Riverside – Rapid Eye Movement
|By Rahul Chacko|
|Tuesday, 18 September 2007|
For a few years now, this four-piece from Warsaw, Poland has dwelled on the periphery of ‘progressive’ music, denied the relative success of acts like Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree or even Opeth, for that matter. If you’re familiar with their first two albums, you’ll know that they take some elements from the above bands as well as from more ambient bands like Anathema, toss them in a blender and end up coming out with a sound that’s still very much their own.
If I had to single out one key sound of the band, it’d be singer Mariusz Duda’s voice and the dynamics of how it works against the backdrop of their music. Most of the time, he uses a soothing tone that brings to mind Mikael Akerfeldt’s clean vocals. Every so often, however, this rasp comes in from nowhere and clobbers you. The fact that it’s not harsh enough to qualify as growling adds an interesting element to the sound. With other bands that manage clean singing and growls, like Opeth, Orphaned Land and Swallow the Sun, the disparity between the two is usually so violent that it’s natural at first to assume that the vocals are by two different people altogether. Whereas, with Riverside, they’re clearly two facets of the same singer, especially the parts where he ramps it up bit by bit till it crosses all the way across from Mr. Rogers to Lucifer.
Now, with the older albums, after the first few listens, I always found myself gravitating towards certain ‘love at first listen’ singles like Conceiving You, I Believe, Loose Heart and Second Life Syndrome. The others were largely ignored outside the occasions I resolved to listen to the entire album without pause. Being an album-oriented wanker by default, this counted as one of the reasons that I couldn’t bump up Riverside along with their illustrious influences. Another was that the whole experience just happened to be bogged down by some pretty average guitar playing. As a support instrument, it’s fine, but you know that a guitarist can rarely be relied on to shy away from the spotlight, and when that light hits, the bubble that the rest of the sound has crafted tends to burst. Listen to the solo on Conceiving You for an example. All the more a shame, since great axework is usually the first thing that sells me on an album.
Rapid Eye Movement marks a change, however. For one, at first listen, I liked everything but nothing in particular. While I could tell one song from another, there wasn’t any one that I wanted to go back and play individually. Instead, I just played the whole album over again, which as anybody knows is accompanied with a choir of angels singing “Rock on, bitch!” Another change is that Piotr Grudziński seems to have taken a few pages from the Steven Wilson book of guitar playing and is mostly sticking to his strengths. Basically, there’s only one solo to speak of and even that’s understated and low-key; I’m usually not a fan of this minimalist philosophy when it comes to guitar wankery, but in this case, it helps the music immensely.
The sound moves from prog complexity to mid-tempo grooves to lush acoustic passages, never once throwing you off balance. It also helps that the production is a lot better this time around, and finally does justice to the ideas that these guys have. Duda’s voice is also getting even better, nailing the mellow parts and the aggression, though used sparingly, still packs a punch. The rest of the band is also totally on the ball, and it always feels more like a team effort than a bunch of guys grandstanding. Granted, that’s always been a trait of Riverside, but in this album, the gears move that much smoother.
Summing it up, this is a bright spark in what has already been a spectacular year for great music. You owe it to yourself to check it out.
Mariusz Duda – Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar
Piotr Grudziński – Guitars
Piotr Kozieradzki – Drums
Michał Łapaj – Keyboards
Year of release: 2007