxophone and Adam Kłosiński on trombone – integrating perfectly with some fine guitar work from Piotr Grudzinski. Beautifully, a synth passage leads us into the final phase and, after the sung verse, all four members of the band shine during the long instrumental outro. Duda’s lead style of bass playing gives an exceptional sound. Very powerful and very good!
A breather is in order and is provided by Left Out, its introspective nature providing the closest reminiscence to the band’s earlier works. Like its predecessor, it features another superb instrumental outro.
Finally, Hybrid Times provides a fitting finale: despite the number of different interpretations that could be ascribed to the lyrics, the music does not lie and you know that it’s not a happy story with smiles at the end, irrespective of whether the final vocalisations represent screams of anguish or religious fanaticism. The music is impressive and holds you in its thrall; when it finally subsides you are left bereft, looking for more. It’s almost as if the music itself has become that obsession that is the subject of Hybrid Times, the obsession that leads you to hit the replay button...again ...again... again....
Anno Domini High Definition represents a - perhaps temporary - shift from progressive rock to progressive metal for Riverside. It’s a transition they have carried off with some aplomb, without losing the warmth of their sound, creating an impressive album that is worthy of the many accolades it will surely receive. It’s certainly a contender for the year’s best progressive album.
The CD+DVD version of the release features excerpts from a concert in Amsterdam in December 2008. It’s a good bonus! The DVD track-list is as follows: Volte-Face, I Turned You Down, Reality Dream III, Beyond the Eyelids, Conceiving You, Ultimate Trip, 02 Panic Room .
Brendan Bowen's Review
Progressive metal band Riverside has very quickly become one of the top acts of this genre since their 2001 debut in Warsaw, Poland. The natural match with the InsideOut label beginning in 2005 has produced some of the genre’s best titles and it continues with the release of Anno Domini High Definition.
My initial exposure to this band’s music was Second Life Syndrome and I couldn’t get enough of it. In the spirit of remaining true to progressive music, Riverside has yet to falter. Even though their last release, Rapid Eye Movement, was great this newest release is truly a step forward for the band and I believe time will show this as a pivotal album for the prog music world at large as well.
Although the album reviewed here is the Regular Edition version, there is also a Special Digipack Edition which includes a DVD entitled Live In Amsterdam 2008.
- Hyperactive begins the album with a piano routine you might expect from Steven Wilson but soon after Riverside is in high gear. This is the introduction to the theme of modern life in its less flattering light.
- Driven To Destruction continues the theme of this album, which visits the perils of our throwaway society running headlong into self-destruction. It starts with a bass echo intro to set up the mood. If you aren’t familiar with Riverside, you will find they are very good at this. The keys kick in and it has begun – an artful display of song writing.
- Egoist Hedonist continues with a culmination of instruments that one wouldn’t expect from a metal band. The guitars brought a type of staccato you would find in a Red Hot Chilli Peppers song, with a horn section more reminiscent of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and keyboards borrowed from Rick Wakeman of Yes crossed with Deep Purple’s Jon Lord on the Hammond B3 (nice use of the Leslie cabinet to make the B3 meaning all the deeper.) Then in an instant you are in a Pink Floyd trip-out song and the amazement continues from there with change after change. This is all done while maintaining a distinctive heavy Riverside sound. I really can’t believe they fit that song into a paltry 9 minutes.
- At 11 minutes long, Left Out takes it down a notch at first with a bass driven melody that cedes room to the guitar to sound off momentarily – a good change from the usual pigeon hole the bass ends up in so many times. This song develops into a mild mannered prog masterpiece showing the incredible versatility of Riverside to make amazing music at any pace.
- A soft piano leads into Hybrid Times, the long song and the finisher. It isn’t soft for long, however, due to the serious belting out of lyrics by Mariusz Duda on vocals, powerful guitar licks, bass forward mixing, and the continuation of the retro keys that jump back and forth between the B3 sound and something more akin to what modern Yes would deliver. It is a fascinating disc to listen to over and over. There really isn’t anything like this out there, despite my using several different acts as comparison. The guitars even move into a David Gilmour sounding solo and drums light it up from there. Before its done, Hybrid Times turns into a song that could be played at a rave with sound effects that you would expect from a techno release but with a decidedly OSI flair. I really wish I had more ability to describe this stuff.
This album sounds like the best elements of Opeth’s Watershed, Porcupine Tree (from the atmospheric to the metal), OSI, and Tool combined with the delicate thoughtfulness of Pink Floyd.
The innovation shown with Anno Domini High Definition is awe-inspiring. The only complaint I could possibly muster for this album is that it is too short. It left me wanting more, but that only makes the next title all the sweeter. I don’t give a perfect score lightly, but this one has it coming. Riverside is defining the future of progressive metal.
Hector Gomez's Review
As I write this review, Anno Domini High Definition climbs to the top spot of the Polish charts. Now, I don’t know exactly what that means, but I guess it’s important, and of course is good news for Riverside and for the prog community; because it doesn’t happen very often, and because this is a brilliant album. In fact, this might be the band’s best CD, and my favourite album this year so far, and there have been plenty of important releases (Dream Theater, Mars Volta, IQ, Pendragon…) to “compete” with. I’d say this is an almost flawless work in my book, as it manages to merge inventiveness, energy and emotion in a wonderfully balanced (and interestingly “artworked“ by Travis Smith’s edgy images) package.
There’s another precious quality to be found on ADHD, and that is concision, an unusual term to describe prog albums these days. Riverside manage to squeeze many more ideas and aural nuances in barely 45 minutes, than some bands (I won’t say names… you guess them) manage in (unnecessary and often excruciating) 75+ minutes. There are only five tracks on the album, ranging from 5 to 11 minutes, each one longer and more intense than the one before, something which obviously is no coincidence, as the whole 45 minutes feel like a constant crescendo, a build-up both in terms of aggression and emotion. From the opening melancholic piano of Hyperactive, you’re in for a treat. This is typical Riverside, but with a slight industrial twist, and an extra dose of metallic aggression (those disappointed with the mellower songs on Rapid Eye Movement will be extremely happy, as ADHD doesn’t let up for a second), and it goes on with Driven To Destruction, introduced by Duda’s wonderful bass and Kozieradzki’s inventive beat. This might be the most “classic” Riverside track on the album, but it also carries the, let’s say, “neurotic” nature of the whole CD.
Being a very cohesive and complete album, with all songs hitting high levels of quality, both in composition and performance, there’s undoubtedly what I’d call the “highlights”, if that’s possible in such a consistently good work. Both Left Out, with its beautiful keyboard melodies, and especially Egoist Hedonist are astounding, the latter being the best piece of the album and one of the best this band has ever written. Imagine nine minutes of pure prog metal bliss, with full on guitars, thunderous drumming and an oppressive atmosphere…with an incredible twist; when those horns enter around the 3 minute mark… you’ll know you’re listening to something fresh and innovative… Well, isn’t that what progressive music is all about?
As a nice wrap up, Hybrid Times, nearly 12 minutes of vintage, relentless Riverside music. Funnily enough, there’s a weird keys solo and a blast beat on this song, a couple of “tricks” another band (again, I won’t say names…) has used recently, with radically different results. It feels forced and slightly out of place in the case of “that” band, but with Riverside it all makes perfect sense. This might be the best description of ADHD, which is chock full of apparently opposed ideas and a certain air of schizophrenia (by the way, perhaps one of the band’s favourite subjects), but manages to organize and present them in a very compelling and articulate way.
Not that they didn’t have an identity already, but even if you hear nods to Porcupine Tree, Tool, Dream Theater, Anathema, Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails (and I’m sure you’ll hear them), this is the release which firmly consolidates the sound of the band as their own, an instantly recognizable trademark style cemented on Mariusz Duda’s passionate (and more expressive than ever) vocals and intricate bass lines, Piotr Grudzinski’s both emotive and powerful guitars (great solos on Left Out), and Michal Lapaj’s wonderful arsenal of keyboards (here with a strong presence of the Hammond Organ). I’ve always thought of Piotr Kozieradzki’s drums as the weak link in the band, but he’s impressed me this time; maybe his drums sound clearer and more powerful here than on previous albums, where I found them to be too low (or muddy) on the mix.
If you liked Porcupine Tree’s Fear Of A Blank Planet (2007), this is its perfect companion, both being poignant and straightforward messages of anger and desperation towards this ultra-mechanized, merchandised, soulless world we live in. Both offer a bleak point of view, a vision of desolation, but also the will to rebel against this rotten system. And, miraculously, both manage to marry a very strong message, with a nearly impeccable, naturally flowing musical background.
P.S.: Try to get the special edition with the DVD, as it shows the band playing at the historic Paradiso in Amsterdam, and they’re in excellent form. Pity it’s not a full concert (only the first half of Ultimate Trip!), but you’ll enjoy all the 41 minutes of it.
ALEX TORRES : 9 out of 10
BRENDAN BOWEN : 10 out of 10
HECTOR GOMEZ : 9 out of 10