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Stripped down sound, grows tiresome - 62%

Innersfree, May 3rd, 2013

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.