Death comes for us all; this is a lesson that 2016 seems intent on teaching us. The latest to fall victim to this brutal curriculum is Riverside‘s Piotr Grudziński, a truly gifted guitarist who had his own unique timbre and voice within one of the most important progressive metal/rock bands of the 2000’s. In his memory, and because Riverside is such an important band, we’ve decided to do something different: instead of writing a post focusing on the band’s career but, perhaps, missing out on the depth and power of their earlier releases, we’ll be releasing three Heavy Rewind posts, each one dedicated to one of those albums. We’ll work our way up chronologically, beginning with the first, Out of Myself and ending with the last, Rapid Eye Movement. While these posts won’t focus on the lyrics, there’s no denying the strong conceptual nature of these albums and so, perforce, we shall delay a bit on their concepts. On a more personal note, these albums were essential for me when growing up and when expanding my tastes beyond the original bands that had started me on music. Rest well, Piotr. Your voice will not be forgotten.

While these three albums have never been formally arranged into one, large meta-album, the fact that they consist of the same narrative is hard to ignore. For one, they use the same language, focusing on the psyche, representations such as paintings and their flaws, separation, loneliness and medication. They also share a style of artwork, created by none other than Travis Smith, on which we’ve touched recently. That artwork is gritty, cyberpunk-y and broken, reflecting the inner struggles of our hero (or heroes, that remains unclear) as they struggle through an inner landscape fraught with psychological landmines, pitfalls and abysses. From the first moments of the very first track, “The Same River” to the closing passages of the last one, “Ultimate Trip”, our hero is tormented by an other, an obviously romantic partner that passes from the world, comes back, shatters, heals, creates and destroys. The effects this relationship, and the perceived distance the hero has from it, whether in time or in space, are myriad.

One of the most endearing qualities of these three albums is that they don’t have just one lens from which to view this story. While a lot of it is morose or even depressing, brighter moments exist as well. Musically, the first album, Out of Myself, is perhaps the most classically prog rock of them all. It contains very little moments which could be considered as metal; these are reserved for the much angrier, middle album, Second Life Syndrome. The opening track, “The Same River”, opens with a direct guitar quote from Pink Floyd‘s “Run Like Hell”, setting the tone for this moody and lengthy opening. It exemplifies Riverside’s talent in composition: while the track last twelve minutes, it manages to feel concise and no moment is wasted. Likewise it’s follow up shows us a great deal of thought given to the overall structure of the album: “Out of Myself” is the most aggressive track of the album, featuring the signature mix of emotional vocals and screams on occassion that characterize the legendary abilities of Mariusz Duda.  The synths are direct echoes of Dream Theater‘s work on Falling Into Infinity, with Piotr’s guitars taking on an echo-y and massive character that overwhelms the rest of the track.

Further down the line, we’re acquainted with a sound that will become a staple of the Riverside technique in the years following this album. “Loose Heart” is drenched in 80’s influenced synths and a rumbling bass that’s the core of the entire thing. It’s a ballad but one which takes an unlikely approach to the usually sweet and romantic antics of the genre. The guitars cry, containing one of Piotr’s best solos, sharp and heartbreaking, lending the whole thing more melancholy than romance or tender care. Duda’s vocals are as shattered as usual, fragmented and almost lost, crying for an answer and refuge. This style will be echoed on future albums, for example on “I Turned You Down” on Second Life Syndrome. This style transformed what progressive metal and rock was doing at the time, being perhaps a counterpoint to Pain of Salvation‘s then-ferocity and power. In general, the comparison between the two bands is hard to avoid: they operated in the same years and on the same audiences. Both represent a new generation of experimentation with progressive metal and rock and an important vocalist.

The album also consists of two instrumental tracks and here too it innovates. Instead of being blisteringly technical displays of prowess as instrumental tracks often are, “Reality Dream” and “Reality Dream II” focus more on psychological impact, being some of the heaviest tracks on the album. They are also reprised later on in the band’s career (with “Reality Dream III” on Second Life Syndrome and “Lucid Dream IV” on Rapid Eye Movement) offering one of the threads that makes these connected, concept albums. The tracks are also a good point to delay on Piotr Kozieradzki and his amazing drumming techniques. His style focuses more on keeping a solid rhythm and improvising on top of that than on flashy fills and temp changes. His use of the cymbals serves him here, with the hi-hat performing masterfully on the opening movements of “Reality Dream”. He’s a highly skilled drummer with an exceptional trait: patience. He doesn’t need to force himself on the rest of the track but rather focuses on embellishing the quiet notes between the other instruments and on creating smart patterns from what seem to be “simple” passages.

Out of Myself ends with one of the most heartbreaking tracks to have ever closed an album. “OK” opens with a thick, almost too thick, bass and a sharp, piercing drum part to accentuate it. The guitars are trippy and dream-filled while Duda sounds almost drunk or in some extreme state of depression. Backing vocals are introduced to back him on the chorus, elevating the sense of loss and internal anguish. While the lyrics can be construed as optimistic they are more than likely ironic, with the protagonist proclaiming that while he has sadness and darkness in his mind, it’s going to be “OK”. To nail this entire aural package home, a guest trombone is utilized, drenching this track in an added layer of darkness.

It’s a moving close to a moving album. While we haven’t touched on every part of the album, “In Two Minds” and “Curtain Falls” which we haven’t mentioned are some of the band’s best work, we’ve still managed to coax the single trait that makes Out of Myself such an amazing debut. Every part of the album is focused on one goal and one goal only: to get the album’s message across. Very little time is wasted on passages that are meant to dazzle or convey a sense of technical awe. Instead, everything has only one excuse that defines its existence: it gets the message across. The album is a psychodrama, a depiction of a man at the end of his line, perhaps his life, struggling with his inner and outer demons. The next album will bring an embrace of these demons and supposed strength as the hero lashes out at his social surroundings. However, that will prove vitriolic and corrosive, bringing him to an even worse psychological state than before. The final album will see him accept that and, in the wreckage of who he was, find some solace. See you there, soon.

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