One of the most prolific and enduring bands in the progressive rock and metal scenes in recent years have been Poland’s Riverside. Under the direction and writing credits of bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda, the band has released six highly emotional and unique albums, each of which have only helped the band cement their reputation as an important force in the modern prog era. And throughout all of that, one of the most striking characteristics of their work has been the fluid and emotive work of guitarist Piotr Grudziński. Sadly, Piotr unexpectedly passed away in late February this year – the loss was felt through the fan base and the metal world in general. Needless to say, this great loss has affected the band in a profound way. Only a few weeks ago, Riverside announced that they would continue onward as a trio with guest musicians. In statements following the death of Piotr, the band mentioned that he always dreamed of releasing an album of instrumental, atmospheric, slightly ambient and electric material. ‘Eye of the Soundscape’ is the result of that work and desire.
Throughout one hour and forty minutes, Riverside has delivered a highly emotional and atmospheric album. Although due to this rather staggering running time, not all of the music is of the highest quality. The material was composed and reordered between 2007 and 2016, and portions of it have been released previously on the bonus disks of their recent albums. Duda referred to it in the press release as a “complementary album” to their recent works, and an album in between those more fully realized works. This work fleshes out the moods and atmosphere of those albums and gives the listener insight to what the band was hoping to accomplish. The practical result of all this, however, is varied, and the enjoyment of it will be based largely on the background, personal interests and tastes of the listener.
There is a large amount of ambient and electronic music on this double album. The first disk in particular is made up of five moody, electronic tracks in the 10-minute range. Listening to them, I personally got a strong vibe of the band Kraftwerk. This isn’t shocking as Kraftwerk is not only a favorite band of mine, but is the Godfather of virtually every electronic-based band over the last forty years. It is not an exaggeration in the slightest to call them one of the most influential bands in the history of recorded music; only the Beatles and Black Sabbath in their very different ways could claim a greater influence.
All that is as may be, the first disk is a highly moody, spacey, guitar-driven disk that lasts for about fifty minutes. The second is very much the same, only the tracks run generally shorter. The album that most quickly jumps to mind is Pink Floyd’s ‘The Endless River’ (2014). And like that release by the legendary band, this release is a mixed bag. Some of the music is actually interesting and engaging, but the majority of the two-disk, 100-odd minute running time is best described as pleasant background music. The sheer length of it makes it a formidable album, and is best described as an album for the most hardcore Riverside fans. Casual or run-of-the-mill prog fans (unless extreme fans of chill ambient music) will likely be bored by it all.
The album is really meant for fans who truly love the guitar work of Piotr and actively mourn his loss, and those that do will be richly rewarded by his very emotional and fluid guitar work. I’ll again draw comparisons between this and the previous mentioned album by Pink Floyd, because his guitar work throughout these pieces is rather reminiscent of David Gilmore. And what I came away with was a very pleasant, often moody album, that was nice and chill to listen to, but not something I’ll return to often.
‘Eye of the Soundscape’ is a unique and singular piece of work by Riverside, who remain a legend and mover in the genre. Fans of ambient music or the electronic work of Kraftwerk and similar bands will be highly pleased with it. This massive double album is a proper and fitting love letter and homage to Piotr, and his ghostly guitar work hovers and enriches everything in it. Although it is largely underwhelming and non-engaging, plenty of it is a beautiful and emotionally immersive work that every serious fan of the band or genre will do well to listen to and experience. There is a lot to enjoy here on an emotional level, even if intellectually and critically, the band has done better work.