Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape – Album Review

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Artist: Riverside

Album Title: Eye Of The Soundscape

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 21 October 2016

How on Earth does one even begin to review an album like this? I have found this to be one of the most difficult reviews to write since I began the Blog Of Much Metal. Indeed, it is one of the toughest I have had to write in well over ten years in this reviews ‘business’. It has seen many drafts up until this point and the reasons for this are myriad and complex.

I always want to review music honestly, otherwise what’s the point? However, there are times when this is a real challenge. This is one such time.

I have had, it is truthful to say, an up and down relationship with Riverside. When I heard their debut album ‘Out Of Myself’ when it was released back in 2003, I immediately fell in love. The atmospheres, the melodies, the subtlety, and the power all combined to create an intoxicating final product. However, with subsequent releases, I began to enjoy the output less and less. In my opinion, the melodies weren’t as strong and, in the case of ‘Anno Domini High Definition’, I really wasn’t all that impressed with the heavier output – I felt that it lacked finesse and the stature of the debut in particular. I still struggle with it today.

But then Riverside released ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’ in 2013. With it, Riverside brought me back into the fold. Then just last year, they followed this up with ‘Love, Fear And The Time Machine’ and I fell in love with the Polish progressive rock band all over again. I adored it and still do. In fact, the song ‘Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching)’ remains one of the most striking and powerful songs of that year. Not only musicially, for it is a gorgeous piece of music. But it is the lyrical content that brought me to tears frequently. I was going through a tough time but the lyrics helped pull me through:

‘It’s a lovely life, you have gone so far don’t give it up
It’s a lovely life, got to go with what you think is right’

So simple, so beautiful. These words then, tragically, became even more powerful and heartbreaking on 21st February 2016 when the devastating news reached us that guitarist Piotr Grudziński had passed away unexpectedly from a sudden cardiac arrest at the ridiculously young age of 40. Just listen to this song in the context of this tragedy and tell me, honestly, that you don’t find yourself welling up.

Photo credit: Mariusz ‘Kobaru’ Kowal

Photo credit: Mariusz ‘Kobaru’ Kowal

And now the remaining trio of vocalist/bassist Mariusz Duda, keyboardist Michał Łapaj and drummer Piotr Kozieradzki, who have vowed to keep Riverside alive as a three-piece, present the world with ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’. According to the band, this was the album that they have always wanted to make, particularly Piotr Grudziński who was arguably the most excited by the venture.

You see, ‘Eye Of The Soundcape’ is best described as an instrumental ambient electronic record, somewhat removed from the more recognisable sounds of the Polish prog rockers. It is also the last release that will sadly ever feature Grudziński on guitar as this music was largely recorded prior to his untimely passing.

Therefore, how do I remain objective about this album given the context surrounds it? To some extent, the answer is that I can’t remain entirely objective; how could I? I’m human after all, with emotions and a heart. And that’s why I have found this review so troublesome, trying not to overindulge in sentiment and hyperbole for the sake of it, but allowing my feelings to help shape what I write and how I view this release.

The second initial quandary I had was wondering how I review an album from a band that treads a fundamentally very different path to what has gone before? Well, on that score, I found things a lot simpler, relatively-speaking, the reason being two-fold: firstly, I was already familiar with some of the material. Secondly, Riverside have done something rather amazing with ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’, namely create a body of work that manages to sound both very different but also very familiar at the same time. I don’t quite know how they have done it, but the music on this record is unmistakeably Riverside. It couldn’t be anyone else. Well, ok, it could be Duda’s Lunatic Soul in places, but that’s just cheating.

In actual fact, I do know how they’ve achieved this feat and the reason for it is quite simple; each musician within the band has their own way of doing things, their own sounds and their own unique vision. On this record, you can hear each member of the band playing their instruments, just to a greater or lesser degree as the compositions dictate. But their own unique stamps are audible throughout, arguably more so than at any other time in their career; it’s like this style of music has allowed the individuals more time and space and by heavens it works.

I mentioned earlier that some of the material was already familiar. That’s because nine of the thirteen tracks have previously been released as extras on previous albums or featured on the ‘Reality Dream’ trilogy. In the case of ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ and ‘Rainbow Trip’, they have been remixed, but everything else is ‘as is’ from when it was previously released. Both of those remixed tracks are very interesting and add value the overall package. In fact, they work better here within the context of this record and that’s a theme right across the board. Standing out for me is ‘Rapid Eye Movement (2016 Mix)’ which still retains those deliciously memorable melodies and subdued atmosphere.

In the main though, I want to focus on the four brand new pieces of music that appear on this record. They go by the names of ‘Where The River Flows’, ‘Sleepwalkers’, ‘Shine’ and ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’, and they are all marvellous in spite of the fact that they don’t fit in at all with my normal listening preferences. Perhaps this harks back a little to the sentimentalism I spoke of earlier, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they are genuinely great, although it took a while for me to reach this conclusion. I was out of my comfort zone initially and, to be frank, I wasn’t sure I had the emotional strength to tackle this album. But that’s a thing of the past now.

Photo credit: Mariusz ‘Kobaru’ Kowal

Photo credit: Mariusz ‘Kobaru’ Kowal

A sombre and moody atmosphere ushers in the utterly brilliant ‘Where The River Flows’, which builds throughout its double-digit length. After a deliberately pensive and mournful introduction dominated by Michał Łapaj’s synths, a relatively simple yet incessant beat is brought in. As the track develops, so does the intensity and a sense of heightened urgency as the tempo increases along with a subtle introduction of other instruments.

After the five-minute mark, Grudziński’s guitar is properly audible, sending a shiver down my spine in the process, creating strong emotions that I cannot hide from. But it is the ending sequence that holds the most power for me as it transforms the song from very good to exceptional. The rich piano notes that cut through the layers of sound are highly emotive as is Duda’s voice which never breaks out into singing any lyrics but is used to sublime effect as another instrument in the band’s armoury. His melodic yet highly gentle and fragile tones conclude the song perfectly. Initially accompanied by just the piano, it is ultimately left completely alone in the otherwise suffocating silence, a silence perpetuated by me as I try to put into coherent thought what I have just heard.

‘Shine’ is a shorter, punchier number that rides in upon striking electronic sounds and a strong, solid beat from Piotr Kozieradzki. The bass of Duda is at the front of the mix in the early stages, rumbling with authority. The lead guitar work from Grudziński is instantly recognisable, adding melody, beauty and emotion into the piece with utter ease and simplicity.

In some ways, the title track follows a similar pattern to ‘Where The River Flows’ in that it extends beyond ten minutes in length and delicately builds as it develops. That said, the title track begins in a much more ambient and minimalist way to create a more soothing and lighter atmosphere and it never fully blossoms in the same way, remaining understated and very deliberate for its entirety. The introduction of strange sci-fi-like sounds and effects adds an interesting dimension as well before things really start happening as the song nears the half-way point. The keys of Michał Łapaj really come into their own on this composition, adding some super textures and atmospheres as the early minimalism gently grows into something altogether more ethereal and uplifting. The low notes resonate deeply but when the expressive guitar notes join in, albeit sparingly, it is difficult to hold on to my emotions yet again.

Out of all of the new tracks, it is ‘Sleepwalkers’ with which I have had the toughest time. At its core is a far more pronounced electronic beat that immediately takes it out of my usual sphere of comfort if I’m honest. However, I have grown to like it thanks to the strength of the melodies within and because of the flourishes that appear from each of the individual members. I’m also strangely comforted by a darker tone as well as the voice of Duda which makes a strong appearance towards the end of the track.

What I have grown to like so much about this album as a whole, not just the new songs, is that although this is an album based on ambient electronic foundations, it never sounds sterile or overly digitised. Instead, there is a wonderfully warm, organic and honest feel that resonates through the music, something that is Riverside through and through.

I’m not the only one who misses Piotr Grudziński tremendously. And, through the medium of ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’, we are all given the gift of hearing his remarkable and unique talent one last time. The fact that it is within the context of something that he was so genuinely excited about, gives it greater meaning, greater depth and far greater resonance. I may not generally be the biggest fan of ambient electronic music, but as with many things that Riverside create, it is a strong and brave album, a truly special and emotional body of work.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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