European progmeisters Riverside return with their new album, their seventh and certainly the most emotionally charged album they’ve ever released. This is the first album of new music the band have released since the tragic death of guitarist Piotr Grudzinski in February 2016, which produced much soul searching on the part of band leader Mariusz Duda, who also lost his father soon after this, but the band decided to continue as a three-piece and for live dates to use guitarist Maciej Meller, who also contributes a few delightful guitar breaks to this album.
Riverside are a band who’ve maintained a consistently high level of quality with every album they’ve released. They’re a superb combination of prog, ambient and atmospheric, encompassing stellar musicianship and the music they produce, and the almost ethereal dreaming suggested by Mariusz Duda’s lyrics always evokes an emotional response from the listener. The lyrics this time around however, focus on what is happening in the world and as such, the album is ‘darker and deeper’ than any previous Riverside album, with the theme of the album being the attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic world and the lyrics allude to loss, loneliness and darkness, but ultimately about deciding to keep going.
Wasteland starts with ‘The Day After’, with Mariusz Duda telling us “The Gardens of Eden are burning”, with his voice becoming more distant as the track slowly winds down to the sound of a mournful violin, before ‘Acid Reign’ starts. This then leads to the heaviest track on the album, ‘Vale of Tears,’ where Duda sings about “Wading through the desert to the promised land you’ve burnt to the ground”.
‘Lament’ begins quietly on acoustic guitar before the band ratchets up the volume. This is a song about incipient loss, with Duda asking “Father, will you take me away from my fate?”, with an atmospheric violin solo playing out the song. On the title track, ‘Wasteland,’ Riverside tap into their inner Dream Theatre with some surprisingly heavy riffs and key changes on what is mostly an instrumental track.
The music of Riverside combines both simplicity and complexity. What they play appears to be deceptively simple but, strip away the layers and there are hidden depths to their music. Which means what they play is not always easily accessible, but Riverside have always had the knack of being able to come up with memorable hooks and melodies. That Riverside decided to continue after Piotr Grudzinski’s tragic early death is wonderful news and, as Duda sang on ‘Goodbye Sweet Innocence,’ “when something ends, something else begins, we are moving on.” Still, four months to go but this is my candidate for best prog rock album of 2018.
Release date: Friday, September 28, 2018.