Band: Riverside | Album: ID.Entity | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Year: 2023
From: Warsaw, Poland | Label: InsideOut
For fans of: Porcupine Tree
Riverside is one of the bigger names in the progressive music world. They’re a progressive metal act based out of Poland that came to prominence in the early 2000s. Their first decade or so of existence was great, with 2009’s Anno Domini High Definition being one of the best records of that decade. Moving into the 2010s, though, the band faltered a bit. Shrine of New Generation Slaves didn’t quite land, in my opinion, and I disliked Love, Fear and the Time Machine so much, I didn’t even give their 2018 album, Wasteland, a listen. So, when I saw they had a new record coming out (their first since I started this site), I was viewing it comparably to how I view Dream Theater: something I’m pretty much obligated to cover; something I’m not that jazzed about; but something I’m willing to be surprised by.
When I first heard “Friend or Foe?”, the album’s opening track and leadoff single, I had a rather negative reaction to it. Those blooping faux-80s synth lines usually summon a visceral revulsion from me. I don’t like synthwave or most of the other ‘80s pastiches that have been in vogue for what feels like at least a decade at this point. It can be fun as an interlude to switch things up, admittedly, like BTBAM did on Colors II. “Friend or Foe?” isn’t even a bad song; I’ve warmed up quite a bit to it. But there’s a difference between tossing in some contrast two-thirds of the way through an album versus leading an album off with such a decision. I was worried this would wind up being something of a mission statement for the record, but thankfully it isn’t.
“Landmine Blast” opens with a Steve-Howe-inspired riff in an irregular meter. This is the sort of sound I expect from Riverside. It’s dark and atmospheric, straddling the line between rock and metal. Mariusz Duda’s voice is gentle but strong, and it suits the song very well. The closing 90 seconds features a lovely instrumental crescendo, building from a quiet moment back to the main riff.
Hacky, robotic sci-fi narration opens “Big Tech Brother”. It made me roll my eyes a bit, but it’s thankfully short. The opening riff on this song is really well composed, but the synth tone is atrocious. It’s this awful, farty synth brass that sounds like it’s right out of 1988. After this speedy, technical section, the verse is dark and slow-moving, evoking some of the stronger moments off The Wall. The lyrics are a bit Steven Wilson-y for my taste (specifically his shallow technophobia seen on Fear of a Blank Planet and The Future Bites), but it’s not that hard to tune out.
“Post-Truth” opens with some great, growling organ. As the song goes on, it does blur a bit into generic Riverside-ish mush. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as generic Riverside is pretty decent, but this piece doesn’t do much to stand out in their oeuvre.
The longest song on ID.Entity is the 13-minute “The Place Where I Belong”. Duda opens this track with gentle singing over acoustic guitar in a passage reminiscent of Porcupine Tree. Duda’s voice has a warmth that Wilson’s does not, though, so while similar, it is distinct. (It’s really hard to not repeatedly compare this band to Porcupine Tree, and I apologize for doing it so much. There’s just a lot of sonic similarity. At times, Riverside may as well be Drzewo Jeżozwierza.)
Moving past this acoustic opening, a groovy, slightly-fuzzed bassline leads to a churning, hard-rocking passage where their keyboardist gets a few chances to show off. It’s melodic and engaging, and it does a great job of moving the track along. In its second half, the song slows down and focuses more on mood and melody; it’s a nice way to wrap things up.
“I’m Done with You” kicks off with a crunchy instrumental passage that gives bass, organ, and guitar their turns in the spotlight. This energy contrasts against the quiet, tense verses. This lull in turn builds to a more impactful passage, but the band constantly switches up the dynamics. Loud-quiet contrasts are a staple of their sound.
The riff that kicks off “Self-Aware” reminds me strongly of ‘70s hard/arena rock acts, like Boston. I’m not crazy about the rather poppy melody of the verses, either, or the first six minutes of this song, but I could see a lot of people liking it. As the song enters its final three minutes, though, the mood becomes more ominous and anxious. A palm-muted guitar line and eerie stabs of synth cultivate a nervous atmosphere that adds another dimension to the piece overall.
A spacious, haunting plucked passage opens the 12-minute “Age of Anger”, though this intro lasts for too long. It’s not until three minutes in that some semblance of a real musical idea shows up. A simple pulsing rhythm and lonely guitar line provide a small sense of momentum while maintaining that isolated atmosphere. A metallic riff finally emerges to give this cut some urgency and backbone. Unfortunately, this song can’t keep it up, and it keeps oscillating between some pretty solid riffs and vacuous noodling. This instrumental probably could have been halved, and it would have been stronger for it.
ID.Entity closes on “Together Again”. The track alternates between slow, stretched out guitar-and-synth passages and more muscular metallic riffing. Much like the preceding cut, this is an instrumental, and it also goes on for too long, though its length is a more digestible six-and-a-half minutes. It feels like a fitting conclusion to the record, but it simply doesn’t say or do enough to warrant its length.
I was pleasantly surprised. This is a pretty good record. Is it worth the eye-watering 21 US dollars they’re charging for it on their Bandcamp? No, absolutely not. No digital release of this length is. But it’s pretty solid. This is about what I would expect from Riverside. It’s consistent, dark, fairly heavy progressive rock; and it’s a worthy addition to your library.