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Riverside: Wasteland

What with 2016’s Eye Of The Soundscape being a collection of reworked and rescued ambient pieces that were fashioned with new music into an album, Wasteland should probably be viewed as Riverside’s first full foray since the tragic and sudden death of guitarist Piotr Grudzinski. Since then the band have not only signalled their intention to continue through the aforementioned Soundscape, but also with some triumphant live performances that brought band and fans together in a manner seldom seen - music and emotion a bond that will never be broken for those who saw those shows. On those nights Maciej Meller took on the role of six-string presence in the band and did a superb job, however, for now, the main guitarist on Wasteland is Riverside singer and bassist Mariusz Duda, the feeling within the camp being that slow steady rebuilding is the wisest and most respectful course of action - although Meller and Mateusz Owczarek do both contribute some lead guitar work.

It may feel a little obvious to say it, because the same applies to nearly everything Riverside record, but it is worth emphasising that Wasteland is a slow burn of an album where initial encounters merely hint at the beauty and melancholic majesty of what has been created. That said, this time those early dalliances do reveal some aspects that stay the course, with some stronger nods to the band’s earlier sound than more recent albums have provided being strongly in evidence. While, conversely, there’s also a more organic, earthy feel in places. That’s not to say that the ethereal dream-like moods and meanders that have long been Riverside’s calling card aren’t firmly in place, but where the guitars bite they do so with a gentle ferocity and viscous intent. Yet, as you might expect, it’s the bass-work from Duda and keyboard contributions from Michal Łapaj that often forge this continuation from Riverside, “Vale Of Tears” brutish in its bottom end, yet beautiful in its melody.

For a band who have been through so much, it should maybe be expected that the theme of this album is surviving through tragedy and rising above adversity. There’s a strongly defiant air and a feel of optimism running through everything and while Riverside have, in truth, always been an outfit who have traded strongly on more stark and longing emotions, possibly the most impressive aspect across the Wasteland is that they have chosen not to reside in these areas any more than we would have previously expected. “Guardian Angel” is both resilient and yet full of despair, the stinging guitar melody pushing against the strum of an acoustic six string and the pull of the piano. Whereas “Lament” booms in its patient bass movement and grinding guitars, all of which rush headlong into something much more organic in the shape of violin and melodies that sound more traditional to this band’s Polish roots.

Running to over nine minutes, “The Struggle For Survival” feels integral to the soul of Wasteland as it veers from traditional prog-rock keyboard surges and swirling riffs to pensive, almost spy-movie like intrigue. Whereas “Acid Rain” is almost joyous in its pain, Duda providing a wordless vocal that’s sure to be a raucous sing along in the live arena, even if the guitar breakdowns pull at the heartstrings. “Wasteland” takes a similar idea and winds it around brooding guitars that dig deep in the psyche, while “River Down Below” is possibly the most ‘traditional Riverside’ in its introspective construction. With it all bookended by the connected pair of “The Day After”, which is a brave voice and atmospherics introduction, and “The Night Before”, which closes things out as a similarly themed piano ballad, the journey of emotion this album takes you on really can be somewhat overwhelming.

Where Riverside go from here is anyone’s guess. Will they burrow deeper into the heart of what has made them the individual, idiosyncratic outfit they are, or will they veer into completely new territory? Those are, in fairness, questions for another day. For now we should simply rejoice in their return and be thankful that Riverside are as strong and vital as they always were.

See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!

Track Listing
1. The Day After
2. Acid Rain
3. Vale Of Tears
4. Guardian Angel
5. Lament
6. The Struggle For Survival
7. River Down Below
8. Wasteland
9. The Night Before

Added: December 8th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Wasteland @ Riverside online
Hits: 2084
Language: english

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Riverside: Wasteland
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2018-12-08 06:31:33
My Score:

Like many fans of progressive rock, Polish rockers Riverside have taken me on a magical musical journey over the years. Riverside was one of the bands that sparked my interest in progressive minded music after many years of abandoning the genre. It’s bands like Riverside that have taken me back to my musical roots and for that I will be forever grateful.

The band’s body of work speaks for itself as each album has something new and different to offer while still keeping the Riverside fingerprint indelibly stamped (no pun on Supertramp intended). No, this isn’t a band to rest on its laurels, even after the tragic passing of their guitar player Piotr Grudzinski in 2016. The news was devastating but somehow, after a period of grieving and serious contemplation, the band was able to carry on. Eye Of The Soundscape was released later on that year and had the band go in an ethereal and experimental direction. This is the last album to feature Grudzinski’s guitar work. Well, the band is back with their new album titled Wasteland, the first disc that has the band playing as a three piece although guest musician Maciej Meller contributes guitar solos. There are a couple of other contributors as well.

This is an amazing and powerful record. It’s almost as if the band has been able to channel Piotr’s spirit and record an incredible moving album that had me at rapt attention from the first song to the last. “The Day After” begins the album, a lament of heartache and grief as Dudas’ fragile vocals are surrounded by an ethereal backdrop of drones and strings. This leads directly into “Acid Rain” getting back to heavy/classic Riverside and a very catchy chorus. The dramatic riffs and keyboard/string orchestrations are simply delightful. An atmospheric section ensues showcasing the versatility of Dudas’ voice as his style ventures into Roger Waters’ territory. The riffs are thick and heavy in “Vale Of Tears” augmented with tasty ‘70s style organ. One of the most beautiful and poignant melodies on the disc comes in the form of “Guardian Angel” where heartfelt acoustic strums meet Duda’s incredibly moving vocal delivery. His voice lies somewhere between speaking and singing and it is absolutely marvelous here. Beds of organ and crystalline guitar rings through the forlorn soundscape offering hints of Pink Floyd. A calm guitar arpeggio and banjo mixes with heavy crunch in the melancholic but catchy “Lament”, another beautiful track. Wordless backing vocals and violin add to the song’s undeniable emotion. Dueling guitar layers highlight “The Struggle For Survival”, a moodier instrumental piece with the focus on atmosphere and excellent musicianship. Squelching lead guitar and staccato rhythms are on full display when the music turns heavier. Another favourite has to be “River Down Below” with its mixture of acoustic guitar beauty and erupting electric guitar near song’s end and as the notes soar into the heavens I wonder if Piotr is looking downward with a smile on his face. The mesmerizing piano/vocal ballad “The Night Before” ends the disc on a beautiful note and is another song to savour. The lead and backing vocals are a highlight.

doesn’t quite sound like any other Riverside album, yet there is no doubting the band’s signature sound. The pain, love, blood, sweat and tears that went into this record is almost palpable. Easily one of the best albums of the year and one I will be enjoying for many months and years to come.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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