Welcome back, Riverside. You have been through the wringer this past decade with the loss of cornerstone Piotr Grudziński on guitar in 2016, yet you carried on as a trio with the cathartic and impressive “Wasteland” album in 2018. It’s now been over 4 and a half years before a new, full-length studio album could be given birth and here it is, “ID.Entity”. Riverside fans, rejoice.
Indeed, there is good reason to celebrate and look forward to this new chapter, as their eighth album will deliver a good chunk of what every fan loves about this band. Riverside strayed a little more metal with “ADHD”, a little more song-oriented with “Love, Fear and the Time Machine” but by and large their sound is fairly consistent while still being adventurous. With “Wasteland” there were several new colors explored which could have signaled a new direction yet to come but now in retrospect it appears that album was not a transition album but rather an outlier, unique in the catalog for very valid reasons of the grief and healing process which it exorcised.
“ID.Entity” is both a throwback to early Riverside and paradoxically a progression at the same time, perhaps closest to their “Shrine” album for overall balance and diversity. The band largely wrote and recorded the album together in the studio, giving it a very collaborative and live feel. New guitarist Maciej Meller has been fully integrated and carries the Grudziński spirit while establishing his own presence. As such, this is one of the best releases in their history.
There’s no doubt that lead man Mariusz Duda enjoys poking at labels and pre-conceived preferences, including from the band’s fans. For years he’s eschewed categories such a prog, metal, etc…the understandable and inevitable frustration of many artists. So it’s not so shocking that opening track “Friend or Foe?” sounds for a moment like A-Ha or some other 80s pop band with its synth bass and drum hits. Fortunately, it also ends up sounding a lot like classic Riverside in the end with its distorted rhythm guitar. A decent song but probably the least impressive on the album, leading one to wonder if it was granted the opening slot simply to push some buttons of “non-pop” Riverside fans.
With followup track “Landmine Blast” – BOOM – we are in early Riverside territory as Duda’s repetitive bass lick drones forth and the trance is cast. It’s all here: the hypnotic dream-like groove, the driving angst, the intensity changes that keep the rhythm insistent even during mellower sections as instruments layer in and out. And now the album truly starts to hit its stride. “Big Tech Brother” is even better, a 7-plus minute rollercoaster of dynamics that sees Duda nearly growling in one turn, followed softly by an almost-comical admission of, “I’ve nothing to hide, I simply hate your style” accompanied by tender piano. Meller is sounding fantastic here with both his rhythmic playing and drawn out lead lines, which interweave with Michał Łapaj’s keyboards. It’s a bit of a shame when the song fades out during an addictive progression which could have gone on for several minutes more. Hopefully in concert it will.
“Post-Truth” continues the string of infectious prime material. Heads will bob on the concert floor, then turn to banging. Really, what more could a Riverside fan want than a song like this? Łapaj hits the mood right with a synth solo and later ends the song tenderly on piano. Meller is belting out the band’s classic lead guitar melodic approach. Piotr Kozieradzki hits the drum kit with a massive sound to support the gravity of the band. And Duda’s bewildered, depressive lyrics paint a bleak picture of our world’s inhumane status quo.
Had enough yet? Hardly. Enter the centerpiece of the album, 13-minute “The Place Where I Belong” comprised of several sections but holding the flame of the ballad alive. The opening acoustic section is filled with tenderness and beauty but the foreboding is not far away: “No one will believe you just like I believed you, my love. Do not play with fire.” The second section is a narrative of our polarized world accompanied by searing lead guitar lines and hammond organ solos. Absolutely satisfying. An acoustic interlude slows down the energy a bit but leads up to a transcendent fourth section where Meller truly shines with his own voice on lead guitar. It’s nearly a perfect epic from the band, at times going in unexpected directions which suggest that this was a collaborative group-authored piece.
The final two songs have been previously released as the first singles of the album: the defiantly heavy “I’m Done With You” with the none-more-satisfying line “Far Away!” belted out by Duda, and the more upbeat bopping of “Self Aware” where Meller channels 80s-era Alex Lifeson for a change. The extended album version of the latter song adds three minutes of moody ambient groove to close the album, very characteristic and the perfect touch.
The album isn’t without a few missteps. The computer-generated voice that crops up on a couple of tracks lacks any degree of artistic subtlety and feels like overkill, not to mention annoying to have to hear every time during otherwise excellent songs. (Also, it’s a little amusing that “the crowd pounces upon you” sounds like it’s saying “the clown pounces upon you”) And some of the lyrics of the second section of “The Place Where I Belong” – and a couple of other places – could have benefitted from more poetic nuance. Still, for the vast majority of the album Duda’s desperate lyrics realize the sonic terrain and the conceptual scope of the album. ID. Id (Freudian stage of development). Entity. Identity. It’s a fun, if depressing, darker exploration of the times we live in.
Yes, my friends, Riverside are back and if you’ve read this far you’re certainly going to be listening to this album. And enjoying it, without a doubt.