Coming towards the end of their mammoth thirteen month tour to promote the fantastic Shrine Of New Generation Slaves album, Polish Progressive Rock/Metal outfit Riverside visited Edinburgh on the East coast of Scotland, after playing Glasgow in the West just over one year previously. So with promises of a few set-list surprises and an exciting support act, in the shape of Votum, the road hardened act took to the stage with the minimum of fuss to deliver a show which will live long in the memory of anyone lucky enough to have witnessed it.
Aside from the constant travel difficulties getting into Edinburgh in the early evening, it is great to see Scotland's capital once more posses a venue capable of staging bands not yet up to filling the gargantuan Usher Hall. The refurbished Liquid Room, a compact but well presented venue, being perfect for a band of the stature of Riverside and so it proved. However before Poland's premier Progressive act took to the stage, another equally impressive band from the same country won over an audience who initially seemed to have little knowledge of Votum. I count myself as one the ignorant unwashed, for while I'd heard the name before, tonight was my first actual encounter with their music and the very fact that I left clutching all three of their albums should tell you everything you need to know. With their homeland being a shared one, it is no surprise that the basis of what Votum do, can be considered similar to Riverside, yet with dual guitars (increased to three when singer Bartosz Sobieraj donned a twelve string acoustic), dual vocals and (excellent) dual growls, this six-piece outfit are no clones. Instead their considered, yet forceful themes were hammered home through a mix of strident riffs, punching keyboards and atmospheric lyrics. Highlights came thick and fast - in fact there wasn't a single missed step all night - but "Made In The Dark" stood out as a track to acquaint yourself with if, like I did, you want to investigate further. Cramming six musicians and a second drum kit on stage may have proved a challenge but for Votum and everyone who took the time to venture into the Liquid Room at an early hour, one well worth the effort.
Kicking off with the same three songs, "New Generation Slave", "The Depth Of Self Delusion" and "Feel Like Falling", that served Riverside so well in Glasgow all those months ago, it was immediately clear just how tight Riverside have become through constant time on the road. Great though they were in 2013, tonight it was undeniable that this amazingly talented four-piece have raised their game considerably - not something I'd have thought possible after being blown away on my last encounter. Singer Mariusz Duda, almost hiding under a sagging grey beanie, often revealed an endearing sense of humour, poking fun at the audience, his band and himself, but it was his pinpoint, manically dextrous fret work and enigmatic vocals that really hit the mark. Watching guitarist Piotr Grudzinski however was even more mesmerising, his fingers a blur, his eyes shut through most of the show, his constant rocking back and forth to the beat infectious and hypnotic. "Out Of Myself" brought things right back to the band's impressive debut effort before "Acronym Love" confirmed the Riverside catalogue has gems throughout, drummer Piotr Kozieradzki a veritable blur of sticks, cymbal strikes, tom runs and snare snapping precision; unbelievably he barely broke sweat! The balance that makes Riverside such an irresistible proposition however comes from the harmony of musicianship and "playing for the song", something that remained in evidence right throughout the whole set, all four musicians allowed the time and space to really stretch out and demonstrate their skills (we even got a good old fashioned free-form Prog wig-out at one stage), while remaining beyond precise when it came to ensuring that every time change, atmosphere shift and hammering heavy section hit home without a join in sight, or even a glance needed between the quartet.
Unlike most bands in Prog, while Riverside do show their influences, this is an outfit with their own signature sound, something confirmed through the seldom played "Goodbye Sweet Innocence" and "Reality Dream III". However live they are are heavier, Proggier, dare I say Riversidier; all their facets and aspects heightened to perfection, with stunning renditions of "Living In The Past" and "We Got Used To Us" the perfect illustration. Keyboard player Michal Lapaj got to move to the forefront - not that his contributions were anything less than vital - during the heavy dance themes of "Egoist Hedonist", before an extended, jammed in places, hit of "Escalator Shine" closed the main set in dazzling fashion. Ignoring the venue curfew time, a two song encore was demanded and delivered with gusto, "Celebrity Touch" and "Second Life Syndrome" summing up the beautiful, stark, heavy, smarting, intricate, ebullient dichotomy that makes Riverside the force they are. Tonight Edinburgh was treated to a masterclass in Heavy Progressive Rock with an eye and ability to stretch the boundaries of that genre, that masterclass was called Riverside.