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Searching for balance - 91%

Darkes7_, March 8th, 2010

The above title is pretty much what this album is about – it starts where Out of Myself left off, with a very unclear situation and plenty of trouble to deal with. We are no longer in the nice and fairly simple dreamworld, it's time for the difficult, brutal reality to enter... The lyrics describe this perfectly, and it's really obvious Mariusz Duda has matured as a lyricist since the debut album, as this time we get much deeper into detail, deeper into emotion, and nothing is as clear and simple as it used to be – there are many more ways of interpretation, more ways to see the problem, and many more possible paths after the (very mysterious) end. Everything is darker, more unfriendly, more complicated, and at times we might even wonder what's real – and what's not.

Most importantly, however, this is reflected by the music on Second Life Syndrome. I started with the lyrics, even though I normally don't do it, on purpose – the lyrics tie perfectly with the music on the album. Out of Myself was fairly good at doing that, but here it feels like it's really difficult to detach one from the other – both are necessary to form the atmosphere, and the image of the state of mind of the person we're dealing with. For this reason, the music is much more diverse, more experimental and more daring than earlier. The melodic, melancholic style remains here, but it's just one of the many pieces of a greater image rather than the core of the music like on Out of Myself. There are only two songs that are dominated by this style, both fairly short – Conceiving You and I Turned You Down, which work very well for “linking” the songs together and are enjoyable on their own, but are probably the least impressive compositions here (though I know plenty of fans who would shoot me for this statement...). What's entirely new is the use of heavier influences, going into straightforward progressive metal at many points, and the way they are combined with experimentation and the band's softer style. While the debut album was rather monolithic, this time the music can be very contrasting at moments, switching rather rapidly from melancholy to energy and anger, and showing a great range of different feelings and emotions. However, everything has its place here thanks to the songwriting, which is clearly another huge step forward – the songs are far more unpredictable and diverse, but even with all these contrasts and differences, it feels natural and logical, rather than being a bunch of random ideas put together.

Some of these ideas are rather unusual and definitely step out of the “safe progressive zone”. The opener, called After, is probably the most obvious one, starting with a spoken intro, and then using a kind of wordless, layered vocals, giving the song a bit of a tribal feeling. Despite being something entirely different than the rest of the album, it manages to introduce the listener into the atmosphere perfectly. This is the most obvious example, but throughout Second Life Syndrome, Mariusz Duda has greatly expanded his “wordless singing” technique, using it as a sort of instrument in several songs. It creates an amazing atmosphere in several moments (the third part of the title track is the most important one) and is one of the band's most original ideas here. His clean singing is just as great as on the debut, full of emotion and feeling in every song, managing to sound calm, peaceful, melancholic or resigned, whichever is needed. On the other hand, however, there's more of the harsh, angry vocal technique that has first appeared on Out of Myself, complementing the heaviness of the music. Artificial Smile, easily the heaviest song on the album and probably the most straightforward of the entire trilogy, uses them the most, giving the song an extremely angry, frustrated feeling, in a few moments feeling even on the borderline of extreme metal (it's also an excellent live song, but for some reason they haven't played it for a while now).

The whole album, however, is clearly dominated by the title track which could be the most impressive thing the band has done to date (right next to Ultimate Trip which ends Rapid Eye Movement... but that's another story). It is also the longest one, with the length of 15 minutes 40 seconds, and definitely deserves the title of a “progressive epic”. There are some obvious Pink Floyd inspirations throughout, but the whole suite is one of the things that truly define the band – at least during the trilogy. The whole composition is full of incredible atmosphere, feeling and emotion since the first note, something that's been created with mind and soul – a creation that's perfectly written and crafted, with not a single needless second, but also done with amazing finesse. Divided into three parts, each one is something different, yet the flow of the song is perfect – after the intro (which is the clearest Pink Floyd inspiration), part one is the closest to progressive metal, with more complex instrumentation and an incredible chorus, which really feels that it is the breaking point and the centre of the entire trilogy; part two is very mellow and peaceful, with the voice nearing a whisper, and a very calm piano leading it. And finally, part three... if a band is capable to create something like this on their second album, you know you're dealing with something extraordinary. This is where words fail, and the only way to believe is to hear it. Let me just write a rather simple statement – it is easily one of the most incredible guitar solos I've heard in my life... and it didn't need much technical complexity to achieve that.

Other than the title song, there are two more songs with above-average length on Second Life Syndrome, they're also probably the ones that reflect the new, more progressive metal-oriented direction of the album the most. Volte-Face is exactly what I had written about contrasts and sudden changes, with plenty of heavier and calmer moments, heavier riffs and a piano section, and also with a bit of a classic hard-rock influence that can be felt throughout. Dance With The Shadow is probably the most technical composition on the album, although “the most technical” doesn't make it any less atmospheric or emotional – it's simply heavy and with more emphasis on instrumental complexity. However, it is in between of two shorter songs, both of which remarkable to say the least, and clearly make the album become darker towards the end. The first one is the third Reality Dream instrumental, which is rather different than its predecessors from Out of Myself, using one of the heaviest riffs on the album in the beginning, but also alternating between heavier and more melodic sections (and a piano section which can be described only as “haunting”), and is definitely the best of the three instrumentals of the trilogy. The second one, which is also the closing track, is the darkest song on the album, called Before. Starting in a very minimalistic way, with nearly whispered vocals, it slowly progresses and becomes heavier, leading into the dramatic riff ending the album. Although, in fact, it's not really the riff that ends the album – it's something else. Certainly memorable.

What has to be noted is that with the slightly more technical direction and more emphasis on heaviness, the band has also obviously progressed in terms of technical skills. Piotr Grudziński had already proved his amazing ability at playing emotional, melodic solos on Out of Myself, but this time he can also come up with many great riffs, making the whole album more riff-oriented, although there's still plenty of solos. The rhythm section has also got more force and character this time, standing out more than before, and particularly the bass is great, hardly ever doing the standard guitar-doubling and coming up with many interesting, unusual basslines. The major change, though, are the keyboards. After a rather mysterious split-up with the previous keyboardist, Michał Łapaj marks his first appearance on a full-length Riverside album here (and from a 2010 perspective, there's no doubt that he was an excellent choice), and the difference is rather obvious. This times the keyboards are used less to just add sound effects and soundscapes – there's much more piano used throughout the album, and sometimes he actually goes intro straightforward, more progressive metal keyboard solos (like in Dance With The Shadow, where his performance is simply great).

It's really interesting to see the progression this band made in just two years – starting with a very interesting, atmospheric and well-written debut that, however, lacked a bit in originality, the second album is much more daring, far more experimental, and shows a very significant change of style. There are some weaknesses I could possibly find, but these are truly minor details that have a really small importance for the music. Second Life Syndrome is excellent from start to finish, and the musical maturity shown by such a young band here is really remarkable. If you enjoy diversity, atmosphere and progressive music, you won't be disappointed (unless you also expect skull-crushing technical extreme progmetal here like the reviewer below).

And the most impressive thing is that this still isn't the best part of the trilogy...

Kiiinda boring - 37%

The_Boss, June 24th, 2008

Riverside is a Polish progressive metal/rock band that plays a very mellow and atmospheric style of ‘relaxing’ music. The music itself ranges from very slow acoustic or clean passages with quite emotional and heartfelt vocals to some sort of rocking and more metal parts, but not much in between. This isn’t exactly the most metal band out there, it’s more like progressive stuff like Porcupine Tree and the lighter moments in Rush type stuff… or maybe a much less heavy and more emotional version of Dream Theater. I like to use the word ‘emotional’ here because it’s the only way I can describe the music with the vocals being a highlight. Marius Duda does a great job of being very expressive in his feelings or senses with the slower parts in Riverside’s music.

The music here isn’t the fastest, the most metal, the most brutal, but at least it does have a sense of musicianship and well thought out song structures. It’s quite progressive having many melody changes and shifting through some sort of equilibrium of time with the meandering of the longer songs. It seems like this type of music is more found for people who like softer variants of metal. Take the song Conceiving You; it’s a simple and melodic ballad type song that has a great highlight of passionate vocals and the lead guitar shines here with enjoyable lead melodies. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the musicianship in Riverside; everything from the vocals to bass to guitar is competent. Duda doubles with vocals and bass duty showing his emotional and passionate side and occasionally breaking out in harsher screams and yells (by harsh I mean something you’d find like Russell Allen’s heavier moments, and shows some wonderful bass lines, especially on the 15 minute title track with fun bass breaks. The lead guitar crunches along for the most part, but the song continues to bore me in the lower and mellow parts. Almost 5 minutes in it just goes into boring mode with slow guitar and even slower drums, at least Duda has a good voice otherwise it would be easily skipworthy. I have nothing wrong with long songs as I completely enjoy The Odyssey and all of Pagan’s Minds work, same with Dream Theater, but here it just doesn’t work. The songs rely on the vocals too much which is somewhat of a turn off, because his voice after a while seems like it’s too wimpy for a metal band.

The biggest problem here is how the songs are often boring as shit from the lack of upbeat and enjoyable parts. It’s mostly slow acoustic, clean or piano/key driven openers into some melodic guitar passages and even more melodic singing, or crooning I should say as Duda has quite a voice, something that could fit in with pop music almost. Again, he can show his talent at times, but a lot of parts its so weak and soft it’s like he’s singing in a pop band; other times he’s whispering or something as if this were a gothic band showing their dark side. Listen to the first song After, where he basically whispers the entire thing about his inner struggles. Very emo, isn’t this a metal band?

I think this could have major potential, because the guitarist is very talented and maybe if he started pulling off some faster stuff or actually soloing like a metal guitarist instead of weaker slow solos basing itself mostly on atmosphere. The solo on the title track at about 14 minutes is good though and the ‘atmosphere’ actually works because the bass is so powerful and allowing for some fun prog. Songs like Artificial Smile have so much potential to become a prog powerhouse, like the first 15 seconds or so start off awesome, something like Dream Theater meets Iron Maiden (guitar part reminded me of Maiden not sure why) and then it just all drops out after that and bases the whole music on Duda’s voice and weak guitar riffs or keyboard/synth driven melodies that get old and boring after a while.

Riverside isn’t completely a terrible band. I can see how a lot of people will like this, fans of really softer or total prog bands like Porcupine Tree, 3, or Dream Theater’s softer moments will love this probably. But it’s very soft music, it’s barely metal; it’s progressive rock but not the awesome type like Rush with amazing musicianship. The music here reminds me of stuff that you’d listen to when you’re down or it’s raining and you feel bad. It’s very emotional, atmospheric and vocal based music that requires a lot of attention to listen to. I can enjoy some of the stuff, the more metal and upbeat songs like Volte Face, Artificial Face and Reality Dream III for the most part because at least it might actually warrant being metal. Reality Dream III starts off like the norm, but this time it at least grows up into a metal song with some crunchy RIFFING, something you could almost headbang to; but it goes away quick with more mellow clean guitar ‘soloing’ and soft bass/drum rhythms.

Riverside is a specific band for specific fans, if you’re a total prog junkie this will probably be right up your alley with plenty of soft mellow moments and emotional vocals; but if you’re looking for some metal, stuff like the more metal prog like Pagan’s Mind or Spheric Universe Experience then wrong place because this is very soft music for softer fans. Not much here to headbang to, nothing really to even sing along with… it’s just there to relax you, maybe make you sad I’m not sure. This is pretty boring, so I’ll go look for some heavier metal.

Approaching Musical Perfection - 92%

IcemanJ256, July 12th, 2006

I bought this album totally based on the reviews, without hearing a single second of music, and it is probably my best new discovery this year so far. This album is overflowing with lush melody, imaginative songwriting, intense emotional lyrics and heartfelt singing. There are many mellow moments, but it has plenty of heavy rocking moments as well. There is lots of keyboard usage, and refreshing, colorful guitar melodies.

The singer, Mariusz Duda, is the best I've heard since Daniel Gildenlow, maybe even better. His timbre is smooth, his range is incredible, parallel to the music, it varies from soft and delicate, to wailing and powerful, hitting high and low notes, and even a few screams which captures that true emotion being released.

This is truly some of the most _Progressive_ music I've heard. The different ideas and movements seem very natural as they flow into each other, forming crescendos and crashing down again, yet the next part of the song is always an exciting mystery, even after listening to it several times. The songs don't linger around forever with the same feel and then suddenly change, different parts last just the right amount of time before moving on to something new.

The title track is my favorite song here. It spans over 15 minutes, and every chord progression, every note, every second of singing is musicianship at its finest. At one slower part, between breaths there is a little twinkle of keyboard notes that snuggles in just perfectly. It is only one second of this song, but the little things give this album that substance so it never feels empty or drawn out.

"Conceiving you" is probably my second favorite song here. It starts with a contemplative piano loop which soon blossoms into a full band. The guitar solo shortly after is one of the most absolutely heartfelt melodies I have ever heard, and near the end of the song it climaxes and everything comes together, while the singer cries, "Still Conceiving you... all along..." Even though this track is short it always leaves me in astonishment.

Who says we can't make comparisons? I think fans of newer Anathema, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and Pain of Salvation will eat this album up like a huge cherry cheesecake smothered in chocolate sauce. You can hear the true emotion like Anathema, the long, shifting song structures like Floyd, the heaviness incorporated in like newer Porcupine Tree, and the brilliant lyrical content and lush blend of instruments like Pain of Salvation. The band isn't necessarily directly influenced by them, and certainly not "ripping them off," but like I said, fans of the previous bands will defiantly go crazy over this band; I know I love those 4 bands, and I love this.

This band has an extremely bright future ahead of them and I don't see how any intelligent music fan could possibly say this is bad. I don't think the band will ever retreat to any limitations or labels and will always do what's truly in their heart. It's my best new discovery this year and I'm very glad I "blindly" purchased it. I'll be getting their first album very soon. Rock on, guys.

Great second album - 96%

FishyMonkey, April 7th, 2006

Where the hell did this band come from? Sounding like a hybrid of Tool, Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, this Polish band (a nation usually known for its excellent death metal bands like Behemoth, Vader and Decapitated) has quickly launched themselves into one of my favorite bands. I haven't been able to track down their debut yet, but, oh my, I plan on it.

The members are all highly talented. The basslines are fitting, nothing spectacular, but they get the job done. Same goes for the drummer, very solid work, but nothing extraordinary. The guitarist, however, is extraodinary, and extremely fun to listen to. His pure prog metal solos reek of emotion and absolute precision in choosing notes. Lovely lovely stuff. The vocalist is the same way, whether he is screaming or singing lightly. All excellent, he's one of the best vocalists I've heard in a long time. The keyboards are played very well, and help richen the compositions greatly.

Songwriting is next to perfect. Neither of the two epics get boring, and the shorter songs are of perfect length and structure. The album opens with After, whic his an excellent tribal-sounding opener with great vocals. It launches into Volte-Face, the most straight-forward song on the whole alubm. It's generally a rocker with some great vocals and screams. Nothing epic, but fun. Next is Conceiving You, which has a pretty piano line and some great guitar work. The thing that really makes this piece lovely is the vocal line, however, which is sung beautifully.

Next is the first epic, the title track. Words cannot describe. The track flows perfectly from one section to the next, and I wouldn't be doing it justice to describe it. All I can say is that this is some of the best work I've heard in years. After is Artificial Smile, which is probably the heaviest track. It features some excellent screams from the vocalist and is real fun to listen to while singing/screaming along. After is I Turned You Down, which is a wonderfuly laid back piece with great vocals. I tell you, the vocals on this album are near perfect. Wonderful track. Next is Reality Dream III, an instrumental with more heroic guitar work and all substance, no wankery. It is also a very beautiful piece. The piano interlude in this piece is excellent...a little DT-reminiscent, but oh well. And the guitar solo is as good as it gets. This guy could stand up to Steve Wilson or Mikal Akerfeldt in soloing any day.

The next piece is the other epic, and is just about as good as the first one on the album. So I won't describe it, I'll just say, beauty. The closer has some beautiful vocals and concludes the album in a very satisfying way.

What a beautiful album. This is everything I like for in music. Highly reccomended.