REVIEW: RIVERSIDE – “ID.Entity”
Like most people, I’m not sad to see 2022 go away. Quite the contrary actually. As generally lousy as the year was, however, we were at least given a good amount of excellent music to get us through it, and per usual the prog community didn’t disappoint. And 2023 is already looking good as Riverside is set to return with its first full-length album since 2018. The world and the band’s circumstances have of course changed since then, and that is reflected in their upcoming concept album ‘ID.Entity’ which finds the band focused on the world at large, and also themselves and it makes for a fine way to start the new year.
When writing the album bassist/vocalist/main songwriter Mariusz Duda asked himself what the band did best. And he concluded that it was writing strong melodies and performing live. While I’ve never had the chance to see them live I certainly agree that they have always excelled at writing great melodies, and this album is full of them. It also has an energy that deliberately harkens back to their earliest albums so I believe the live feel was also captured as well. As for the concept and title, that is best answered with lyrics from the opening song “Friend Or Foe?” ‘Who is behind the filter?/ Who’s behind the mask?/ How much of yourself is left in you?’ The concept of knowing oneself is, of course, a frequent one in rock music, progressive music in particular seems to tackle these questions of identity, and how real we are allowed to be in front of others fairly frequently. However, given that we’ve been dropped into a world of increased isolation, increased zoom meetings, and increased vicariously living through social media and the news, it is certainly a fitting time to bring the subject up again. The music is delightfully keyboard-forward, with Duda’s strong vocals carrying the song along. The band has at times been categorized as being too heavy for art rock but not heavy enough for prog metal and I suppose that remains true. But the metal certainly plays a prominent part.
On the subject of things being prominent, one of the things I’ve always loved about Riverside is the mix and how clearly the bass comes through, and how essential the instrument is to their sound. While this is undoubtedly due to the bassist also being the songwriter, it is also very refreshing in a musical world where the bass is often lost in the mix or is simply playing along with the rhythm guitarist. This is readily apparent throughout but the strong bass hits from the get-go with “Landmine Blast”, and “Big Tech Brother.” The latter of the two is a stinging indictment of how everyone is tracked, followed, and monetized by seemingly every company out there. In a modern world where it is virtually impossible to function without a cell phone, and internet access everything we do -up to and including writing, or reading this review – is monitored. It’s exhausting and infuriating all at the same time. The song also contains some of the nicest solos and playing of guitarist Maciej Meller who makes his album debut with the band having joined in 2020, and worked as a live member.
I’ll jump ahead to “The Place Where I Belong” which clocks in at over thirteen minutes and is also the longest on the album. It begins quite quietly, using acoustic guitar and Duda singing in his most ballad-worthy manner. Piotr Kozieradzki’s light and balanced drumming provide the perfect accent to this before the song picks up with some rollicking Hammond organ playing courtesy of Michał Łapaj who steals the show throughout the song. Lyrically it is probably the most acidic of the album, we are graced with such lines as ‘Another pop-philosopher/ Tells you how you should live/ By starting from getting to know yourself/ Wow, BFD, indeed/ Tell me something I don’t know abou/t Tell me something that doesn’t sound like you just finished high schoo/l And learned by heart/ A few well-known quotes from your favorite browser’. Taken on their own there’s a bit of sly humor in them but they are sung with a level of disgust that conveys a whole array of world-weariness, and genuine disappointment with where social media has led us.
The album closes out with “Self-Aware” the meaning of which is pretty self-explanatory. The song is quite upbeat and driving in nature, almost happy despite the overall tone of the album. But that might well be the point, the song is an argument to not disengage from the world, but to be aware enough of what is bringing darkness into our lives, and more importantly to reconnect with the real people in our homes, and communities. The end goal is a rather positive one and perfectly summed up with the final lines of the album ‘Just want to be close to you/ I want to feel you close to me/ I want to be close to you/ Being complete for the first time.’ We need real human interaction now more than ever, and that in itself can give us hope.
Riverside has put forth an emotional, and highly melodic work to start the year off right. While I don’t think it’s their best work, ‘ID.Entity’ is a strong album, and matches up well against the bulk of their catalog. By tackling the modern world in a real, yet ultimately hopeful way they have given the listener a welcome balm in a time when it is much needed. Old fans should love it, and it also makes a fine introduction to people new to them.