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Riverside - Second Life Syndrome CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.23 | 1778 ratings

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5 stars As with any band that releases an excellent debut, there was some concern that Riverside wouldn't be able to follow it up, that 'Out of Myself' was just a fluke.

It wasn't. In fact, 'Second Life Syndrome' raises the bar about ten points higher.

So where to start? Album of the year, 2005. My second favourite album ever, from what is now my favourite band. Best vocalist in the progressive scene. Yeah, that's a good enough introduction.

What really stands out in 'Second Life Syndrome' is that every band member has matured. They were all outstanding musicians before, and the consistent interconnectivity of their style was one of the many things that made 'Out of Myself' stand out, but now they've developed their abilities to the point where it seems easy. The composition of each song is next to flawless. The album is a masterpiece.

While 'Out of Myself' explored Riverside's atmospheric style, 'Second Life Syndrome' focuses on their heavier side. Songs like Volte- Face, Artificial Smile and Dance With the Shadow are excellent examples of progressive metal, almost unparalleled in the genre. At the same time, each song upholds a distinguished atmosphere, along with a fluid progression that makes Riverside experts at the art.

'Second Life Syndrome' is the second part of the 'Reality Dream' trilogy. The album begins with After (following our protagonist's mental breakdown in 'Out of Myself') and ends with Before (leading into his recession into a dream world in 'Rapid Eye Movement.') It's a simple concept, and it gives the band plenty of room to explore a variety of progressive styles. The loose story connects each track enough to form it into a coordinated unit, but individually, the tracks stand out well enough:

After (8.5 out of 10) - This unusual opener starts with Mariusz whispering an introduction that brings in the album's premise - that the protagonist has broken down, and he needs to start anew. He has time to express one doubt - But I will still be myself... won't I? before the album truly starts, launching into a a tribal cacophony of vocal melodies, backed with equally tribal drumming and atmospheric keyboards. This song is all about mood, and it sets it very well. A sudden stop at the end leads into...

Volte-Face (9.5 out of 10) - A song that will remove any doubts you had up to this point about the album's sheer excellence. Volte- Face collaborates complex playing on everyone's part with wonderful vocals describing just what the protagonist is going to do to change himself. The track drifts in and out of heaviness while maintaining a hard mood throughout. This especially builds up towards the end, as every instrument grows heavier and Mariusz drops into a perfectly placed and executed growl - You can put me in the lion's cage; you can take my soul, give me a second name, but I don't intend to stop my fight, and I'm not afraid, NOT AFRAID! Volte-Face is an example of everything that's great about progressive metal. And it's not even the best song on the album.

Conceiving You (8.5 out of 10) - A very nice piano-led ballad that does everything right. Riverside kept it short and sweet. Following the biting edge of Volte-Face, it's a welcome change in pace, and its calming atmosphere is a prelude to...

Second Life Syndrome (9.75 out of 10) - The centrepiece of the album. And Riverside's second best song. This epic stops just short of the sixteen-minute mark, and it's divided into three segments, each a little better than the last (except the first one, which obviously has no predecessor.) The first, From Hand to Mouth, starts slow and ambient, then builds to an aggressive pace. The second, Secret Exhibition, is its mirror half, a lighter side of the song that repeats the same chorus as before, but in ballad form, driven by keyboard notes. After that part comes to a peaceful end, an atmospheric interlude takes over and introduces the third part, Vicious Ritual, an instrumental section that draws off the tribal mood of After. Each section blends together perfectly. This is one of those long songs that takes your mind somewhere else, and only lets up once it's over.

Artificial Smile (9 out of 10) - The most raw-sounding track, this one fires off with a heavy riff that leads the song. With sardonic lyrics and hard chords throughout, this is perhaps Riverside's most straightforward rock track, and they do it well. At the end of the song, Mariusz once again launches into a furious scream (TELL ME YOUR LIIIIE!) which is great to shout along to. Artificial Smile isn't anything groundbreaking, just metal done the way it should be done.

I Turned You Down (7.5 out of 10) - Here's what I consider the low point of 'Second Life Syndrome,' simply because it doesn't stand out. It's a good enough ballad, but on an album like this, perhaps another Reality Dream should've taken its place. Speaking of which, the next song is...

Reality Dream Part III (9 out of 10) - The most 'epic' of the four Reality Dreams. This one starts with a light buildup of clean electric guitar and keyboard notes, then explodes into a heavy-metal chorus before settling back down into its previous pace. Probably the best of Riverside's instrumentals, it sets a very nice mood while staying fast and heavy throughout. (As a side note, I posted a video on Youtube called Halo: Reality Dream, which samples the song.)

Dance With the Shadow (9.25 out of 10) - BEAUTIFUL intro. After two minutes of keyboards and gentle singing, the song explodes into the album's fiery climax, an eleven-minute track full of hard riffs, scathing lyrics and, yet again, flawless cohesion with the whole band. Most of the song builds up to its own last lines: I can almost see the light, feel its warmth, and touch the moment I was waiting for so long. So carry on for me now, the die is cast; with open arms I'm standing out against my past. This is one of Mariusz's spotlight moments. The rest of Dance With the Shadow stays heavy until the very end.

Before (9 out of 10) - Ending the album on a sombre note, Before feels destructive. The protagonist has changed himself, acknowledges that he can't go back, and realises that in the end, he's made a terrible mistake. Mariusz delivers this epilogue with simple lyrics. Keyboards lead in the song's first half, then electric guitars slowly take over in the second half, until one last heavy chord and a background scream bring to an end one of the best albums I've ever listened to.

One of the best albums I've ever listened to. You know what I'm saying. Buy it. Now. This is one of the few masterpiece albums that actually deserves a five-star rating. To say it's highly recommended would be a gross understatement.

Receuvium | 5/5 |


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