And so, we are reminded that all things end. Today, Piotr Grudziński will be brought to rest in Warsaw, Poland and we’ll finish the first cycle of the band’s work, a cycle forever enshrining his work and unique style. Before we begin to end, a short recap of the story so far might be in order; it’s hard to understand Rapid Eye Movement, the last album, without understanding what came before concept-wise. So, we began with Out of Myself , in which our protagonist feels lost, bereft, depressed and shattered, distraught first by life’s events and then by a love he cannot hope to achieve. While he does get to be with his love, something is missing and un-fulfilling, leaving him torn and just as lost. In Second Life Syndrome, he becomes convinced that the way out of depression and darkness is through rage: he will face his problems with a vitriolic and violent outlook, burning through the facade created by his psyche.
Indeed, it becomes more and more apparent that the selfsame love from earlier was completely made up by him. Literally. It’s not only a question of embellishment but a literal delusion, creating a perfect, angelic entity towards which the protagonist can channel his desires and will to live. However, at the close of the album, this plan can no longer work as, in his fever of dismantling, he takes apart this mental concept away, leaving him bereft and alone once more, even more so this time. Most of all, it has left him broken and psychotic: he experiences a breakdown and must medicate in order to regain sanity, albeit for a very short period.
And so, Rapid Eye Movement opens with “Beyond the Eyelids”, a track that clearly mirrors “The Same River” from the first album. It’s an intro tracks but one which takes slightly less time to get started, quickly doing away with its initial ambiance in favor of quotations from different parts of the sage, mostly from the instrumental saga that is “Reality Dream”. Its myriad styles of playing begin from the get go to belie the true essence of Rapid Eye Movement: in classic trilogy fashion, it blends the aggressive elements from its predecessor with the more ambient albums of its ancestor, creating a progressive masterpiece of both violence and introspection.
The duality of “Panic Room” and “Schizophrenic Prayer” exemplify this mixing of the elements perfectly. “Panic Room” is more of a straightforward tracking, relying on a repetitive and relatively heavy mingling of bass and drums to create an oppressive, almost industrial feeling to the track. Duda’s vocals hover over everything in their signature style but also know when to soar in order to create the full canvas of the track. “Schizophrenic Prayer” on the other hand is a moody track that wouldn’t have been out of place on Duda’s solo works with Lunatic Soul, a heavily electronic and morose side project which is just as good as Riverside. In both, strings and synths give a backbone to outros, bridges and intros to make sure we remember this is Riverside, carrying the bulk of their signature sounds in these slightly more “out there” tracks.
However, it is the next track which completely dominates the center of this album and perhaps its entirety. “Parasomnia” is an eight minute long exploration of a complete psychotic break, with our protagonist experiencing a Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde moment, directly referenced in the track’s lyrics. Here, Grudziński’s guitars are given full rein, resulting in some of the heaviest riff works of Riverside’s career up until then. His unique bridging style is also very much apparent, stitching together this ambitious track with his signature wail, riff, wail structure. His work here in tandem with the strings has since become an inescapable aspect of progressive metal, again working closely together with Pain of Salvation to force the scene into adopting a more supporting role for synths but one which enables countless iterations and different approaches. One only needs to listen to the brilliant work accomplished by them around the three minute mark to understand the potential hidden within this more reined-in synth role.
For now, the album accords us a few moments to catch our breathes (in between sobs) as it dishes out three of its most emotional tracks and, indeed, three of the most brutally convincing and cutting tracks that Riverside have ever recorded, up until then and since. “Cybernetic Pillow” is especially important, elucidating much of the concept that was hidden within the previous album. It confirms our suspicions that the creation of the protagonist’s love interest was purely mental and the source of his problems right now. However, it also casts him looking for her again, finally realizing that he needs her to live, whether she’s real or fake. This question is finally, one more time, left ambiguous: is his lover completely made up or is there some foundation of her existence in reality?
These questions are crucial in order to understand what happens in the closing track of this album, the closing track of this series. In my eyes, “Ultimate Trip” is the focal point of all of Riverside’s genius, their crowning achievement both in music and in storytelling first. Let us begin with music: it is the longest and most intricate track they had written up until that point and one of the best of their career ever since, in both regards. It has everything you might want from a progressive album closer: it begins with a larger than life guitar over rumbling drums, setting the dramatic stage by framing the stakes at hand. This then explodes into a lead over bass that is so achingly Piotr Grudziński that it brings tears to my eyes. His sound is distilled here and is moved into the forefront, rivaled only by Duda with one of his best vocal performances. He soars and he falls, speaks soothingly and shouts defiantly. Later, as our hero falls apart and finally gives in, he even breaks apart himself, his voice almost on the verge of tears. Nowhere else is the unique relationship between Duda and Grudziński clearer; their timbers were meant for each other.
This brings us to the true genius of this track: the story. A small aside, first. Progressive metal has always dealt with mental issue. From Pink Floyd‘s Piper At the Gates of Dawn to Queensryche‘s Operation: Mindcrime and countless others, progressive’s roots lie deeply within the psyche. However, the patterns tend to be the same: obsession leads to paranoia, paranoia to despair, despair to breakdown, breakdown to catharsis, catharsis to healing. The genius of Riverside is that they threw off those shackles, defied the accepted narrative. In their story, the hero is not healed. Their is no magical moment in which he realizes his faults and becomes able to rejoin society through correction. Instead, over the achingly beautiful instrumentations, a darker tale is told. Our protagonist realizes that his made up creation, his love, angel and guiding, is the only way for him to live. Whether she is real or not makes very little difference; for him, she is real in the most arresting way possible.
And so, he embraces her, both figuratively and literally. He accepts that the only way for him to live is to return to the start, in essence to go into “The Same River” twice, and re-create her in his mind. He must reconstruct his “Panic Room” in order to be able to survive his life and not lose himself within a void of fear and depression. This is a far-reaching, emphatic and brave conclusion, according mental illness the rightful place it deserves as a complicated, infinitely impossible to define issue which plagues nearly everyone alive in some degree or other. Within this rich tapestry, again awarded a prominent place, lies Piotr Grudziński’s guitar. This ambitious fabric of words would have meant nothing without his touch. His strings give us context. They give us color, breathing life into the story in ways which only a masterful musician can.
It’s time for our protagonist to rest and so must Grudziński. Rapid Eye Movement closes with the possibility of healing and a return; it ends with the same radio static and faint stations with which Out Of Myself began. This is a possibility denied to us, the living, and our dead. In its stead we shall have music, for now able to conjure back some part of this man’s voice which has touched so many of us. We will return to it in our own way, forever different each time we hear it. Piotr will remain the same, as he was, touching, emotional, supremely gifted and talented. A lodestone of inspiration and masterful musicianship. Rest well, Piotr. We’ll miss you.
Kochani, żegnamy Piotra w najbliższy poniedziałek 29.02 o 14:30. Warszawa. Cmentarz Komunalny Północny na Wólce Węglowej. ul. Wóycickiego 14.
Posted by Riverside on Thursday, February 25, 2016