Fall was divided between the Riverside and Lunatic Soul business. In September, the band went on a short tour of eastern Poland and Scandinavia, and then started planning their seventh album. The group faced the second part of the exam, titled “surviving without Grudzień”. While thanks to a wise personal decision, the concert part was successful, in the studio the band had to redefine itself. Riverside was still a quartet only on stage – with Meller as a guest substitute for Grudziński – in the studio the musicians decided Riverside should remain a trio. Duda, Kozieradzki and Łapaj felt that while working on the new material, at least this one time, they have to do this as a three-piece to prove themselves and everyone around them that they’re able to do it and record new music despite Grudzień’s death.
On October 6, “Fractured” was released, showing a slightly different side of the Lunatic Soul project. Mariusz shifted from diverse folk to electronics, offering music that was a bit sharper, more aggressive, though not devoid of the sound characteristic of LS (the consistent lack of an electric guitar) and a hypnotic, unique mood. I have always liked oriental atmosphere and electronics – explained Mariusz. - And on the previous album it was more or less split equal. However, I felt that I had to move forward artistically and that I had to get rid of something, because for me it is the limitations that open up the possibility of exploring new territories.
A guest appearance of an orchestra was a novelty. Its massive, noble sound enriched the perfectly developing, twelve-minute long “A Thousand Shards of Heaven”. Lunatic Soul once again remained a studio project, but Mariusz went on a promotional tour for the first time, meeting fans in Empik stores in Warsaw, Gdańsk, Wrocław and Poznań.
The beginning of 2018 brought a handful of details about Riverside’s seventh album. In January, the eight-track demo titled “7herapy” was ready. The subject of the album was to be the post-apocalyptic world, or rather the stories of people trying to survive in the world after a catastrophe. It was an obvious reference to the situation of Riverside, who had been struggling to survive for two years after an unexpected tragedy. The recording of the new album was to be the last stage of this difficult process. Mariusz was the author of the concept and again he wrote the vast majority of the material. Michał also became more active as a composer on two tracks, and he wrote one on his own, emphasizing his presence on the album as a composer. It was known from leaks regarding the style that the material was to be heavier than on the predecessor, that there would be black metal riffs, slower paces, and the melodies would take on a Slavic flavor and would be written in such a way that they would give the entire album a sort of dark pathos. Mariusz also talked about the influence of road movies and westerns, which fit well with the post-apo world and would help define the stylistic layer and mood of the album. One of the first cassette tapes I had was “The Best of Ennio Morricone”, and one of my first Blu-ray movies was the Clint Eastwood trilogy – he told in “Metal Hammer”. - I have soundtracks for all of Sergio Leone’s films in my collection. Western references are intentional. Michał and I are big fans of westerns and this type of atmosphere. The western mood on the new album was to be eventually mixed with the strong influences of post-apo themes and Slavic musical traditions. First of all, I wanted to change the approach to arranging vocal lines, to create something like hymns. Most of all, however, I wanted to look for something that is mine, ours, more Slavic than British.
Work on the seventh album lasted until June, with other important things happening in the meantime. On April 7, at Progresja, a farewell rally of the Voices In My Head fan club was held, thus closing its rich, fourteen-year history. Six weeks later, at the end of May, “Under the Fragmented Sky”, the sixth album by Lunatic Soul, complementing the “Fractured” released nine months earlier, hit stores. Mariusz has published another batch of electronic-tinted music, even more psychedelic and hypnotic, interestingly framed with mesmerizing vocals and his typical melodies.
When this new music reached the fans, the work on Riverside’s long-awaited album was almost over. The trio of Duda – Kozieradzki – Łapaj invited guitarist Mateusz Owczarek, who played one solo, violinist Michał Jelonek (he played in four songs) and of course Maciek Meller, the author of the guitar parts in four compositions. While the choice of Meller and Owczarek seemed obvious, the arrival of Jelonek at Serakos was surprising. One of the previous albums featured a saxophone, now it’s time for another instrument – explained Duda in “Teraz Rock” and “Metal Hammer”. - The violin suited the concept and title. And this Slavic element. I heard a lot of flattering comments about Michał Jelonek and decided to check it out. I became his fan. I wanted weeping willows on this record and he made it happen.
When Grudzień was gone, Michał Łapaj took on more responsibility for supporting Duda in songwriting process, and the fact that the keyboardist delivered a properly finished piece for the first time was a pleasant surprise. When Michał brought “The Night Before” to the studio and played it for us, he hit my sweet spot – recalled Mariusz. - He even had the outline of a vocal melody ready. I just wrote the lyrics for it and polished the arrangement.
Michał admitted that he was creating a lot at the time with the new record in mind. I had a few compositions prepared for our new album – he told Michał Kirmuć. - We decided that the ballad “The Night Before” fits the character of the album best. The biggest difference compared to the previous sessions was the fact that before entering the studio we didn’t thoroughly practice the whole thing during rehearsals. During the recordings, Mariusz and I did not always have the same vision of a given musical moment. There were some compromises that had to be made. It’s always a bit different than when you work on your own compositions and have complete freedom. But on the other hand, it is the possibility of shaping, discovering different shades of exactly the same fragment that is so beautiful in music.
The seventh album, eventually titled “Wasteland”, included nine new compositions.
The Day After – it starts only with Duda’s voice, then it’s unhurriedly and carefully complemented by the gloomy sound of the violin. We’re in a deserted, cold and gray post-apocalyptic world. There’s no turning back, maybe it’s time to say that out loud – sings Mariusz, describing the world we’re in on this record, but also his own situation and that of his bandmates. These several dozen seconds vividly build the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of the entire album.
Acid Rain – the gloomy reverie of the first composition is ruthlessly interrupted by the sharp, rough riff played by Duda. In the first part of the song, entitled “Where Are We Now?”, the post-apocalyptic, dark atmosphere remains intact, but the band is already fully demonstrating the stylistic setting they want to pursue on this album. Relatively mild, touching melody is set here on a tight, sharp sonic matter straight from both progressive and black metal areas. Calmness and reflection comes in the second part of the song (“Dancing With Ghosts”). The guitar softens, Łapaj reaches for the lighter palette with his keyboards, Mittloff plays a hypnotic rhythm and Duda’s vocals do not tear wounds, but rather invite us for an adventure like in the best road movies.
Vale of Tears – a short number packed with various ideas, motifs and flavors, in which aggressiveness and dynamics are mixed with catchiness and folk melodies. In the fourth minute, the band unexpectedly abandons the song’s verse-chorus pattern to propose a sharp, prog metal instrumental part. It’s less than five minutes, but the best of Riverside is here.
Guardian Angel – the first ballad on the album. On the one hand, it is typical for Duda, an acoustic, whispered tale woven from a subtle melody and characteristic motifs, on the other hand, his unusually low voice makes the song take on a slightly different, gloomier tone.
Lament – the initial gentle guitar motif and Duda’s equally gentle singing do not reveal the power that this piece carries in its peak fragments. The unhurried pace, light guitar licks and at times a bit folky melody build an almost idyllic atmosphere, but the massive choruses, exploding with Mittloff’s drums, give way to all the fury and despair lurking beneath. Father, will you take me away? Will you take and save me from my fate? - an unnamed protagonist speaks through Duda’s lips. This is one of the most moving moments of the album and a clear reference to the death of Piotr Grudziński.
The Struggle for Survival – an instrumental piece unusual for Riverside, not being a continuation of the band’s previous prog metal or ambient instrumentals tracks. This is dirty, more guitar-driven, raw sound, the inspiration for which should be sought rather in the “alternative” rock or 60s/70s prog rock. Duda’s riffs are sometimes swinging nicely and other times surprise the listeners with their power, Meller plays a Fripp-like guitar part, Kozieradzki’s drum part is mature and, as usual, various sounds by Łapaj create a very intense, strongly absorbing soundtrack.
River Down Below – the second ballad on the album, which soon after its premiere hit the first place on the PR3 charts. It’s a bit more complex composition than “Guardian Angel”. It begins with an intimate, almost lullaby-like fragment, in which we only hear simple licks of an acoustic guitar and Duda’s voice, but in the second minute the composition changes its character a bit. A leading melody emerges, the drums play in, and in the background you can hear a nice weeping guitar. A really nice, subtle and smart Meller’s solo is the icing on the cake.
Wasteland – it’s the longest song on the album and the only one written as a mini-suite typical of the Riverside style. The folk beginning based on a dynamic theme played by an acoustic guitar does not herald a storm that will break loose in the fourth minute. Duda’s dignified vocal and pleasant interjections served by Łapaj on the piano are supposed to bring to mind the Slavic tradition of constructing ballads. At the end of the third minute, this folk tale is shattered by Mittloff’s dynamic drums and an art-rock irregular rhythm that smoothly leads the band to the second part of the song. A powerful guitar riff immediately sets a more metal tone and for the next minute the dynamic instrumental part of “Wasteland” balances between art rock and metal. The idyllic folk atmosphere will return in the fifth and sixth minute, but the song still loses nothing of its drama. Although Duda offers a gentle, almost feminine wordless vocals, and the guitar exposes melodies instead of riffs, anxiety can be sensed between the sounds. In the seventh minute, the final blow occurs. An even more sharply exposed massive metal riff, strong, ruthless drumming from Kozieradzki and piercing sounds of Łapaj’s keyboards squeeze out the biggest and last layers of heaviness and dynamics hidden in this piece. A solid candidate for the grand finale during concerts.
The Night Before – the third, this time piano-based ballad composed by Michał with Mariusz’s lyrics. It’s soothing like a mother’s lullaby, closing the album with dark, touching optimism.
The album was released on September 28, 2018 and was enthusiastically received. The music media did not even try to hide that this was the year’s biggest rock event in Poland. The band was featured on the covers of the October editions of “Teraz Rock” and “Metal Hammer” magazines. In the former, “Wasteland” received four and a half out of five stars. Each subsequent listen confirms the belief that we are dealing with a truly exceptional record – Michał Kirmuć wrote in the magazine. - In this post-apocalyptic world Duda sings about there’s also place for true beauty. “Metal Hammer” named “Wasteland” The Album of the Month and the magazine’s Marek Krukowski wrote: With its raw heaviness, dark form and stripped of unnecessary ornaments, simple, bold melody of an acoustic guitar and the whole new album is unexpectedly honest, surprisingly original and it stimulates the imagination. You can feel in this music that the ashes of the old world are slowly covered by time. Let these melodies continue. After all, it’s just a beginning.
There’s a good chance that in the desert of post-apocalyptic solitude you will find someone you have long forgotten: yourself. - Konrad Sebastian Morawski wrote for “Magazyn Gitarzysta”. - The best narrative for this search is the newest, so poignant and beautiful work by Riverside. On this album, the band plays hard, although without depriving themselves of their own sensitive identity. “The Day After” and “The Night Before”, two tracks that bookend the album, clearly signal that the band protects its heritage. In fact, every song that makes up “Wasteland” is a reminder of Riverside’s contribution to progressive rock and metal, but it’s not only about memory on this gray-tinted album. It is also the ability to face tragedy. This is Riverside great as ever, and some of those new compositions will be, in my opinion, an integral part of the band’s repertoire for the coming years.
Virtual world was quick to follow with some more reviews. One thing has undoubtedly not changed – wrote Mariusz Danielak on artrock.pl – For this band a good melody is still the key and the basis for all the details hidden in the songs’ arrangements. This time, such beautiful compositions as “Guardian Angel”, “Lament”, “River Down Below” or the exceptionally beautiful ballad “The Night Before” simply melt hearts, having this nostalgic charm that is difficult to define. The sound has a more raw character, and the dirt in the sound of the guitar is probably the most audible here compared to the previous albums. It shows itself the most in “Acid Rain”, “Vale of Tears”, the title track “Wasteland” and, above all, in “The Struggle for Survival”, which is a composition quite unusual for this band. The last, instrumental, almost ten-minute-long track is a real gem here. It may not be easy to digest because of its multiple musical threads and length, but it has so much retro rock and psychedelic flavor that it can become a fantastic base for concert improvisations.
Most of the foreign reviews were similar in tone and the album was rated very high.
“Wasteland”, like “Fractured”, had an audiophile pre-premiere listening session at U22 for journalists and a small group of the band’s closest friends. It generally sold better than previous releases. In Poland, the album reached number one, repeating the result of “ADHD”, beating “REM", “SoNGS” and even the enthusiastically-received “Love, Fear and the Time Machine”. In Germany and Sweden, it reached no. 13, no. 23 in the Switzerland and no. 28 in the Netherlands. The band gained many new fans in France, where “Wasteland” climbed to 97th spot, 33 higher than the previous record. Good sales in Spain and the Czech Republic meant that the album was also the band’s first on the best-sellers’ lists in those countries. The 147th position on the Billboard list proved that the difficult American market was also paying attention to Riverside. The album fared well, but the singles on the prestigious Polish Radio 3 charts were also doing great. Released on September 7, “River Down Below” reached the top of the charts, becoming Riverside’s second number one after “The Depth Of Self-Delusion”. “Guardian Angel” was close to repeating that success. It quickly climbed the charts in February and March 2019, finally stopping at no. 3.
Shortly after the album’s premiere, at the beginning of October, the band held several meetings at Empik stores in Poland’s largest cities. Fans received some latest, first-hand news from the Riverside camp, got autographs on a still fresh album, and listened to a few acoustic versions of the band’s songs (performed by the Mariusz-Michał duo, these were both new songs “River Down Below” and “Vale of Tears”, as well as an older tune Panic Room and even one from their debut album, the title track off Out of Myself).
The proper tour kicked off shortly after the Empik appearances. Eight concerts in Poland was a great start and showed another increase in the interest for the band among the Polish audience. As many as five concerts were sold out, and the attendance was also great for the remaining three. Although the gig in Gdańsk was not the most successful one (there were some technical problems), from Poznań, through Wrocław, Katowice, Łódź, Toruń, Kraków, to the grand finale at the Koło hall in Warsaw (2200 tickets sold!), the band was on fire, and the new songs easily dominated the set, carrying the dynamics of the concerts and clearly defining their atmosphere. “Wasteland” had as many as eight songs in the set (it would have been played in full, if “The Day After” hadn’t been dropped after the Gdańsk gig). In addition to new songs, the setlist included tracks from the distant past, some of them not played for many years. The short, aggressive tunes off Out of Myself – the title track and “Loose Heart” – were particularly well suited to the atmosphere and style of “Wasteland”. The hearts of older fans also beat faster with another fan-favorite, “Reality Dream I”. It turned out to be a great idea to include another dusty one, “Forgotten Land”. It matched the post-apocalyptic mood of the tour perfectly both in terms of its style and subject matter. This mood was built even before the musicians entered the stage. The ten-minute intro with the sounds of heavy footsteps of a lonely wanderer, the ominously hissing noise of the blowing wind, as well as the croaking of crows enriched by the sparing sounds of the piano and violin, suggestively built the image of the world after the apocalypse. The sounds were perfectly complemented by the similarly post-apocalyptic graphics displayed on large screens.
Wasting no time the band went on a European tour. Riverside played in western and southern Europe as well as the UK. But those 15 shows in Germany, Spain, France, the Netherlands, the Switzerland and England were just a beginning of a long tour to follow in spring 2019. But prior to that, Mariusz and Michał went to Serakos to record some acoustic versions of songs that were received so enthusiastically during the Empik events (these were to be finally released almost a year later, in November, on the bonus disc of the 5.1 mix of “Wasteland”).
2019 started on a high note. In January, the first and well-attended rally of the new fan club, founded three months earlier by Marek Biegasiewicz under the name “Shelter of Mine”, took place. The event for about 250 people was held at the Hybrydy club in Warsaw. In the annual summary of “Teraz Rock” magazine Riverside very clearly marked its presence reminding everyone of its place among the most popular rock bands in Poland. The magazine named “Wasteland” the best album of 2018. “River Down Below” and “Wasteland Tour” placed second in the “hit of the year” and “tour of the year” categories respectively.
Unfortunately, the band had no luck again at the Fryderyki award ceremony. Riverside was nominated in the Rock Album of the Year category, but lost to Lao Che, who won the prestigious statuette for their new album “Wiedza o społeczeństwie”. The band did not appear at the awards ceremony this time (they were represented by Magda and Robert Srzednicki), as they’ve been touring intensively since February. In February, they flew to the USA for a few weeks to take part for the second time in a progressive, musical cruise. In March, they played further twenty four concerts in Europe, this time visiting Poland’s southern neighbors, the Balkans and Scandinavia, and in May they went again to the United States for a few weeks, this time playing regular club shows.
Good news for the band arrived in the summer – “Wasteland” was certified gold. The band slowed down a bit, traditionally limiting their concert activity to a few festivals. However, it was not the result of fatigue, as they returned to playing gigs right after summer holidays. This time, they focused on smaller cities and intimate venues. As a result, the “I'm Your Private Wasteland” tour scheduled for September were already sold out in August. Tickets for concerts in Białystok, Lublin, Rzeszów, Bielsko-Biała, Wałbrzych, Lubin, Zielona Góra, Koszalin and Gdynia were gone within a few days, a month before the musicians went on stage. There were a few changes in the set (“Egoist Hedonist” and “Left Out” were added, replacing “Forgotten Land” and “Reality Dream I”), but the setlist was still built around compositions from “Wasteland”. The band also played a few more concerts beyond our western border. The setlist was as follows:
The Night Before / Acid Rain / Vale of Tears / Lament / Escalator Shrine (instrumental part) / Out of Myself / Guardian Angel / Second Life Syndrome (From Hand to Mouth) / Egoist Hedonist (short version) / Left Out / Lost / Wasteland // The Depth of Self-Delusion / 02 Panic Room / River Down Below
For Riverside, the year came to an end with the premiere of the two-disc version of “Wasteland” in the 5.1 format, with an additional disc containing acoustic versions of “Vale of Tears”, “02 Panic Room”, “River Down Below” and “Out of Myself” and a nine-minute intro to “Wasteland” that the fans could hear during the concerts.
2020 brought some breaking news in February. At the second “Shelter of Mine” rally, Maciej Meller was introduced as a full member of the band. Riverside became a quartet again with a full-time guitarist on board. After three years of playing concerts together, we thought it was time to come back to being a quartet – explained Mariusz in an interview for “Teraz Rock”. - The period of mourning is over, we must go on. For me, it was only a matter of time before Maciek became an official member of the band. I felt it would work.
For Maciek, who, of course, had already made himself at home in the Riverside rehearsal room and on stage, it was a serious change and a new situation. At first, I thought the difference would be subtle, he admitted. - But when it was officially announced during the Shelter of Mine rally, people reacted so enthusiastically that I started to feel the difference was bigger than I initially thought. It felt really great. I am happy about it and hope that there are many good things ahead of us.
Also in February, Mariusz announced that he was starting a solo activity under his own name that would not conflict with Riverside and Lunatic Soul, and that he intended to publish separate songs composed only for voice and acoustic guitar every few months. Four months later, he corrected this assumption and broadened the scope of his activity as Mariusz Duda with albums with electronic music, also initially published only on the Internet.
2020 was supposed to be full of concerts until summer holidays. In February, the band embarked on a “Without the Sun” tour covering southern Europe and the Balkans. Unfortunately, this trip was already one big race with time and an attempt to escape the COVID-19 pandemic, commonly known as the coronavirus, spreading around the world. The first concerts in Madrid and Barcelona still went smooth, but the Italian dates that followed were canceled. The band moved to the Balkans where the situation was a bit better and the virus was not spread yet. They managed to play in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Novi Sad, and, at the last minute, in Greece (Thessaloniki, Athens), Turkey (Istanbul) and Bulgaria (in Sofia, the venue could only be half full). Usually, a day or two after the band’s concert, procedures were launched in a given place to tighten the rules and prohibit the organization of mass events. Riverside was one step ahead of the coronavirus until the Hungarian and Romanian concerts, when the pandemic finally caught the “Without the Sun” tour, forcing the cancellation of the remaining dates.
The band and the crew returned to the country just before the borders were closed. The Polish concerts scheduled for March were first postponed to June, and when the restrictions on mass events were not lifted, the tour was canceled. Despite these unexpected problems, the concert promotion of “Wasteland” turned out to be the most impressive in the history of Riverside. 97 tour concerts plus 12 festivals was by far the best result, making “Wasteland” the band’s most promoted album when it comes to concerts, beating “Shrine of New Generation Slaves” (66 concerts plus festivals).
Fortunately, the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic was not an entirelly wasted time. When the fans were worried about the lack of concerts, Mariusz, Michał and Maciej worked separately on their solo recordings. The keyboardist, who was gradually developing as a composer, first presented two excellent ten-minute improvisations entitled “Analog Synth jam-session”, which he made available on his YouTube channel, and then on the Bandcamp platform he published an instrumental song “Breathe”, announcing a new series of songs called “Moments”.
The biggest surprise came from Mariusz, who, while working on the seventh Lunatic Soul album, announced overnight that he had recorded… a new album as Mariusz Duda. During two weeks in June, he prepared spontaneous, minimalist and electronic music, which he released just a few days after recording it in digital form on streaming services. “Lockdown Spaces” was intended to be a kind of soundtrack to the pandemic period when most activities throughout Europe and beyond were put on hold. Duda did not use modern sounds, he deliberately tinted his new music with a kind of retro-electronics reminiscent of computers from the turn of the eighties and nineties of the last century. The resulting compositions are tight, dark, minimalist, based on hypnotizing rhythms, which makes them different from anything that previously came from him.
As for non-musical events, it is worth mentioning that Piotr Kozieradzki celebrated his 50th birthday (May 23, 2020). On the initiative of Marek Biegasiewicz, Mittloff received a unique gift from his fans (via the Shelter of Mine fan club) – a sculpture by Dariusz Zieliński, depicting a drummer playing on kettledrums covered with vinyl records.
Despite the lack of concerts or even concert plans, the end of 2020 looks very interesting. Michał promised to publish the next samples of his warmly received solo work. Maciek has planned the premiere of his first solo album for September. The idea for the album is an interesting one, because although it’s his first, it is made by a very experienced guitarist and composer, renowned for his work on many Quidam records. While the musical style of Maciej Meller’s solo work was still unknown at the time of writing of this text, the new Lunatic Soul, expected in autumn, promises to be a rich, folk, dark journey, with hints of the project’s first albums.
When the bandmembers’ solo albums hit stores, work on Riverside’s eighth album will already be underway.