Riverside is my favorite band, and so reviewing a new album from them can be a harrowing affair if I want to be objective. To some extent, I will always be subjective about their work because I love it, but for this review I wanted to step back and be brutally honest with myself about a few nagging aspects of the new record. The album is called ID.Entity and it releases on January 20th through Inside Out Music.
Riverside really needs no introduction anymore. They’ve become a major force in progressive music over the last two decades, and it has been a joy to watch them rise to that status. The current lineup is still the four-piece of Mariusz Duda on vocals, bass, and electric and acoustic guitars; Piotr Kozieradzki on drums; Michał Łapaj on keyboards and synthesizers, Rhodes piano, and Hammond organ; and Maciej Meller on electric guitars.
For this review, I want to talk about the music, the lyrics, and the songs—in that order. ID.Entity features what may be Riverside’s most balanced sound yet. You will hear sounds and tones from throughout their discography, from the haunting guitarwork of the Reality Dream trilogy to the Hammond organ and retro textures of Shrine to the metal of ADHD. You’ll hear the catchy hooks of Love, Fear, and the Time Machine, and even some of the apocalyptic vibe of Wasteland. Riverside fans will recognize each as they present themselves, and the realized whole flows extremely well.
So, what we have here is an album that is heavy in some moments, keyboard-led in others, and always full of bass and life. Seriously, the keys and bass on this album are both extraordinary, and from the very first track, too. Maciej is also coming into his own on lead guitar, which I love to see, and Piotr’s drumming has plenty of potency. The production, too, is excellent with the mix feeling vibrant and exciting. Musically, this could be the band’s best album, and some of Mariusz’s vocals are his best yet, too.
But I have to be honest with myself for a moment. I was slightly confused by the album title and the way it is written; I get the play on ID and entity, and it makes sense in the greater theme of the album. But it did seem a little wince-worthy. Now, the concept of the album is great, as it focuses on social media, the corporations behind them, and the hate that fills comments and posts each and every day. I actually found myself relating to the tiredness and exasperation in the lyrics, which I think also addresses fans of bands as they try to bully artists into a box. There is a thread, too, about the internet trying to force us to become someone we are not, and that goes for artists or anyone at all. I also noted how concise and in sync with the melodies most of the lyrics are, which is always a good sign.
The overall theme, then, is solid, but the execution has some aspects that bother me. For one, and this isn’t anything new for Riverside, there are a couple songs with some pretty cringey lyrics. Now, they aren’t all bad, but, similar to some of Steven Wilson’s work, the inclusion of certain words makes it feel like the lyrics are trying to be edgy rather than profound. Again, they make sense with the theme, but specifically words like browser, update and upload, unsubscribe, mined, and CEO can be a little much. Instead of using metaphors or allusions, the lyrics just use the actual words, and it can feel cheesy. This is also amplified by the AI-sounding voice overs that appear a few times. One of them actually begins a song, and they are not done super well. Every time I hear the one that starts “Big Tech Brother”, I sigh and wish for a version with that part removed. I feel like these problems could have been edited, but Mariusz produced this album himself and didn’t have the “no” person to say, well, “no” to these things.
This might not annoy many of you like it annoys me; it feels like Mariusz won’t care what I think anyways, and I commend him for making whatever the hell he wants and in the way he wants. But, maybe you just care about the music. If that is case, I’m happy to report that this album has some great songs, through and through. The opener “Friend or Foe?” is an instant Riverside classic with its 80’s New Wave plus Reality Dream sound; I absolutely love the roaring bass, the ethereal keys, and the kinetic drive of this song. Maybe not as flashy but just as good is “Landmine Blast”, a tune with Reality Dream high-strung guitars and some of the apocalyptic Wasteland vibe. I think this song will become a favorite even though it might not be as colorful and in-your-face as some of the others.
“Big Tech Brother”, minus the voice over, is an eccentric song with a second half that is truly terrific; the muscular guitars that break into the sound really sell it. “Post-truth” is another favorite; it has plenty of rock moments, but it is Mariusz’s delicate vocals and the gorgeous piano work that make it for me. The 13-minute track “The Place Where I Belong” is a mixed bag for me; it features some of the most beautiful lyrics and also some of the worst, and its various transitions could perhaps have been tightened up a little bit to make the song flow better. The final keyboard melody is fantastic, though. The song feels like the main statement of the album, lyrically-speaking, and so it could have been shorter and better, I think.
The final two songs are the singles. “I’m Done With You” feels like a song on Rapid Eye Movement to me, and that is perfectly fine. I find myself still loving it more every time I hear it, as it’s been a while since we’ve heard the raw side of the band. “Self-Aware” ends the album with a bouncy, fun song that I think threw many fans off the scent of this record’s sound. The single edit is a quick and entertaining song, but the album version includes an extra few minutes of “Hybrid Times”-esque psychedelia, electronica, and bass-driven ambience. I love the ending, honestly, and I see this track as being one played live where the crowd has to guess which version will be played.
Riverside means so much to me, but even I can admit their flaws. ID.Entity is a really strong album with a few aspects that weigh it down, but not so much that the album is ruined. I should say, too, that this record is fun to hear; Riverside’s albums are often somber affairs which I really appreciate, but this album captures the color and joy of the band’s live performances. Play this album as loud and proud as you can. The band is changing, but I’m still onboard.