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Riverside - Rapid Eye Movement CD (album) cover

RAPID EYE MOVEMENT

Riverside

 

Progressive Metal

3.79 | 877 ratings

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ergaster
3 stars 3.5/5

And then there were three. The release of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) wound up the Reality Dream Trilogy, the first three albums united by their ambitious and lushly intricate musicality, and their common lyric arc of self-exploration and change. As it turned out, REM also marked the end of the first phase in the band's ongoing quest to explore new musical directions and keep themselves sounding fresh, but this wouldn't become clear until album number 4.

I find this a difficult album to review. I like it, of course, I like all the Riverside albums, and I would rather play REM than many other albums in my collection, but I rarely feel the urge to play it in its entirety. It is an album that seems "stuck between", as it were, in a kind of limbo between potential and success, as if something intangible is missing. In other words, it is not immediately obvious why REM should not be a well-played album. I don't have an easy explanation for why it niggles at me.

At any rate, I suspect that if anyone is going to bother to disagree with any of my Riverside reviews, it will be with REM. I know a lot of people connect with it, but I seem unable to do so. I think my issues with the album boil down to this: the largely hit-and-miss nature of both the songs and the lyrics.

The lyrics of REM appear to be themed around psychological aspects of duality and opposition: sides of our personalities that often are in conflict. Sleeping, dreaming, and the liminal state between sleep and wakefulness are some key metaphors that drive this theme. And I have to confess that these ideas are cleverly handled: hooky imagery abounds, sly cultural references, and plenty of deft turns of phrase -- and yet, there is just something missing.

At his best, Mariusz Duda pens lyrics that often come across as intensely personal, even autobiographical -- as if he is permitting us glimpses into the intimate corners of his soul. In so doing, the words often have the uncanny ability to reflect back our own fears, dreams, and hopes, and it strikes me that given the psychological struggles he is attempting to convey on this album, making that connection would be of paramount importance. And yet despite all the skillful imagery and evocative metaphor, I find this sense of intimacy is largely (but not completely) missing from the lyrics of REM. Except for the poignant "Embryonic", with its heartbreakingly simple tale of dying love, the ideas being conveyed are disappointingly remote.

Musically, REM seems to straddle two worlds. It carries over the lush, dense atmosphere of the previous two albums, but it also -- when it gets going -- is much heavier in feel: the guitars are often hard and jagged, the sound more unremittingly metal -- hints of the musical direction the band will take on the next album. However, I find that REM does not carry the memory-weight of the other albums. With a few exceptions, the songs just don't stick: it is the only Riverside album where I cannot immediately recall the name or the sound of several of the tracks, and I've listened to this album uncounted times since I discovered the band.

The exceptions, though, are incandescent: After the heavy but unmemorable opening track ("Beyond the Eyelids") the album ramps into high gear with "Rainbow Box"/"02 Panic Room"/"Schizophrenic Prayer": three short but monstrous ass-kickers in a row. This is some seriously huge music: the first two tracks chug and throb along (indeed, "02 Panic Room" may be among Riverside's greatest, most beloved songs), and while "Schizophrenic Prayer" is not quite as relentless it is a fitting windup to this massive threesome.

Alas...after that surge of brilliance the album never manages to regain momentum. Like all the Riverside albums, there are long, intricate progressive tracks, but unlike pretty much all the other Riverside albums -- in fact, REM may be unique in this respect -- none of these seem to develop into anything memorable. And perhaps that can sum up the entire album...apart from a few of the short songs, the album just sits there, as if Inspiration, that most important tenth Muse, had gone on vacation.

REM II

But all is not lost....

And then there is the bonus disc. This would be the first album that offered a second disc of bonus material, and these tracks prove to be the album's saving grace. REM II is a collection of somewhat experimental, mostly instrumental tracks: after the remix and revision ("02 Panic Room" and "Beyond the Eyelids" respectively) the rest of the bonus material consists of the band romping its way joyfully through short tracks and long, showcasing influences and vocal play.

"Lucid Dream IV" is a massive metal stompfest along the lines of the three "Reality Dream" instrumentals, but taken to another facemelting level. "Back to the River" is more ambient, contemplative, and unapologetically Floydish -- so much so that when they break into a passage from 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond" the surprise is but momentary -- and naturally they pull it off with casual perfection. "Rapid Eye Movement", perhaps the real epic of the entire album, builds itself over layers of vocal noises: hisses and clicks and chitters and heavy breathing as Duda experiments with his voice as pure instrument.

At the end of the day...Riverside's Reality Dream Trilogy ends in a bit of a slump, with an album somewhere in between their best and their not-so-best (one hesitates to say "worst" -- it is not a word much used in the context of Riverside), sitting towards the bottom of the list mostly due to its sheer averageness. Of course, REM has its adherents -- all the albums do. You just can't hit it out of the park for everyone, every time.

ergaster | 3/5 |

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