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Riverside - Shrine Of New Generation Slaves CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.07 | 1040 ratings

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4 stars 4/5 main release 4.5/5 with bonus disc

SoNGS is the album I thought would have no competition for 2013, and for most of the year truly nothing else came close (something did sneak up on it towards the end, which surprised the hell out of me). Now, Riverside is my most favourite band in the world, and as much as folks might suspect (and I confess I have done very little to dissuade anyone from thinking so), it really isn't--well, mostly isn't--driven by uncritical fangirl love (no, really!). There are songs on here I can listen to until the end of time. I haven't come to a final decision, but this might be my favourite Riverside album (ADHD held that spot before): the best tracks on this album are among the best that the band has ever created, and given how absurdly consistent these guys are, that is saying something. This album is hugely mature and accomplished, a real master-class in modern prog songwriting. The performances are unparalleled across the board: rock-steady and subtle drumming by Piotr Kozieradski, Michał Łapaj's rich and virtuosic keyboards, Piotr Grudziński's wonderfully atmospheric winding guitar themes, and of course Mariusz Duda's silky distinctive vocals and intricate bass playing, which for Riverside generally and on SoNGS maybe more than any of their other albums, is a lead instrument.

Alas, SoNGS is not a consistent album. The quality of the best tracks is so high that the two weaker tracks, "Celebrity Touch" and "Feel Like Falling", stand out more than they otherwise would. They come off as curiously pedestrian--surprisingly so in truth; and even though they both sport powerful riffs and choruses, that is not enough to rescue the tracks from near-mediocrity. Add to this some rather, um, unexpected difficulties with lyrics in "New Generation Slave" (unexpected because for the most part Mariusz Duda is a fine lyricist and he has written some excellent words elsewhere on this album)...and this has led to a diminished the rating for the main release.

But the album doesn't end after the main 8 tracks. The real revelation here is the two bonus tracks, the instrumental "Night Sessions", apparently recorded quickly on studio time originally booked for Lunatic Soul. The band can pull off both instrumentals and vocal-based songs with equal ease, but these are remarkable tracks, electronica verging on ambient, sounding almost nothing like any of the band's previous instrumental tracks, but managing nevertheless to preserve the Riverside gestalt. NS1 is a tribute to Tangerine Dream seasoned with some Lunatic Soul, reworking the bridge from "Deprived..." into something that sounds for all the world like a down-tempo version of "Phaedra". NS2 starts out even more abstractly, meandering saxophone meets Bass Communion, eventually becoming reminiscent of the Riverside of REM II. These two tracks make for compelling listening; one can only hope that this is not the last we hear of this particular direction.

SoNGS may well be Riverside's breakthrough album. If not, it will surely pave the way. In my review for the Memories in My Head EP I noted that Riverside were the most consistently good band I had ever encountered, and I am happy to report that this really has not changed. Even the less successful tracks are weak mostly relative to the strength of the rest. SoNGS is intense, ambitious, full of vision and promise, with taut songwriting and performances from all involved. Hugely melodic and stunningly beautiful in parts, it may well include the best songs that the band has ever produced.

ergaster | 4/5 |


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