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Riverside: Second Life Syndrome

After Riverside's amazing debut album Out of Myself was released, the band's vocalist and bassist Mariusz Duda made the following statement on their website: "We know that we're not discovering new lands in our playing, but we do hope that we're doing it our own way, and, sooner or later, we will work out our own distinctive style.". Well, judging by the music on their new release, also their InsideOut debut, Second Life Syndrome, it should be noted that they have achieved their goal to a great extent. Forget about the ever-present Opeth, Porcupine Tree, and later day Anathema references made regarding their first disc. Second Life Syndrome not only surpasses it, but it also presents a distinct Riverside sound that, despite some subtle influences, shows the band developing into a darker musical realm, while retaining the core stylistics of their debut album.

From a lyrical point of view, Second Life Syndrome expands on the concept started with their first album, forming the middle chapter of the band's trilogy. The overall brooding tone is carried over and is often coterminous with the storyline in that the protagonist refreshes the listener's memory about his inner turmoils and psychological problems. The album begins with cathartic whispers by Duda where he briefly gives us an insight into his state of mind in his "second life". The song very slowly builds as brush drums are heard distantly together with a lucid keyboard line that blankets the whole song delicately before waves of guitar sounds emerge and repeat themselves until the second track "Volte-Face" kicks in. New keyboardist Michal Lapaj's style is rather different than the one who played on Out of Myself. Lapaj opts for a more textural statement, reaching certain atmospheres and mostly underlying the bass and guitar chords. He often builds complex textures, perhaps a bit reminiscent of Marillion's post-Brave period, in order to help portray the protagonist's restlessness. His contribution to the album has created an emotional sphere that thoroughly surrounds the album, pushing it into darker areas. As with the debut, the guitar work is exceptional. Most of the riffs and themes are repeated continuously until the band is sure the melodies have sunk in and absorbed the listener in their lachrymose churning. "Volte-Face" has a pretty long build-up, from steady 4/4 drum beats to melodic guitar and bass arpeggios, and then to more riff-oriented guitar tracks. Duda's vocals finally enter the song with smooth shifts between his traditional clean vocals and somewhat angrier or even semi-growled aggressive passages. Things quieten down with the arrival of a fine bass solo and psychedelic guitar lines that are then replaced by a pretty piano interlude and soft string arrangements. Finally, the drums speed up and the riffs become more structured as the song reaches its incensed resolution. By now the tone of the disc has been set and the musical direction defined.

Duda's vocals on the melancholic ballad "Conceiving You" are emotive and expressive, and things hit atmospheric heights when Piotr Grudzinski lays down an elegiac guitar solo, showing incredible growth in his phrasing and note choices since the debut album. He is simply the biggest driving force of Second Life Syndrome with his strange juxtaposition of grooves and textures on the 15-minute title track, where cutting riffs are side by side with analog synths. This song is highlighted by a great bass and guitar combination where Duda uses some more growled vocals, before he ventures into a dramatic passage laced with a slow bass solo accompanied by his most vulnerable vocals to date. He whispers incoherently personifying the main character of the story, supported by eloquent keys and another amazing guitar lead at the end. On "Artificial Smile", besides the very heavy bass and drum workout, what comes to the fore is the lyrical message, conveyed through an impressive prog metal assault and manic screams. Perhaps the most vocal-driven track, it is amazing how great the dynamics are on this piece. "I Turned You Down" also marries heavy guitar riffs with grey synth motifs, bringing out excellent vocal melodies and acoustic guitars. So far, Second Life Syndrome proves to be a very unique piece of work apart from its lyrical content. However, the band also forms a musical link between this and their previous release, with the third part of their instrumental saga "Reality Dream". Sparse key melodies conjure up images of Porcupine Tree, but the song is lightyears ahead of the first two parts on the debut. Multi-textured arrangements, extremely heavy guitar work, and fragile Hammond leads abound the song with an undercurrent of passion. This is easily the most progressive track on the album, given its complex yet utterly beautiful ending. Another lengthy song, "Dance with the Shadow", comes next where Lapaj's keys are at their most prominent phase. After several listens, noticing all those subtle complexities happening at the end, with frequent shifts of tempo and rhythm, will be a great experience for many.

The album ends with "Before", a sad song driven by ethnic percussion work, electronic sequencing, soft and heavy guitar exchange (where Grudzinski really plays his heart out), and dynamic vocals. However, the piano towards the end with an underlying ominousness suggests the story has not concluded, and we should wait for Riverside's final part of the trilogy patiently. Till then, this disc will more than please any prog rock fan.

Track Listing

  1. After
  2. Volte-Face
  3. Conceiving You
  4. Second Life Syndrome
  5. Artificial Smile
  6. I Turned You Down
  7. Reality Dream III
  8. Dance with the Shadow
  9. Before

Added: November 22nd 2005
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Riverside website
Hits: 13160
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Riverside: Second Life Syndrome
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-11-22 20:27:13
My Score:

What can I say that hasn't already been said? Second Life Syndrome, the sophomore release from Poland's Riverside is an amazing achievement, an album that bridges the gap between progressive rock, metal, and psychedelic space rock better than just about any band at the moment, save for perhaps Opeth and Porcupine Tree, ironically two acts that they most get compared to. Other than some subtle flashes here and there, Riverside stays upon their own course, throwing moments of beauty, anger, class, and virtuosity at the listener. If you want to know what modern day progressive rock is all about, take a listen to the complex brutality of "Volte-Face", a song that has moments of sheer heaviness, yet also manages to paint gentle terrains of yearning moodiness that few bands are able to achieve. The near 16-minute title track is just a gorgeous slice of progressive rock, clearly showing the compositional and instrumental skills of the band. The vocals, guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums, all work wonders together, and the result is a band that sounds like they have been playing together for 20 years.

Like I mentioned above, there's not much more about this gem that hasn't already been said, but I will say that if you haven't yet picked up Second Life Syndrome, what are you waiting for? This is certainly one of 2005's top releases.

» Reader Comments:

Riverside: Second Life Syndrome
Posted by MacGuyver2751 on 2005-10-30 15:08:13
My Score:

Awesome review, awesome album.

Best of 2005? Quite possibly...

Riverside: Second Life Syndrome
Posted by Glass Prisoner on 2005-10-28 08:46:44
My Score:

Great Review! Couldn't have said it better! :-)


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