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While everyone in the metal/prog/whatever community only reference Riverside as a footnote to their Porcupine Tree liking or dismiss them on the same note, I'd beg to differ. Both bands essentially spring out of the same aesthetic and there is very little wholesale borrowing that ever showed up in Riverside's sound. Riverside, decidedly and evidently, were always the more organic and straightforward of the lot - with a more pronounced emphasis on riffs and instrumentation as opposed to layering and fluff. This lent itself to a great string of albums, before bassist Mariusz Duda decided for some reason that he'd had enough of the metallic aspect and decided to make something a little more straightforward.
If that's what you could call it. Listening to this, it feels to me as if in seeking to strip down their sound Riverside seemed to have stripped away at the core, at the bare essentials of what made them interesting listening in the first place. Everything on here is clean sounding, with a neutered version of the old Riverside showing up when things pick up. Hardly daring, and not much of a revolutionary change in reality. If I may point out something entirely contradictory to my initial suggestion and actually reference this to the work of Steven Wilson - this is the same approach that's laid out in his solo work. Now while Steven Wilson's releases were peppered with a palpable jazz influence and actually much in the vein of older prog rock, Riverside only downsizes without really adding much else. To that end the songs simply sound empty. While they certainly have songs in the past that were stripped down to their bare essence ('Through The Other Side') and come off sounding particularly profound - an album full of sedated, meandering songs really isn't in the same ballpark even.
The problem is, while Duda clearly wants to go for something different - he is clearly still writing in the same vein as the old Riverside, excepting everything that made the old Riverside good in the first place. There are additions, and these chiefly show up in the last few tracks - for example, the excellent, jazzy sounding break in Deprived with a rather unexpected saxophone solo. Surprises such as this are admittedly sparse. And if there's anything the album is, its formulaic - the very antithesis of the word 'progressive' and Riverside's imprimatur. You could probably foresee every verse, chorus or bridge - despite convoluted song lengths. There's really very little going on here, songs fuse, structures collapse, and the whole album ends up turning into this endless void for the listener. When it does sound good, its usually more akin to the Riverside of old - just neutered and thereby that much less effective.
The only reason this album doesn't get a lower score is because it isn't exactly off-putting. Its just rather monotone. Almost lullaby like, and Mariusz Duda's vocals only add to it. While previously both band and frontman would burst at the seams evoking rage, self confrontation and aspiration - now its just yearning. A seeming yearning to be free of the self perceived confines of their style without the will to chance alienating their fanbase and actually experiment. Something you couldn't accuse fellow countrymen Opeth of, though they did milk their style to the fullest prior. Perhaps Riverside will come up with something new and compelling in the future, but for now - this pussyfooting is unworthy of them.
Note - There are a couple of bonus tracks you could download which record some (I assume) impromptu jams marked 'Night Session One' and 'Night Session Two'. Completely different from anything you'd ever heard from the band, and hardly metal - or rock for that matter. Seems to be something they came up with while recording that saxophone solo. Very tasteful and atmospheric. Heck, I liked it more than the album.
Experimentation is like a powerful man with a world changing agenda. He can either take the risk and succeed, or take the plunge and be prepared for the downfall. This time I'm afraid, it's the latter, for Riverside. This, the best progressive rock/metal act from Poland, features Mariusz Duda on vocals & bass, Piotr Grudzinski on guitars, Michal Lapaj on keyboards and Piotr Kozieradzki on drums. Anno Domini and Second Life Syndrome have engraved their names in my book of one of the best progressive albums ever to be put out. But here I stand before the rumbles of a disaster that Riverside should never have gone through. I'm all for experimentation and diversity, but Shrine of New Generation Slaves placed itself in a rocket that never really reached out of the world. What went wrong? Let's see.
Now Riverside is known for their diverse music influences from Dream Theater, to Rush and even some blues/jazz influences. They have thus incorporated these styles to form a multifaceted style of their own. Shrine of New Generation Slaves focuses more on the modern progressive/atmospheric/space rock kind of style with huge Porcupine Tree influences. The first song, the title track starts off with a slow rock intro that gets heavier, obviously enough and one can clearly notice that they've not lost their progressive feel. Although, I strongly feel that the transitions are way off mark. With a hypnotic riff, evident bass that makes you want to "air slap" that bass guitar, the transition from slow to heavy spoils it all for the song. It sounds monotonous, familiar and cliched, which shouldn't be the case for progressive music and moreover Riverside. There was another problem that spoilt the album for me, and that was the production. It seemed fuzzy, and way too over-produced. There is a limit as to how much you refine a sound and if you pass that mark, the music loses its feel. I could pretty much predict the whole album as soon as the second song kicked in, which shouldn't be so in the case of Riverside. It felt like the musicians were barely even interested in putting out this album. But somehow for their natural talent, a few songs do stand out that barely saves the album from drowning.
"Celebrity Touch" - This song begins with what can be classified as a reminiscent of one of Rush's songs that boasts of a very funky tune. Although the nauseating modern progressive feel still had its traces here, the tiny bass guitar bridge and an endearing, soothing solo was quite refreshing.
"We Got Used To Us" - This song wins over the monotonous music with quality, emotionally absorbing lyrics. The soothing piano intro sets you in the perfect mood for this song and the tiny, calm, yet incomplete guitar solo is pretty much an icing on this bitter sweet cake.
"Deprived" - This song is the best song off the album. This song literally spells out the real Riverside. the track also fulfills the aim of this album, i.e., to produce an atmospheric, trippy, psychedelic sound with a hint of rock. There is a mysterious, yet beautiful solo in this track which I won't talk much about. Yes, I'll keep it mysterious haha.
Overall, bleh. I know, you know, and the members of this band know that they can do much better than just this. They have lost their innovative feel, and have not worked well on the backdrop. I hope they come out with a creative, inventive, progressive album that can linger anywhere from rock to metal as long as it is not predictable, which Riverside is very much capable of doing. Daj Spokój, Riverside! Mo?na to zrobi? lepiej!!
Much can be said about Riverside but not that they repeat themselves. They indeed progress with every album and the newest record, whose name might be gracefully abbreviated to SONGS, is not an exception.
Riverside have already made an album eclectic to the extent of being inconsistent (RAPID EYE MOVEMENT) and while SHRINE OF NEW GENERATION SLAVES may be their second most eclectic release, they didn't make the same mistake again. There's a certain feel that makes itself noticeable from the first seconds of the opening track until the last notes of "Escalator Shrine". In the very core of the record resides the spirit of the 70s eclectic rock in the vein of King Crimson and Gentle Giant. Glowing with Deep Purple sparkle, the core was furthermore enriched with a big shard of Lunatic Soul (Mariusz Duda's side project) and some modern neo prog-pop elements known from 00s albums by Porcupine Tree. Not to mention some melodic themes reminiscent of the band's debut release, OUT OF MYSELF. So, all in all, from these well known ingredients something quite unique has been created and the band deserves a big round of applause for what they pulled off here.
Riverside is first and foremost about music imbued with genuine emotions and true beauty that comes with it. This is what's been disarming me since their first album, something I've never felt while listening to Porcupine Tree, the band they're often compared to. I've even been able to turn a blind eye to occasional pretentiousness or overlook some more or less obvious similarities to Pink Floyd, Dream Theater or Opeth. They play stuff they love and this unparalleled, spontaneous affection for music has become their trademark. That's why they never fail to deliver unique records.
TRACKS BY RATINGS: 9/10[fantastic!]: The Depth of Self-Delusion; Escalator Shrine; Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination) || 8/10[great]: New Generation Slave; Celebrity Touch; Feel Like Falling || 7/10[very good]: We Got Used To Us ||
-- Originally written for Metal Music Archives --