Over the last several years Riverside has, in my humble opinion, released some of the finest albums in modern progressive rock. Wasteland, Love Fear and the Time Machine, and Shrine of New Generation Slaves all remain on regular rotation in my ears, and I’ve seen them live three times with tickets already purchased to see them a fourth and fifth. I’m a fan, and it was definitely with more excitement than trepidation that I approached their upcoming album, ID.Entity.
In their live shows, front man and bassist Mariusz Duda has pushed back some on the ‘progressive rock’ label, poking light-heartedly at the genre’s musical noodling. So I was more than a little surprised at the intro to the album’s opening track, ‘Friend or Foe’. The album opens with a 1980’s era keyboard riff that would be quite at home with one of the decade’s neo-prog outfits (think IQ, It Bites, Marillion) or even sophisticated pop, in the vein of A-ha (a band that is much better than their one mega-hit might suggest). Keyboardist Michał Łapaj has never been the featured player, but on this track, and on the album in general, his playing is much more prominent.
I wasn’t sure I liked the song initially. I found myself thinking, “If I wanted to listen to 80s Yes, I’d listen to 80s Yes. It didn’t feel like a Riverside song until almost 6 minutes in. But the track had unmistakable appeal that beckoned me back to give it another listen. So I listened again. Duda’s bass grooves were there. The mix of the instruments was, as always, polished and appealing. The song moved from it’s 80s pop sounds to heavy, crashing chords, drummer Piotr Kozieradzki laying down his groove with a light touch, giving plenty of space for the other instruments to play with the accents in each measure. I listened again and found myself bobbing my head along and thinking that what some might call ‘happy Riverside’ had an unmistakable appeal.
Having listened to the opening track a half dozen times before moving on, I was quite curious to see where the band would go next. ‘Landmine Blast’ opens with a jaunty bass-led riff that was certainly in the Riverside wheelhouse, if perhaps a little ‘proggier’ than Duda would perhaps like to admit (although I’m pretty sure they are nodding to Rush’s ‘Spirit of Radio’ in the last track, so maybe he’s more Self-Aware than I am giving him credit for).
Instead of giving a blow-by-blow of the rest of the album, I’ll summarize. It’s good. Parts of it are even excellent, and it’s worth spending money on it to support the band and enjoy their output. The album’s songs all deal with a central theme of post-social media identity. Themes of isolation, misinformation, and the false personas we adopt online are covered in depth. Occasionally the lyrics are a little ham-handed, but I tend to give a bit of a pass for people who are composing in something other than their mother tongue. The album is their most ‘progressive’ in some time, both in the sense of embracing some of the less commercial tropes of the genre (like a 13+ minute long song in the middle of the album), but also in the sense that they clearly made a conscious decision to progress some outside of the sound that they had established over the last several years.
Some fans will undoubtedly be disappointed, some (like me) will miss the strain of melancholia that had become ubiquitous to their sound and now only appears occasionally, but I found that once I let my expectation go, I was able to enjoy the album as one where the merits vastly outnumber the flaws.
Riverside’s latest album, ID.Entity, will be released on January 20th, 2023 via InsideOut Music. Order through their official store.