Death is like a forest fire. In all aspects of life, it leaves behind it nothing but ash and the bitter taste of defeat. Our machinations at keeping it at bay are no less absurd then the sand lines of firemen, water bombs dropping from the heights of our pretenses on the uncaring flames of finality. But, as if this intro wasn’t loaded with enough cliches, forest fires are also forces of creating, leaving behind fertile soil in their wake. On this charred ground, new sprouts are given the opportunity to live and grow, brave explorers which, nonetheless, still carry the marks of past generations and live on in their relics. Riverside‘s Eye of the Soundscape is all of these and more, a death knell, a wake and a celebration of life all rolled up into one. It’s one of the most powerful retrospectives in progressive rock and metal’s history, being a contemplation on a deep and expansive career.
All of this comes in the wake of Piotr Grudziński’s (guitars) death earlier this year. For a while, Riverside seemed un-anchored, bereft of such an integral and iconic part of their sound. Displaying their grief on social media, communing with their fans in this hour of their distress, a certain momentum began to take shape in their dirge. They would push on; they were pushing. Not so much for Grudziński as because of Grudziński, his power and legacy driving them forward. In their uncontrollable desire to affirm life in the face of death, before they set off on a new course, the band decided to turn their neck backwards and look across their career. They did so with a host of reworkings, ambient parts and discarded ideas, all resurrected like the golem, with “truth” emblazoned in their heart.
The journey begins in earnest with “Sleepwalkers” and “Where the River Flows”. The first is an immensely chilling reworkings of sounds from the “Reality Dream” series. Underneath the album’s new perspective, some of the most hectic and progressive tracks in Riverside’s career are transformed into a frigid, lush expanse of looming synths and punctuated drums. The second track once again reworks a track from “Out of Myself”, their debut release. It is especially charged as the original, “The Same River”, was an introduction to the band for many fans. Opening the debut album on an epic, twelve minute foot, “The Same River” was also a prototype for future Riverside experimentation. Here, these sound return to us with a powerful optimism mingled with resignation; the original guitars are maintained at several points, while at others new sounds are introduced.
These two tracks set the momentum for the rest of the album but in no way contain all there is in it. Some of the tracks on this stand as their own, complete creations. Both parts of the “Night Session” deserve an especial mention in this regard; they almost feel like a separate EP. They also feature an amazing saxophone part, great guitars and some of Mariusz Duda’s uniquely breathtaking vocals. Of course Duda’s mark is left all over this album; it’s no secret that Lunatic Soul (his more ambient, darker project) and Riverside have never been far apart. Here, they finally coincide, on tracks like “Heavenland” and “Return” into one complete, heart shattering unit. By dragging both sides towards the center, Duda is able to enrich them both, Riverside and Lunatic Soul at the same time. The first is given much needed sobriety and humility while the second enjoys wider soundscapes and bold ideas.
This mix is perhaps the single most impressive fact about Eye of the Soundscape. Often, retrospective albums don’t justify themselves outside of their being a retrospective; musically, they go nowhere and are instead merely a collection. But this, this is an album. It speaks volumes to the unique and vastly complex sound of Riverside that so many disparate parts of their palette could coalesce into an actual album. This feels like another Riverside, and one of the best among their more recent offerings, blending new, old, discarded, optimistic, ruined, forward thinking and pensive into one beautiful tapestry. Nothing could have served more powerfully as a monument to the genius of Grudziński, who had an integral and crucial part in forging this distinct style. Nothing could have served better as an anchoring point for the future of Riverside, as they strike out into the unknown, as they pass through the Eye of the Soundscape.
Riverside’s Eye of the Soundscape will be available October 21st via InsideOut Music. Pre-orders are available at this location.