1. Goodbye Sweet Innocence (10:40)
2. Living In The Past (11:59)
3. Forgotten Land (9:57)
Mariusz Duda – vocal, bass, acoustic guitar
Piotr Grudziński – guitars
Piotr Kozieradzki – drums
Michał Łapaj – keyboards, Hammond organ
Hailing from the Polish capital of Warsaw, Riverside need no introduction to fans of modern progressive rock. After 10 years of activity, the release of four full-length albums, a live CD/DVD and a number of singles and EPs, and an extensive touring activity that has brought them to perform at numerous events in Europe and America, the quartet fronted by bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda has established itself as one of the top acts in the genre, particularly in progressive metal circles.
To be honest, I have always thought that the progressive metal tag was a rather uncomfortable fit for a band like Riverside. While their sound undeniably possesses a keen edge, in my view the more explicit metal traits, such as harsh, dense riffing and aggressive vocals, are used as accents rather than the main event; their music also seems to have more in common with eclectic, hard-to-pinpoint bands such as Porcupine Tree and Tool than the pyrotechnics of Dream Theater and their ilk, or the cerebral experimentalism of bands like UneXpect. With the moody, brooding atmosphere shared by other Polish bands, spiked by sudden surges in intensity, yet mellow and subtly haunting, Riverside’s compositions take full advantage of modern technology, and find a perfect foil to the instrumental side of things in Mariusz Duda’s velvet-smooth voice – equally at home on slower, meditative numbers and on those that push the aggressive elements to the forefront.
Released in June 2011 on the occasion of the band’s 10th anniversary tour, Memories in My Head is a mini-album featuring three new songs (all around the 10-minute mark), the first studio material following their acclaimed fourth album, Anno Domini High Definition. Clocking in at 32 minutes, the disc is in some ways a return to Riverside’s more mellow beginnings, bookended by atmospheric, ambient-like sounds produced by Michał Łapaj’s array of keyboards – something that has been criticized by some reviewers as superfluous, but which I found an interesting addition to the heavier approach adopted by the band in their recent output. The spacey, hypnotic textures of those instrumental passages clearly reveal the influence of Pink Floyd – especially the obsessive, mechanical sound effects in the intro to “Goodbye Sweet Innocence” that inevitably bring to mind Dark Side of the Moon. The track then develops into a slow, somber piece, showcasing Mariusz Duda’s throaty, soothing vocals and some fine guitar work by Piotr Grudziński (sometimes evidencing that faint Eastern vibe that seems to be a constant of Riverside’s music) sparring with Lapaj’s piercing synths.
Strategically placed in the middle, “Living in the Past” is not only the longest track on the CD, but also the one with the strongest ties to Riverside’s metal-hued tendencies of the past few years. Some of the initial parts juxtapose spacey Pink Floyd-like moments with hints of the guitar-organ dynamics so crucial for the sound of Deep Purple and other vintage hard rock outfits, while whistling synth and heavy riffing sharpen the taste. Though the composition comes across as occasionally patchy, mainly on account of the frequent, abrupt shifts between quiet and loud sections, the instrumental interplay is outstanding, and the coda, driven by clean, melodic guitar and Hammond flurries, is alone worth the price of admission. Finally, on closing track “Forgotten Land” Duda’s bass steps into the limelight, and his voice turns occasionally more assertive, while beautiful, mellow guitar and slow, measured pace, together with plentiful sound effects, create a haunting mood that fits the lyrical matter like a glove.
With stylish photography in a variety of hues of grey, bleak imagery suggesting the passing of time, and lyrics relating to memory and loss (as the titles make it abundantly clear), Memories in My Head is a finely-crafted release, though clearly a transitional one for the Polish band. Its more laid-back, atmospheric nature will appeal to the more conservative-minded prog fans turned off by overtly metal nature of Anno Domini High Definition (as witnessed by some of the reactions to the band’s excellent set at the 2010 edition of NEARFest), and the lavish use of electronics in the tradition of vintage Pink Floyd, or even of seminal electro-prog bands like Tangerine Dream, may point at interesting developments in Riverside’s future releases.