Following the utterly heartbreaking and untimely death of guitarist Piotr Grudzinski in February 2016, the remaining three Riverside members - bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda; drummer Piotr Kozieradzki; keyboardist Michal Lapaj - announced a few months later that they intended to continue as a trio, and use session guitarists, as and when required, for both live and studio work. The music of this mightily talented Polish band has held a very special place in my heart, for various reasons, since 2004, upon experiencing their set at ProgPower Europe with a sense of both awe and unexpected catharsis. So, on a personal level, I was delighted and, dare I say, relieved that they decided to continue their musical journey, albeit a man down. Grudzien was not only a master of his fretboard, but the way in which he was able to convey an emotional depth in his playing, through tone, timbre and touch was an incredibly special and natural talent. Gone but never forgotten. And so, Riverside in 2018; a new chapter begins...
I was curious, I have to say, more than anything else, as to what Riverside would sound like, post-Grudzien. Worried? Not at all. The trio of musicians are phenomenally talented, and always have been in the fourteen years I've avidly followed their creativity, so it was more a case of curiosity, in terms of what directions they might choose to take their music. In general, Riverside's core musical aesthetic is still intact on 'Wasteland'. It sounds like Riverside... that's indubitable. However, they've always progressed between releases, and 'Wasteland' is no exception. Albeit, surprisingly (a very nice surprise, I hasten to add) is that they've also indulged in a little regression, whereby sonic nods to some of their early material can be heard. Press sheet blurb indicates they consciously cross-referenced 'Second Life Syndrome' in some of the compositions, although I can also hear glimpses of the other two albums in their Reality Dream Trilogy - notably, some of the more minimalistic moments from their debut, 'Out of Myself', rear their head on 'Wasteland'. As such, the album sees Riverside not only propel themselves into a fresh, genuinely progressive territory with this new chapter for the band, but also offers up a nostalgic acknowledgement and embrace of the past.
The fresh/nostalgic duality of the music reflects what Mariusz has said his intentions were for the new album; which was written "from the point of view of someone bereft, someone who has survived a tragedy." Thematically, it's predominantly centred around survival in a post-apocalyptic world but, by extension, it's metaphorically linked to the passing of Grudzien, as well as the unsettled and chaotic world at present. Emotionally heavy themes, and these are conveyed through equally heavy emotions within the songs, which range from down tempo mellow pieces that are steeped in melancholia, to mid and up tempo compositions that also have dark, melancholic flavours, but also with glimpses of optimism.
Interestingly, the soundtracks to western movies are also said to have been an influence for some of this new music. And, this is true - overtly so during passages in 'Vale of Tears' and the title track, which both have predominant nods to the legend that is Ennio Morricone. Despite the predominance of these nods, they've been integrated seamlessly within the Riverside vibe, so it doesn't feel like misplaced interjections just for the sake of.
While the material on 'Wasteland' ranges from the mellow to the heavy, the album is, in general, a darker, heavier offering than the band's most recent works. The entire mid-section of 'Vale of Tears' is notably heavy... and raw. This is partly due to the rhythm guitar sound, that is more swayed towards looser, organic distorted sonics, rather than a tight, succinct, biting distortion. In fact, it was Mariusz himself who performed all rhythm guitars on the album, as well as lead melodies and some of the solos, plus he used a piccolo bass, which could be mistaken for a guitar, in places. What he's achieved here, along with Piotr's fine drumming and Michal's keys work, is astounding. Of course, there are guests, too - namely four guitar solos from Maciej Meller; one from Mateusz Owczarek and violins courtesy of Michal Jelonek (the latter are thoroughly sublime in 'Lament').
Vocal-wise, the album's a little more diversified than usual. The beautiful tones of Mariusz's singing can be heard throughout, but he also uses the low-end of his voice here and there - on 'Guardian Angel', the title track and 'The Night Before'. A very pleasant surprise, to say the least. His lower tones sound thoroughly introspective. Okay, that's not new for Riverside, as Mariusz's delivery over the more ambient and mellow pieces in the band's past have always had that introspective feeling, but this is more emphatic here, and even more emotionally profound than previously.
I can't sing the praises of this album enough. Bottom line: 'Wasteland' is Riverside at their emotionally profound best. I've shed a tear or two during certain pieces, both initially and on repeated listens ('Guardian Angel', 'River Down Below' and 'The Night Before' all had me well up). It provides a genuinely moving listening experience, at times; and, at others, it's quite an exhilarating one, loaded with all kinds of introspective and emotionally bare depths. The band have commenced their new chapter with a mightily strong offering.
Review by Mark Holmes
28th Sept 2018
1) The Day After
2) Acid Rain
3) Vale of Tears
4) Guardian Angel
6) The Struggle for Survival
7) River Down Below
9) The Night Before
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...'Wasteland' is Riverside at their emotionally profound best."