Known for their atmospheric prog-rock, Riverside, have previously released six studio albums. From the opening track from their debut album, Out Of Myself (2003), through to last year’s Love, Fear And The Time Machine (2015), Riverside have delivered consistently high-quality music. Last year’s release was more toned-down than previous albums in terms of its heavier elements; Eye Of The Soundscape (2016), their seventh album, not only takes them further away from the heavier sounds, but introduces us to their more electronic side.
The album opens with ‘Where The River Flows’, a track that follows on well from the previous record and almost serves as a bridge (river pun not intended) between the two; their signature sound and style is established early on in the 10:43 epic (one of five tracks that surpass the ten-minute mark), and gradually, as the track name suggests, it starts to flow and build as it gains a more overtly electronic feel – a track in some ways perhaps autobiographical.
Halfway through disc two it becomes clear that this is not a ‘normal’ album, however, singer and bassist Mariusz Duda makes no secret of the fact that this is largely a compilation of electronic and ambient compositions:
“Before we started a new chapter, perhaps a ‘new trilogy’, I had an idea to release a complementary album. An album in between. An album we had always wanted to record. It wouldn’t be just new music but in our case and in such configuration it would definitely be a new quality because we hadn’t released such an album before.
For years, we have accumulated a lot of material, a part of which was released on bonus discs. I know that some of our listeners still haven’t heard those pieces and do not realise that Riverside, basically right from the start, have been experimenting with ambient and progressive electronic music. And that’s always been a part of our music DNA.
So I presented the idea to the rest of the band and the decision was unanimous. We decided to make a compilation of all our instrumental and ambient pieces, and release it this year as an independent album. Some of the songs would be re-mixed to make them sound better, but most of all, we’d add new compositions.”
It is strange that although I should have known what to expect, I still wasn’t expecting what I heard. ‘Soundscapes’ is definitely the right word. There were several times where thought that things were a little too drawn out and, I confess, even one track that I skipped part-way through.
My mind frequently drifted back to Radiohead’s pivotal album Kid A (2000). This was an album that departed from their previous material and alienated a number of fans because it was just too different. This, I fear, is a very similar situation. For me, Kid A was about letting go of the notion that ‘band X sounds like this‘, and about understanding that musicians must grow and experiment and above all be true to themselves. When I let go of the idea that Radiohead must sound a certain way and looked at Kid A on its own merits, I fell in love with it. Now, although certainly not as ‘edgy’ as Kid A, Eye of the Soundscape must be looked at the same way.
It is a turning point in more than one way; Riverside guitarist Piotr Grudziński sadly passed away in February 2016. After an understandably quiet spell, the band have since announced that they will be continuing as a three piece.
Riverside fans looking for a return to the heavier material will be disappointed. Even the Riverside fans that embraced Love, Fear and the Time Machine might also come away disappointed. Riverside’s style and personality is very much present throughout disc one, however, the elements that scream ‘Riverside’ slowly fade away the further the album progresses, most noticeably on disc 2; the spacious, ambient soundscapes are incredibly relaxing however, it struck me that the reason I was struggling with it by the end of disc two, is that it is simply not rock music.
‘Shine’ (below) is taken from disc one.