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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Riverside

Rapid Eye Movement

Review by Julie Knispel

Poland’s Riverside are slowly, but surely, growing a larger, more diverse fan base around them. Moving from indie label Laser’s Edge Records (home of their first release) to larger label InsideOut, the band has found success opening for bands such as Dream Theater in Europe, while headlining their own shows simultaneously. With a sound that draws as much from Tool and later day Porcupine Tree as it does Pink Floyd (with recent forays into darker electronic rock like Depeche Mode), a Riverside album is an intense listening experience, guaranteed to wring every drop of emotion from the active listener, leaving them an exhausted shell afterward.

Rapid Eye Movement is the band’s third album, and second for InsideOut Music. It is also the third and final part of the group’s Reality Dream trilogy (Out of Myself and Second Life Syndrome being the first two “movements” of the trilogy). Less a revolutionary album, the work is more a logical and organic evolution in the band’s sound. Their explorations of more electronic textures add a degree of freshness to the album. Several musical themes evoke easy comparison to previous albums; these are more self-referential than they are self-plagiaristic. Guitars snarl, bass pulses, and symphonic keyboards soar over the shifting moods, creating a sound that is both immediately accessible and familiar, yet fresh and exploratory.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Beyond the Eyelids
So many moods are explored in just the first minute or two of this track, the opening salvo on Rapid Eye Movement. Symphonic keyboards and layered vocals battle with Tool and Porcupine Tree influenced progressive metal, with an overall mood that is eerie and just a touch dark. The heavy guitar/keyboard riff that leads into the first vocal verse, with its rolling, syncopated beat, shows that Riverside is not at all afraid to rock out, ensuring their dark brand of progressive rock actually does rock. Mariusz Duda’s vocals sound phones in, in typical Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson style, while his contributions on bass guitar pulse and throb, underpinning a solid rhythm section with drummer Piotr Kozieradzki. Piotr Grudzinski adds some sustained guitar lines around the 6:30 mark, relying more on single notes to evoke emotion than flurries of notes - a pleasant and underused style.
Rainbow Box
Duda’s simple, yet effective, bass line thrums under a restrained Michal Lapaj keyboard part on the album’s second composition. Less rocky than “Beyond the Eyelids,” the song nonetheless maintains the intensity and heaviness exhibited previously. “Rainbow Box” is a much less immediately accessible song, yet that should not be cause for hesitation, as tight instrumental interplay and vocal harmonies are the guiding features that drive this piece.
02 Panic Room
“02 Panic Room” opens in typical Riverside fashion...brooding, flashes of heaviness seasoning the simmering darkness. Bass lines pulse, drums march along with mechanical precision, and guitar lines slice like blinding lights through the murky night. Mariusz Duda’s vocals are pensive and pleading, and the song features a chorus (deeply reminiscent of Depeche Mode) with hooks so big they’d be able to catch a whale. Synths and strings simply add to the impressive arrangement; while the song and arrangement are far from impossibly technically intricate, there is beauty in the song drawn into clearer focus thanks to these additions. Wonderfully fragile guitar and electric piano lead out to Duda vocals drenched in wounded pain, intoning the lyrics like a man who has lost everything and has nothing left to fight for.
Schizophrenic Prayer
This song carries on the slower, pained vibe evident at the end of “02 Panic Room,” with Eastern-sounding hand percussion and loping bass playing that evokes an Arabic feel. Grudzinski’s clean picked guitar, single notes plucked and echoing, adds to the otherworldly feel, while multiple vocal overdubs create a virtual chorus of emotional agony. When the band shifts into a muted shuffle groove around 3 minutes in, their presence does nothing to detract from the emotional intensity. In fact, they may amplify it.
Parasomnia
Parasomnias are sleep disorders…sleepwalking, tooth grinding, night terrors, and many others are examples of parasomnias. Considering the band’s obsession with sleep and dream in their music, titling a song after a class of disorders dealing with sleep is less a leap and more a logical step. The lengthy track (just over 8 minutes) moves through a variety of moods, with acapella vocals moving into quiet balladic territory, shifting into spacey rock, then pulling out all the stops for heavy prog metal. Lapaj’s keyboards add a rich symphonic patina to the song, thickening the already heavy sections while adding gentle accompaniment on quieter, more fragile portions.
Through The Other Side
Through The Other Side” is a far shorter track, clocking in at just over 4 minutes. Acoustic guitar and bass form the main musical backing, while simple drumming drives the ballad along in heartbeat fashion. Mariusz Duda’s vocals are again plaintive, sung with less broken emotion and more gentleness. A touch of electronics keeps things from becoming too staid and typical, and while the song doesn’t evolve and change as such, its consistency in style is a pleasant change from the multiple parts that typify the average Riverside composition.
Embryonic
The gentle mood continues on the second straight short piece. Grudzinski again contributes acoustic guitar, quiet and strummed, while Duda’s vocals sound as if sung from across a distant valley. Quiet, symphonic keyboards take the place of organic strings, while harmony vocals add a nice touch. Vocals become much more present and centered about 2:30 in, and “Embryonic” picks up in pace slightly while never leaving ballad territory. Add in a weeping, sustained note electric guitar solo a minute and a half later, and the puzzle is complete.
Cybernetic Pillow
Amazingly, this composition is the third consecutive short song on this album, clocking in at just under five minutes. Lest one fear that Riverside was offering up a third straight ballad, the opening moments, complete with chopped power chords and aggressive (yet not screamed) vocals assure the listener that such is not the case. This is Riverside at their heavy rock best, sludgy, mid-tempo heaviness and electronics mixing in a totally organic and logical manner. Guitar solos keen and careen in wildly Eastern influenced directions, while the band’s rhythm section keeps things driving forward.
Ultimate Trip
Rapid Eye Movement closes with a massive 13-minute epic, a final burst of musical power to close out the Reality Dream trilogy. Double bass and floor tom drum lines lead into rich keyboards and syncopated guitar lines, with the pulsing heart of Mariusz Duda’s bass playing providing the spark of life fueling this musical beast. Everything the band seemed to need to prove throughout the album is revisited here in spades, with intense musical interplay, harmony vocals, and tight composition vying for supremacy. Never boring, with shifts and changes around every corner, “Ultimate Trip” seems to be just that, with extended solo spotlights for Grudzinski and Lapaj just two of the highlights. This is an epic that achieves the near-impossible; it leaves the listener wanting more, rather than less.
 
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