Album Reviews

Issue 2013-003: Riverside - Shrine Of New Generation Slaves - Round Table Review

Round Table Review

Riverside - Shrine Of New Generation Slaves

Shrine Of New Generation Slaves
Riverside - Shrine Of New Generation Slaves
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:InsideOut Music
Catalogue #:0IO01081
Year of Release:2013
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: New Generation Slave (4:17), The Depth of Self-Delusion (7:39), Celebrity Touch (6:48), We Got Used To Us (4:12), Feel Like Falling (5:17), Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination) (8:26), Escalator Shrine (12:41), Coda (1:39)

Tushar Menon's Review

Before receiving my copy of Riverside's new album, I gave their last album, Anno Domini High Definition a spin. It struck me as odd that I did not get around to spending more time with that album, despite being quite taken with it when it was released. Perhaps that was why I was able to enjoy it as much as I did - I was familiar enough with the songs to have an idea of what to expect, but distant enough for them to sound fresh. ADHD, I must conclude again, is exquisite. It consists, in typically prog style, of five long songs. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it is certainly not the soul of prog.

Shrine of New Generation Slaves is not as busy as ADHD. It has fewer notes. It is less heavy and less immediate, but no less exquisite. There are no heavy-metal brass sections a la Egoist Hedonist or Hybrid Times-esque piano flourishes. Instead there are beautifully constructed, engaging songs, with the subtlest of hooks, usually nothing more than a two or three-note melodic phrase. It is tempting to say that this is a far more mature album than Riverside's previous offerings.

The first spin reveals very little - indeed the first heavy riff on the album is such a pastiche of one of the most famous metal riffs of all time that I had to force myself to persevere the next several times I put the album on. New Generation Slave is my least favourite song off the album for that reason alone - I find it impossible not to play the line "Finished with my woman 'cause she couldn't help me with my mind" in my head every time I hear that riff. The whole song has quite a modern Sabbath feel, the second half more original and upbeat, although the vocal line does again bear a striking resemblance to Caravan's Memory Lain, Hugh.

The Depth of Self-Delusion is where the album really hits its stride. Mariusz Duda's vocal melodies in this song are stark, simple and extremely engaging. This is the first of the mellow songs on the album, complete with acoustic guitars and atmospheric keyboards. It is the quality of these slow songs which defines the album.

An effective juxtaposition follows, with the heavy, riff-driven Celebrity Touch, the album's first single. The main riff is one of the best that Riverside has ever come up with and anchors the song, whose lyrics are a searing indictment of celebrity culture. A lovely touch on the Hammond Organ from Michal Lapaj sets up a big pay off with the return of the main riff after the first verse. A predictable yet appropriate slow interlude follows, which is reprised later to incorporate an unexpectedly subdued guitar solo from Piotr Grudzinski. I would expect this to make for an excellent live song.

We Got Used To Us slows things down again and is another example of a beautifully constructed song, this time saving the simple, effective melody for the chorus. At just over four minutes in length, it is lean and concise until the very last sentence. The song is one sentence too long. The final sentence, intended to act as a coda to the song is distracting and jarring. Had that one line been trimmed, or otherwise incorporated, this might have been the best song on the album.

Things pick up, tempo-wise, for Feel Like Falling, a synth-heavy song which is overshadowed by the surrounding songs on the album. Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination) is probably the best song on the album. Yet another example of some simple ideas used subtly and effectively - this time playing with the grouping of the notes in the 6/4 riffs that permeate the song. There may not be a brass section, but in its stead is a haunting soprano sax solo that acts as a climax to the song. Lyrically, too this song is a highlight, simply for the reference to W.H. Auden's 'Funeral Blues'. For a band whose first language is not English to go from writing lines like "hope my sell-by date didn't expire yesterday" to "I can touch the Moon and switch off the Sun" in the space of one album is commendable. The song is a triumph.

The longest song on the album, Escalator Shrine, is the co-title track as well as the inspiration for the artwork. The opening is reminiscent of Opeth's Hessian Peel, and the riffs that follow are in the vein of Pink Floyd. The middle section explodes into a groove that brings to mind It Bites' Calling All The Heroes, before building up to a typically Riverside-esque heavy finale. Not as much of a pastiche as New Generation Slaves, and, honestly, a far better song. The album's Coda clocks in at under two minutes and ends the album on a delicate and fragile note, a risky decision, but one that pays off. Shrine to New Generation Slaves is not the most accessible album Riverside has put out, but one which shows that the band have much to offer without straying too far from their established sound. They can still write some wonderfully intricate music. The sharpening of their songwriting skills and vocal melodies that this album demonstrates bodes extremely well for the band's future.

Roger Trenwith's Review

Riverside is a band that has suffered endless comparisons to Porcupine Tree in the past, not unjustifiably it has to be said, and indeed I have always regarded them as "Porkie-lite". There is no denying that singer Mariusz Duda has a voice that is very similar to Steven Wilson's, which added to the similar instrumentation and dynamics of the music makes the PT comparisons unavoidable. However, you can't hold a vocal similarity to SW against Mariusz, as I'm sure it's just "his" voice, it's not like he's trying to sound like Wilson; and let's face it if you're going to ape a vocalist there are far better ones to go after!

Riverside is classed on other websites as "prog metal", a category I've never particularly liked but theirs is a thankfully more melodic take on that over-used genre. Although New Generation Slave for instance rocks hard, does including a few mid-tempo riffs mean a band is "prog metal"? Pigeonholing - doncha just love it? Anyway, this is the first thing by the band that I've sat down to listen to since 2005's Second Life Syndrome, so let's see how far they have progressed with Shrine Of New Generation Slaves (abbr. SONGS). As Mariusz says in the press release:

"With this release we are trying to prove, mostly to ourselves, that we can still surprise with something, and what's most important - create an album that would become our showpiece, music-wise and lyrics-wise. We wanted to start a new, more mature chapter and focused again more on melody and organic rock groove than before. The title might sound a bit intricate, but the acronym will definitely explain what we did with our music this time."

As the full album title may suggest, the lyrical themes are dissatisfaction with slavery to the capitalist system and the associated frustrations of modern Western living. Yes, it's those same old themes again, so beloved of over-serious young (and not so young) musicians. Do we really need this pointed out to us all the while and usually by doom-laden metal-tinged bands at that? We Westerners should consider ourselves lucky to not be born in a slum in India, that's all I can say.

Shrine Of New Generation Slaves is an album of two halves, the more hard rock flavourings of the first half serving as the main course, followed by a softer and more spaciously expansive helping from the sweets trolley in the second half. Leaving all that categorisation malarkey aside, the harder numbers come out second best to the more atmospheric and involving tunes on the latter part of the album.

New Generation Slave kicks things off in almost sub-Rush fashion, both in lyrical concept and musical execution. New born man rails against world, and although he is a free man, he cannot enjoy his life; all this over a late period Rush-ian riff. The Riverside atmospherics of old return on The Depth of Self-Delusion, which is pleasant enough but does not really say anything new or take the band's sound somewhere different. And therein lays my main problem with this album. No doubt it will please the band's fans but I doubt they'll win over any sceptics or newcomers. The hard rock stylings return on the rather prosaic Celebrity Touch; it passes muster but Rush do this kind of thing far better in my opinion.

"Half-time" on the record is represented by the rather nice ballad We Got Used To Us, and, I was hoping to avoid this; but it does sound an awful lot like Porcupine Tree. Sorry, but that's the way it is. Mariusz's "organic rock groove" is much in evidence on Feel Like Falling and it funks along quite respectably. A more spacey and expansive groove is taken up on the last two songs and these make up the best part of the record.

Escalator Shrine has an organ-led section that harks back to Animals-era Floyd; the comparison is inescapable, being so naggingly reminiscent it makes me want to dig out the Floyd album to see which one it apes (it's Dogs I think, but I've not checked yet). That part does not last long and the track has a life of its own above and beyond copying the prog-AOR masters. To be fair it could well be in the vein of the Porkie's Time Flies, which was not just a section of a song but an entire tune written and admitted to be in homage to the Floyd. On that note I'll give Riverside the benefit of the doubt.

You might think from the above that I do not like this album, and, fair enough, it's not one I'll be returning to on a regular basis. However, it's not actually a bad record, it's just that it fails to excite or intrigue this particular curmudgeonly listener. There is far too much interesting new music out there that needs the oxygen of publicity for me to be taking time listening to this rather safe and conservative CD. One for the fans I reckon.

Guillermo Palladino's Review

A couple of years have passed by since Riverside released their last full length album Anno Domini High Definition and their 2011 EP Memories In My Head, and finally they come back with their new release, Shrine of New Generation Slaves or "SONGS" (if you want to mention it more easily). I'd like to start my review with the words I wrote about Riverside the first time I reviewed them on 2007:

"I discovered this band in late 2004 with their incredible debut Out Of Myself. The mixture between ProgMetal, Gothic, Industrial elements and Space Rock has smashed my brain ever since I first heard their music. (...) you can identify many elements from their musical influences through the years: Tool, Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, Pain Of Salvation. (...) Finally I think that they have discovered their own musical style."

And that's the truth, over all these years Riverside have managed to position themselves as one of the most important progressive rock acts to come out of Poland.

In this new release the band evolve their own musical approach. Now we have a band that, considering the influences mentioned previously, is also integrating Jazz, more acoustical elements and arrangements and a more classic rock sound. Compared to their previous releases we have a more rough sound; more raw, but also more elegant. Mariusz Duda comments as follows:

"With this release we are trying to prove, mostly to ourselves, that we can still surprise with something, and what's most important - create an album that would become our showpiece, music-wise and lyrics-wise. We wanted to start a new, more mature chapter and focused again more on melody and organic rock groove than before. The title might sound a bit intricate, but the acronym will definitely explain what we did with our music this time."

Duda is right with his comment, I've felt this album to be different from the previous ones; there are other influences involved like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, even atmospheres from his solo project Lunatic Soul. The music is quite more melancholic, atmospheric and dense, I liked it a lot.

About the social meaning expressed in this record, Duda says:

"It's based on the fact that we all hear almost everyday from friends and close people how unhappy they are, how they hate their jobs, how they don't have a time for this or that, how time flies and how they actually feel like slaves in their lives."

New Generation Slave is the opening track, it sounds like the one from where all the story behind this record begins, like some kind of manifesto. I like this song very much, the acoustic guitar combined with the organ are incredible. After this The Depth of Self-Delusion bring us a classic Riverside song, but more acoustic and dark, I particularly love the way the guitar sounds in a Conceiving You style. Celebrity Touch is my favorite song from this album, it sounds like a classic rock song combined with a flute in the background, a Deep Purple-like organ and great change in the rhythm and harmonic choruses from Duda. The switching between organ and keys is very interesting. We Got Used To Us is a softer song, more melancholic and atmospheric, an issue that the band handles to perfection. I hear it like a great piano song which is no bad thing; a Riverside ballad with a Lunatic Soul touch that still sounds very good. Feel like Falling is a heavier song, a mixture between this raw sound and the electronic elements from songs like 02 Panic Room.

At this point of the record I felt that the guitar had lost its presence compared with the previous records. Perhaps I'm missing more solos. The organ and keyboards had the entire main roles until this point where Grudzinski has his first major role in a song. Deprived sounds like Porcupine Tree, another softer song where the whispering voice from Duda gives it the entire atmosphere combined with the guitar arrangement. This is a jazzier song with a beautiful sax solo provided by Marcin Odinied. Escalator Shrine is the longest song on the record with the Jazz elements more present. I like it because they have the ability to combine such elements with their classic sound, this is the song that I felt nearest to their previous work with the arrangements placed in the right place, and divided into sections like the other longer songs the band have done. Coda is an acoustic song; if New Generation Slave felt like an intro this song is the perfect farewell for this album, at this point we can run the credits through our minds.

This is a great album, perhaps it is not as powerful as its predecessors, but if you can remember what Duda said in his comments you can understand it perfectly. Sometimes we all have the need to connect more with our insights, and for me this is the reason why Riverside have released this interesting record. They still remain one of my favourite bands, this album gave me some surprises, and sounded great. I'd highly recommend it to all our readers.

Brendan Bowen's Review

Admittedly, I have been eager for the next full-length album of original material from Riverside since the great Anno Domini High Definition back in 2009. I gave it a perfect score, and I have not regretted it. I still fall back on that one regularly and it never tires. The more recent EP Memories In My Head was a proper hold over but fell short in one critical area - it was an EP. Other than that, I enjoyed the atmospheric moods and the slow spaced out extended length songs.

This new album, Shrine Of New Generation Slaves (SONGS), falls somewhere between the two aforementioned releases. It has pulled back from the aggression and intensity of ADHD in favour of melodic groove based blues-rock but goes a little easier on the atmospheric elements. Not a bad mix I'd say.

I am elated that Riverside brought back the Jon Lord inspired keyboards and kept the Leslie cabinet for another go. Nobody has better captured the spirit of that time with such a fresh approach as Riverside has. The retro Deep Purple ground is respected and built upon with a crisp modernity, primarily in the song Celebrity Touch. Ultimately, this album relies heavily on blues and rolls with varied time signatures that aren't obvious if you're not looking for it.

The song selections show a great deal of variety and carry distinctive pentatonic phrasing carried overtly by Piotr's guitars, especially early on. I hear influences that stray a long way from the metal scene. Even a brush with Secret Machines with the intro to Feel Like I'm Falling comes through but not to the extent that would make anyone think they are leaving their base. Metal is still the currency of Riverside.

Despite the band's claim that this album is somewhat of a departure from their usual style and a progression into maturity, they continue to do what they are good at and do it well. Yes, the sound of the individual songs is a bit different, but Duda's vocals and the voicing of the guitars and the bass mix make another signature album that would never be mistaken for something other than pure Riverside. Even the subject of relationships in 'We Got Used To Us' sound quite familiar despite it's lilting guitars and the soft vocals from a guy who really belted out some screams on albums past.

For me, this doesn't carry the impact that ADHD did but does represent the brand very well. It was probably a good idea for the band to take a step back and reassess. Other acts seem to be taking a less aggressive approach, namely Opeth and Porcupine Tree (both of which mentioned they have become somewhat disillusioned by the recent metal scene). Even the song Deprived sounds like it could find itself in an Eastern European spy thriller (starring Sean Connery?) with its cinematic feel and free flowing style - overall a beautiful piece. Even the extensive and busy drumming seems to flow so seamlessly I have to stop to pay attention just to appreciate it separately - that is unusual for me.

The sound quality is exceptional. It brings a slight retro feel, but induces the listener to participate in the dynamic range of this work to call through the multitude of alternate instruments (mostly traditional) to build on the etheric nature they have designed. The piano elements are arranged extremely well. When the song Escalator Shrine (over 12 minutes) builds up in a rising tension to deliver a full-bodied dénouement only to fade into a memorable finish, you know you have experienced a powerful force in music today. The easy descent in Coda finishes out the album with a short soliloquy that seems proper in the end just to let you catch your breath.

This is a creative effort - heavy and light - and brings an eye-opening message of living life as a slave and a product of the daily grind. Seems unnecessary if only to wake up to choose who we really are - created in abysmal despair or creator of all possibilities? I have been impressed with each release to the extent that maybe I can't even be impartial anymore. I say hallelujah! Bring me more.


TUSHAR MENON : 8.5 out of 10
ROGER TRENWITH : 6 out of 10
GUILLERMO PALLADINO : 8.75 out of 10
BRENDEN BOWEN : 9 out of 10

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