Polish progressive metallers Riverside are back with their first album in four years. 2009′s Anno Domini High Definition was conceived as a new chapter in their career. The opening trilogy was thematically concerned with the self. ADHD and S.O.N.G.S. pan out from that lyrical introspection to give a broader, more panoramic view of society and the individual’s place within it. Yes folks, this is a concept album. Its themes are: the treadmill of modern working life, the frustration at unfulfilled childhood dreams and thwarted ambition, the strain this can put on our relationships and the superficiality of popular culture. Perfect fare for your bleary-eyed Monday morning commute.
Opening track, ‘New Generation Slave’, sets the scene in dramatic fashion of the protagonist born with the mark of Cain into a world of wage slavery, thraldom to a religion he rejects and the judgmental expectations of society. Vocalist Mariusz Duda gives his finest vocal performance yet, accompanied by sparse, sporadic, tension-building power chord interjections. The bile is passionate and visceral, also self-referential as he spits forth, “My voice breaks and I start to hate my singing and simply everyone”. A mutated form of Whitesnake‘s classic riff from ‘Still of the Night’ heralds a classic rock leaning in comparison with previous proggier offerings.
Speaking of classic rock, there is a strong hint of Deep Purple here. The single ‘Celebrity Touch’ lays on the Hammond organ and recalls Purple‘s ‘Perfect Strangers’. Riverside have refined their sound, songs are more concise, the emphasis is on atmosphere with fewer lengthy instrumental passages. The two mini-epics ‘Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)’ and the superb ‘Escalator Shrine’ do allow the band to stretch out and showcase the lead skills of guitarist Piotr Grudziński and keyboardist Michał Łapaj.
‘Feel Like Falling’ has a bass synth line that would not have been out of place on a Gary Numan album. Despite its stop-start feel and esoteric time signature this track is infectious and would have been my first choice for a single, its harmony vocals and pop sensibility have serious crossover potential if given radio play. This is a pivotal track on the album. Its lyrics are reprised on the closing ‘Coda’ and it itself cites the words “Pushing through the crowd”, providing conceptual continuity with the previous album’s ‘Egoist Hedonist’.
The aforementioned eight-minute-long ‘Deprived’ is a paean to lost innocence, mourning a misplaced childhood with an extended outro which features an elegiac saxophone solo. At over twelve minutes ‘Escalator Shrine’ builds up to a prog metal blow-out, depicting our lives as a constant escalator ride that never reaches the next floor, like Sisyphus we are seemingly doomed to a life of uphill struggle while never actually getting anywhere; stationary travellers.
Thematically and structurally S.O.N.G.S feels like a companion piece to Marillion’s Brave. Both concept albums begin with birth into a harsh and unjust world, depict trials along the way and close in redemptive fashion. With ‘Coda’, the protagonist has been made again, reaching a place of resolution and peace.
There is a metaphor in this happy ending for Riverside themselves. They have reached maturity on this, their best and most cohesive album yet. Shrine of New Generation Slaves is a moving and thought-provoking masterpiece.