Album Reviews

Issue 2015-067

Riverside - Love, Fear and the Time Machine - Round Table Review

Riverside - Love, Fear and the Time Machine
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 60:20
Track List:
Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By a Hat?) (5:51), Under the Pillow (6:47), #Addicted (4:52), Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire (6:56), Saturate Me (7:08), Afloat (3:11), Discard Your Fear (6:42),‬ Towards the Blue Horizon (8:09), Time Travellers (6:41), Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching) (4:03)
Martin Burns' Review
Riverside's five previous studio releases have all garnered a DPRP recommended status. Let's see how their sixth effort fares?

The less-forbidding, pastel-light-filled, atmospheric cover art by Travis Smith, signals a change for Riverside before the music has even begun. When the music does begin you notice immediately that they have moved towards classic progressive rock, leaving behind a good portion of the prog-metal elements found on previous releases, but without sacrificing any emotional power.

The songs on Love, Fear and the Time Machine are organic and cohesive, with an emphasis on vocal, guitar and bass melodies, pinned with the solid rhythm section. There is less riffing and more use of extended guitar lines. The focus is on a unified band sound, and all I can say is 'what a band'.

There is a reverse alchemy going on here; as Riverside transmute their prog-metal sound back into subtle, melancholic and melodic prog-rock. Michal Lapaj's keyboards, especially his Hammond organ and Leslie cabinet combination, along with Piotr Kozieradzki's discreet but precise drums, underpin the music, whilst the melodies of Mariusz Duda's vocals and bass, along with Piotr Grudzinski's guitar float effortlessly above. The guitar often mirrors the vocal line, before ripping out a solo.

The production (by Magda Srzednicka and Robert Srzednicka) is so good that you can easily follow any of the instruments as they weave in and out of these superbly-arranged songs. So much so, that it took me a while to realise that the keyboards are not really soloing on any of these songs. But if you want to follow them, then they are just there with pin-sharp clarity, along with all the other instruments.

This change in Riverside's approach to music-making is evident from the opening song Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By a Hat?). It starts in a low-key, Peter Gabriel-ish mode, with Hammond and guitar gently interplaying, before the drums and bass enter to kick it into overdrive in an 80s classic prog rock workout. Anyone worried that Piotr Grudzinski's guitar is similarly taking a back seat to the song structures, need look no further than Under the Pillow's passionate solo, whilst Duda's bass work is shiver-inducing on the finale.

I won't go through this album track-by-track but I must mention a few other highlights. There is the pumping prog heart of the album in the form of the fabulous Saturate Me. It manages to be darker and heavier whilst still retaining the rhythmic and melodic openness of the rest of the album. It also acts as a pivot-point, after which the album becomes introspective, atmospheric and acoustic. This is evident on the rhythmically complex Towards the Blue Horizon where the acoustic approach leaps spectacularly into heavier guitar riff territory and back again. The acoustic side, again, comes to the fore on the beautiful ballad, Time Travellers.

The other thing that pushes this album into masterpiece territory is Mariusz Duda's outstanding singing. He has found a wider vocal range with top notes and subtleties not heard from him before. He brings a greater depth of emotion to the songs. Strangely, on #Addicted, he even sounds in parts like Morrissey singing prog!

He puts this extra vocal prowess to a set of songs that have, lyrically speaking, a yearning and nostalgia for the slower times of the past; where important decisions can be pondered upon; where we can judge what is valuable without it being obscured by the blizzard of 140-character tweets and Facebook profiles. All of this is coated in superbly arranged progressive rock, laced with an undercurrent of melancholy.

With Love, Fear and the Time Machine Riverside have developed their signature sound, moving slowly away from the prog-metal of their earlier work. They are a band not afraid to change in interesting ways. As Duda sings on the closing song, which can be interpreted as a call for artistic freedom: "You've got to go with what you think is right". Riverside have made changes to their sound for artistic reasons that long-term fans can choose to accept or reject. I choose to accept this fantastic album.
Andy Read's Review
Having been present at Riverside's famously-spellbinding debut concert on foreign soil at ProgPower Europe way back in 2004, I think I can fairly boast to having followed this band since their earliest days.

Their first two discs and EP have remained firm favourites. By the third instalment of their Reality Dream trilogy, Rapid Eye Movement, I was getting a little tired of hearing the same melancholic story told in the same melancholic way. Thankfully I quickly re-engaged with the band's reincarnation as an angrier more energetic entity on the superbly-crafted and exciting Anno Domini High Definition. The variety and expansion of the band's horizons on the not-very-heavy Shrine of New Generation Slaves equally captivated me.

Album number six sees Riverside changing tack once more. On a first listen this reminded me very much of frontman Mariusz Duda's solo project, Lunatic Soul. Despite an occasional burst of guitar, all ten ditties are tightly concise and dripping with melancholic acousticity. On repeat listens, the first half of the album has become more distinct and enjoyable, with some superb melodies and clever changes of pace and use of dynamics, which just about hold my interest. The variation is within a rather limited framework when compared to the last two albums. The odd burst of heavier guitar takes this nowhere near metallic territory.

From the halfway point this becomes an acoustic rock album with clear influences from folk and the alt-pop of the 80s - albeit with a few layers of complexity in the arrangements. Discard your Fear has an opening borrowed from The Cure, before moving into something from a Tears for Fears album. Afloat bobbles in my memory for no longer than its short time at sea. Towards the Blue Horizon is an utterly forgettable melange of low-fi Steven Wilson and a Simon and Garfunkel B-side. Time Travellers would be more at home at the Sidmouth Folk Festival, and I never seem to recall anything but a gentle hum from the final track.

Yes, these comments are from someone who likes his music on the heavier end of the spectrum. Yet in recent years my favourite albums have included the likes of the Iamthemorning, Lisa Cuthbert, Agnes Obel, Addiction Dream, Wolverine, Sangine Hum, and Votum. If the melodies and lyrics are strong enough, then I love lighter, melancholic fare. Duda's vocals are as ever superb on this album, yet the keyboards and drumming are used merely to add texture, and even the guitar work fails to excite.

On this album Riverside have been inspired to change things up again, which is to be commended and admired. Whilst I have no doubt that this Riverside-lite will appeal to those in need of some early autumn melancholy, on a personal basis only a couple of songs on this album have connected with me in any way. I find it one-dimensional and well, just rather dull.
Guille Palladino's Review
"Sometimes we all have the need to connect more with our insights."

Two years ago I ended my Riverside review of Shrine of New Generation Slaves with that personal reflection. Today it became a true fact about this new, different musical face of Riverside. I have to admit to being very surprised by this wonderful album, in which the band reflects a more emotional and melodic approach, compared to their more metal-sounding influences from early works such as the Reality Dream trilogy and more recently Anno Domini High Definition.

Mariusz Duda has explained: "From Second Life Syndrome we have been more and more immersed in darkness and screaming. Our more recent release, even though more mellow, also had a lot of blackness and sadness about it. With the new release we're opening ourselves up to brighter sounds. Despite the huge dose of melancholy, there is a new space. The songs are arranged with more flow and at the same time they have never been so concise and to-the-point before. But, most importantly, we're continuing to explore melodies."

This whole album is a proof of that. The rhythm section and guitars now have a more important role, with great and less heavier riffs and solos, this album also has a more presence of acoustic guitars, especially on the last tracks. Duda's bass arrangements give more dynamism to this album and provide each song with a particular character. This time we have the keyboards on a second plane, adding more atmospheres and melancholic melodies, but keeping their trademark sound. One one of the most remarkable things is the change in Duda's singing; softer, more melodic and no screaming, but solid and intimate at the same time.

Overall we have a more crafted album, richly arranged and more friendly, relatively influenced by 80s and 90s alternative music. The band has left behind the long songs formula and the complex arrangements, to take new risks and offer us a more introspective way of making their music, yet keeping their core essence and musical maturity. We have a collection of shorter songs that pass by as a whole story divided in chapters.

Behind the music is a deep lyrical concept which talks about decisions and consequences; a process in which you have to connect with your strongest emotions in order to pursue your inner freedom and peace. That's why we can hear about the antagonism between Love and Fear or Lost and Found as you make an important decision in your life, and when you eventually realise that you can't turn back time after you have done it.

Without any doubt this is one of the most beautiful albums composed by Riverside. It has many highlights like the heavier #Addicted, Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire and Discard Your Fear, but what really impressed me is Towards the Blue Horizon which I consider the best track of this album and one of the best songs written ever by Duda. It is the starting point of a great finale formed by withTime Travellers and Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching, which together express all the melancholy and hope when you finally end your inner struggle and reach your goal.

Again this album was produced by Magda Srzednicka / Robert Srzednicki along with the band, and the graphic design was made by Travis Smith @seempieces Studio. Love. Fear and the Time Machine is available on a limited edition mediabook, which comes with a bonus CD containing Day Session as a five-track recording, plus the regular CD and 2 LP Edition.

This is a wonderful album containing a beautiful concept turned into a musical journey, and without any doubt one of the most important releases of this year. Highly recommended.
Matt George's Review
When a band as important as Riverside announces the release of a new album, one cannot help but feel a twinge of trepidation. What if it isn't any good? We can all cite moments when a band we have avidly followed for years, releases an album where we have to admit to ourselves, that at least for us, that band will never be as good again. Their best work is behind them. It may be a simple divergence of taste, a catastrophic line-up change, or sometimes simply that the band has run out of ideas.

So it was not without a little anxiety I awaited the release of Fear, Love and the Time Machine. Not least because pre-release announcements from the band and their InsideOut label, hinted at a less dark, more positive sound to the band's forthcoming work. Really? Would this work? After all, isn't melancholy and general hopelessness an integral part of Riverside's sound? I have to say, for this listener at least, the experiment has worked.

From the off, Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By a Hat?) exudes positivity, both melodically and lyrically. I should qualify this by saying all things are relative, and this is in comparison to what we're used to from Riverside – this is by no means Moon Safari. But let's compare this song to the openers from Riverside's previous two albums, New Generation Slave and After – both dark, desperate and anger-filled offerings. Hear we hear a total departure, but it works beautifully. The tone of this album seems to be one of hope, seen from the perspective of quite dark surroundings. It's not all happiness and light, and the melancholy and angst typical of Riverside are still there, but there's anticipation of better times ahead.

The song writing is more concise. There are no 'epic' length tracks. The longest clocks in at a very modest 8:09, and the average song length is in the six-minute region. The result is a more song-based approach, but there are many displays of incredible song development here. Under the Pillow is a good example of this. The song begins with standard verse-chorus pop song fayre, before an ominous, descending bass riff comes in, soon picked up by the rest of the band. This gives way to soft, stabbing organs, punctuated by rhythmic stabs before the whole band embarks on an epic build up, and we're only halfway through the song!

#Addicted makes a much needed commentary about our addiction to social media. A rocky song, starting with a spiky bass riff, abruptly gives way to a mellow acoustic outro, overlain with classic 70s-sounding synth melodies. More 'acoustic' pieces are found later (I guess I mean without drums, as they certainly don't lack electric guitars or synths) in the form of Afloat, and Time Travellers. The latter builds and builds, and you are waiting for the full band to kick in, but it never does. It still manages to build and build despite this, resulting in a surprisingly huge finale. This song features some particularly fine vocal work from frontman Mariusz Duda, reminiscent in this track of Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt. Duda's vocals throughout are in top form. There's no screaming to be heard, and at times his voice has an exquisite fragility to it. His range and timbre are the best we've heard him deliver to date.

Also worthy of mention is the frequent use of folkish melodies, often played on what sounds like a 12-string guitar. Listen to the second half of Saturate Me, where folk guitar melodies play in counterpoint to the soaring keyboard and guitar melodies, all underpinned by a tight and driving rhythm alternating in bars of 12/8 and 10/8 – total prog splendidness! Saturate Me certainly is one of the many highlights of this album, the aforementioned section being the result of a fine workout in 7/8, followed by a trippy, Ozric Tentacles-like sequenced keyboard 7/8 riff.

Another standout has to be the album's longest track, Towards the Blue Horizon which runs the gambit from soft acoustic passages, to the heaviest sections on the album. Here in particular, Piotr Kozieradzki's syncopated drum patterns are a real highlight. In a moment, the heaviness is gone, acoustic softness is back, and Duda's falsetto vocals hold the listener fast. The abrupt stop of the line "...but darkness comes," as the heavy section fades straight back in, is a moment of genius.

This is a superbly strong album. There is not a dull moment, but enough variety to make the whole journey interesting and exciting, without ever becoming tiresome. The production is fantastic, and the band's performances are without fault.

I do think this is a real step forward for Riverside. They have become much more economic, getting a staggering quantity of music into each song, but without ever losing the overall compositional flow. Indeed nothing on this album seems like it is there for the sake of it. I suppose I do wonder if this new Riverside is here to stay. Are the epic-length songs, the screaming and the total angst gone for good? I guess I'll have to worry about that with their next album! But for now, who cares, just sit back and enjoy.
Patrick McAfee's Review
Throughout their 14-year career, Riverside have often been compared to other bands rather than being fully-judged on their own merits. Comparisons to bands like Porcupine Tree and Opeth abound, and although there are similarities, I feel that Riverside established their own singular sound right from the start. The resemblance that exists is probably due to each band's penchant for recording music that is darker in tone. That fact made the information that Love, Fear and the Time Machine would be more upbeat, all the more intriguing. Well, don't get the wrong idea. This isn't Riverside taking a turn at emulating Jon Anderson at his most optimistic. However there is a definite difference to this album and it is refreshing.

Fear not, as the classic Riverside sound is not sacrificed. There is still a sombre quality to much of the material, but there is also a buoyant feel to the album that works very well. Let's put it this way: when I am able to make comparisons between the song #addicted and the band A-Ha, you know this is a different kind of Riverside album. Not the Take on Me era of A-Ha, but there is definitely a vibe to portions of the song that is reminiscent of more recent output by the Norwegian trio.

With Love, Fear and the Time Machine, Riverside has done a masterful job of maintaining the integrity of their sound while taking things in a new and entertaining direction. Though I have been a fan of past Riverside albums, I can't say that the band has ever surprised me. Well, they did this time. I am eager to call out certain songs, but to be honest, each track on the album is worth noting for one reason or another. This album grabs you right from the opener, Lost (Why should I Be Frightened by a Hat).

I can see some long-time fans being somewhat put aside by this album, but I love that the band changed direction a bit for this release. In truth, there is more of an emphasis here on shorter song structures and memorable choruses, however the amount of variety on this album finds the band at their most progressive. The musical performances are all top-notch and there are some instrumental moments that are outstanding, most particularly on Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire and Saturate Me. The overall song writing is amongst the band's finest to date. The album also contains Mariusz Duda's best work so far as a vocalist. Perhaps the more upbeat nature of the material demanded a different style, but he meets the challenge with flying colours.

To put it succinctly, Love, Fear and the Time Machine is Riveside's best release to date. It is one of those albums that you play once and want to immediately hear again. As I write this and reflect on each track, I am completely enthused and impressed by the range that is displayed from song to song.

It is extremely unusual for a band to have impressed me the most so far into their discography, but Riverside has done that with this release. The comparisons to other bands can definitively be put aside, as Riverside has just outdone most of their peers. This album flows with confidence, talent and complexity. Suffice to say that it just a completely entertaining listen from start to finish. Bravo!
Alan Weston's Review
Given my edacious appetite for all things progressive, Riverside is a band that has slipped off my menu over the years. So the opportunity to review their sixth studio album should hopefully rekindle a taste for these Polish maestros.

The last album I bought by Riverside was 2007's Rapid Eye Movement, after being introduced to the band by friend who gave me a copy of Second Life Syndrome. Both are very fine albums (although I'm not a fan of any growling however slight) but with so much progressive music being produced these days, it's nigh impossible to keep tabs on every band one encounters or even likes.

The band's new album comprises ten sterling tracks that make over an hour's worth of enjoyable music. The mellifluous and dulcet tones of Mariusz Duda add to that unmistakable sound of Riverside which in some ways is unique, and thankfully has not a hint of growling anywhere!. However in an ever-increasing oeuvre of rock-related music, total musical uniqueness is impossible these days without reminders of other bands, and potential influences emerge whether introduced consciously or subconsciously.

The lyrical concept of the album is about having to make life-changing decisions and the consequences thereafter. The accompanying music is more euphonious than previous efforts; the keyboards, although very active and adding greatly to the sound, are pushed back in the mix, allowing the rhythm section and guitars to dominate. If this was the only Riverside album you had ever heard, you would not classify them as a metal band. I would say this album was more neo-prog, with a bit of attitude, a bit like their fellow country men Millenium.

The opening track Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat? is a superb starter for any album. With it's captivating melody, the song builds in intensity, with some fine rhythm and guitar work. A beautiful song.

The opening to the second track Under the Pillow had me signing the start of Oasis's Wonderwall. However, that's the only comparison to the Brit-pop band and this song pans out to some great driving beats with some superb guitar solo work and a crucial underlying organ accompaniment. The song crescendos into a fantastic ending.

There are a few places on the album where you could imagine Coldplay playing but with plenty more attitude and bite. The chorus of Discard Your Fear is something that you could hear Chris Martin singing. The song also has something about it that reminds me of Steve Wilson's solo work (the track Towards the Blue Horizon is clearly influenced by Wilson). I refer to these artists to give some idea as to the quality of the songs mentioned above.

The opening of Saturate Me reminded me of something by Ireland's Dead Heroes Club, which is no bad thing at all. The song has some heavy guitar rifts, repeating keyboard arpeggios, distant, echoing lead guitar motifs and rhythmic drum patterns that together create an enthralling song.

There are no bad tracks on this album. Each one has it's own vibe and characteristic. There is the slow, yearning melody of Afloat with some lovely, sympathetic organ work. There's the wonderful, rhythmic throb to Discard Your Fear, with some funky bass work. There's the simple, acoustic Time Travellers that has a folkish feel to it, with a wonderful lyrical delivery that eventually builds to a repetitive crescendo, before falling back to the simple acoustic and piano with vocal. The last track, Found ..., with yet another heart-felt vocal delivery, has the best guitar solo on the album (albeit far too short).

This is a very good album indeed and definitely worth checking out. Although there is no virtuosity on display in terms of blistering solos, the melodic content is excellent and these musicians know how to put together some great songs with varying layers, atmosphere and rhythmic feel. Being a bit of a keyboard player, I would have liked more upfront synth and organ solos.
Martin Burns: 10 out of 10
Andy Read: 6 out of 10
Guille Palladino: 9.5 out of 10
Matt George: 9 out of 10
Patrick McAfee: 9 out of 10
Alan Weston: 8 out of 10
Album Reviews