Anno Domini High Definition has recently reached the number 1 spot in the Polish album charts. Clearly, the Polish people are in love with one of their finest progressive rock bands: rightly so too because, with Anno Domini High Definition, Riverside have come of age. Whilst they have nurtured their growing popularity during the excellent Reality Dream trilogy on comparisons of being a sort of cross between Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, now the time has come to leave those comparisons by the wayside. This is, now, simply, Riverside. Welcome!
The band have reached maturity with Anno Domini High Definition. It is a very brave album, coming in at only 44:42; the material being restricted to ensure that the album carries a coherent sound. I applaud that desire: it is always so much better to listen to a short, coherent album that leaves you wanting more than to a long 70-minute plus opus that has you in tatters! Riverside have succeeded in their objective, delivering a consistent soundscape that, compared with their previous work, has raised the sustained heaviness of the music significantly. It would be facile to say simply that Riverside have looked at the commercial success of Porcupine Tree's Fear of a Blank Planet and Dream Theater's Systematic Chaos and decided to emulate the heavier sound in search for their own pot of gold at rainbow's end. There remains plenty of progressiveness about Anno Domini High Definition and we mustn't forget that the roots of Riverside's musicians is in metal: after all, as they themselves say, this is rock!
As a fan of the Reality Dream trilogy, I'll admit that the heaviness and high pace of most of Anno Domini High Resolution took me by surprise at first and it took three listens to really 'get' the new sound. I would say that there are a couple of major changes from before. First, the pace, intensity and heaviness are increased several notches: at times this leads to a different approach in the vocal sections; it almost seems as if the band think that they need to provide a lull in the barrage to allow the vocals to be heard. This might just be the compositional structure of course, but that's how it can seem! Staccato is not quite the right word for the resulting structural effect, but it's not too far off. Whilst the heaviness is not a new factor in Riverside's music, the way it is sustained on this album is, and it can take a couple of listens to get into the new groove if you have come to Anno Domini High Definition from the Reality Dream trilogy. Second, one of the sources of the increased heaviness is the greater emphasis in the soundscape given to the keys generally but, in particular, to the Hammond organ sound: this really becomes very pleasing as you allow yourself to be immersed by it. It's exceptionally powerful and takes the overall soundscape back in the direction of early 1970s 'heavy' bands. Mariusz Duda himself cites Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple - certainly the latter are more appropriate as far as the Hammond is concerned - but for me the tempo here is systematically higher and the fact that they're not the bands I would have come up with just reinforces, to my mind, what I said before ' you now just have Riverside.
The concept of Anno Domini High Definition is the pace of modern life, its stresses, anxieties and concern about the future: a topic for which the increased pace and intensity of the soundscape are entirely appropriate and so perhaps suggesting that they may not be a permanent feature, depending on the specific subject matter of future albums.
Hyperactive's pretty, gentle keys introduction doesn't prepare you for the onslaught of the intensity to come, heralded by some distortion in the guitar and drum sound. This is one of the songs in which the 'staccato' effect in the music-verse structure appears, the urgency of the music kept alive during the verses by Duda going falsetto a couple of times. Despite its relative brevity, the song has a number of phases ' good start!
Driven to Distraction continues in similar fashion with a powerful instrumental opening before again easing for the verses, progressing through a few cycles. Great contribution from Michael Lapaj on keyboards!
The three part Egoist Hedonist begins more gently courtesy of the verses starting straightaway, then explodes through the instrumental parts. Its second section, Hedonist Party features a marvellous contribution from three invited guest musicians on brass - Rafał Gańko on trumpet, Karol Gołowacz on saxophone and Adam Kłosiński on trombone ' integrating perfectly with some fine guitar work from Piotr Grudzinski. Beautifully, a synth passage leads us into the final phase and, after the sung verse, all four members of the band shine during the long instrumental outro. Duda's lead style of bass playing gives an exceptional sound. Very powerful and very good!
A breather is in order and is provided by Left Out, its introspective nature providing the closest reminiscence to the band's earlier works. Like its predecessor, it features another superb instrumental outro.
Finally, Hybrid Times provides a fitting finale: despite the number of different interpretations that could be ascribed to the lyrics, the music does not lie and you know that it's not a happy story with smiles at the end, irrespective of whether the final vocalisations represent screams of anguish or religious fanaticism. The music is impressive and holds you in its thrall; when it finally subsides you are left bereft, looking for more. It's almost as if the music itself has become that obsession that is the subject of Hybrid Times, the obsession that leads you to hit the replay button...again ...again... again....
Anno Domini High Definition represents a - perhaps temporary - shift from progressive rock to progressive metal for Riverside. It's a transition they have carried off with some aplomb, without losing the warmth of their sound, creating an impressive album that is worthy of the many accolades it will surely receive. It's certainly a contender for the year's best progressive album.
The CD+DVD version of the release features excerpts from a concert in Amsterdam in December 2008. It's a good bonus! The DVD track-list is as follows: Volte-Face, I Turned You Down, Reality Dream III, Beyond the Eyelids, Conceiving You, Ultimate Trip, 02 Panic Room .