The latest sonic offering from Poland's Riverside is, as stated in press materials, something of a "rather unorthodox and experimental" release. The bulk of the material, spread across two discs, is a compilation of various instrumental and ambient tracks (loaded with electronica and fleeting vocalisations by frontman Mariusz Duda) that Riverside have recorded over the years. So, we have compositions that've only previously been available as bonus tracks on the last two albums, and some rarer cuts/remixes. There are also four brand new pieces - 'Where The River Flows'; 'Shine'; 'Sleepwalkers'; and 'Eye Of The Soundscape'. Expectations would be of a not too cohesive album, given the diachronic nature of the material. This, however, couldn't be further from the truth. This is as important a release as anything in Riverside's discography to date, and the most poignant of all their works.
Emotionally stirring atmospheres have always been an integral part of Riverside's musical fabric from day one. Here, on 'Eye of the Soundscape', the atmospheric qualities of their compositions have been given an emphatic bias, to the point where the tracks are all about pure sonic ambience in the most immersively experiential of ways. The music across both discs is just so utterly beautiful, be it expressed through pervasively dark textures, melancholically driven sonics, passages of optimistic tonality, or sheer affective ambiguities. Drums, bass, keyboards and guitars have been interwoven with perfectly posited electronica in the most naturally symbiotic manner. And like all great works of art, I found a passage into 'Eye of the Soundscape' where I became immersed in its core aesthetic, to the point where I lost myself in the profound level with which I emotionally engaged with its sheer beauty. This is not music to be analysed; rather, this is music to be experienced in your own personal space, and in your own unique way. And from start to finish I'll add, too. Don't approach 'Eye of the Soundscape' expecting quick bursts of Riverside's genuine prog majesty. Riverside's music has never been solely about that, anyway. Each of their albums has offered up a profound emotional journey for those wishing to embark upon such. However, their latest offering is genuinely progressive in a whole different way, and the journey it provides, if you let yourself go, is an ultimately rewarding one. My advice? Set some time aside in your life to engage with 'Eye of the Soundscape' in your own emotionally divergent way, and allow yourself to bathe in its sublimity.
This is, of course, also a bittersweet release, as guitarist Piotr Grudzinski tragically passed away earlier this year. It was utterly heartbreaking news to hear. In a year that's seen all too many deaths of iconic musicians, Piotr's passing has undoubtedly hit me the hardest. Riverside's music has been such an important part of my life since 2004, upon witnessing their breathtaking first live performance peripheral to their home country, at ProgPower Europe in the Netherlands. So, writing these words now, currently listening to 'Eye of the Soundscape' for the umpteenth time, I sit here with tears in my eyes. Riverside's music has sometimes had that affect on me in the past, anyway, and it's always ignited the flame of introspection within. 'Eye of the Soundscape' provides a time for reflection in a different sense, as it has enough contemplative space in its expansive sonic canvas to engender remembrance, and for contemplations on the profound tragic loss of a wonderful man and musician. And, beyond being a poignant swansong for Piotr, it's also a time for celebration, in a way. Mariusz is quoted as saying how "genuinely excited" the band were to be able to release this compilation; "a fully fledged, independent release with that kind of music, full of space, trance, melodies and electronics." And he reflects back on a text he received from Piotr: "I really can't wait for this release, I have always had a dream for RIVERSIDE to release such an album." Posthumously, his dream has been realised, which makes it all the more heartbreaking that he's no longer around to experience the undoubted joy the actual release of 'Eye of the Soundscape' would have brought.
Apparently, 'Eye of the Soundscape' was always intended to be some sort of closure; an interim album after concluding "the crowd trilogy", before Riverside embarked on new creative and conceptual endeavours. As such, with Piotr now gone, this double album marks the end of a chapter in a whole different way. But... there will be new beginnings and further endeavours, as Riverside have pledged to continue as a three piece, with session guitarists for both studio work and live shows. For me, and I'm sure it's the same for their wide fanbase across the globe, this news was welcomed with a blissful sense of relief. I certainly wasn't ready to also mourn the loss of Riverside. For now, though, 'Eye of the Soundscape' is a fitting sonic epitaph to the incredibly lovely man and musically majestic talent that was Piotr Grudzinski.
EYE OF THE SOUNDSCAPE
Review by Mark Holmes
49:58 & 52:18
21st Oct 2016
DISC ONE: 1) Where the River Flows; 2) Shine; 3) Rapid Eye Movement (2016 Mix); 4) Night Session - Part One; 5) Night Session - Part Two
DISC TWO: 1) Sleepwalkers; 2) Rainbow Trip (2016 Mix); 3) Heavenland; 4) Return; 5) Aether; 6) Machines; 7) Promise; 8) Eye of the Soundscape
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"This is as important a release as anything in Riverside's discography to date, and the most poignant of all their works."