Tag Archives: Mariusz Duda

Welcome to the Post-Apocalypse Or: The Year of Introspection 2

The Music of 2017 Part Three: Albums No. 7 to 1

It has been an interesting year for music – lots of good releases, a few disappointing follow-ups from bands I had found earlier, strong entries in genres I did not expect.  The best albums of the year examine the human condition and find it wanting, and this year the expression of it has crossed all genres: the thrash-metal anger of Heart Attack and While She Sleeps, the existential philosophy of Alex Reed (Seeming), the bleak vision of Gary Numan, the push-back rage of race and poverty from Ice-T and Ice Cube.  A beloved musician – one who is no stranger to lyrics of pain as it is – placing his torn-up heart on view with an album whose intensity of self-examination is almost too personal.  It has been a tough and exhilarating year for listening.

This year brings a new Lunatic Soul, always a cause for celebration even if the album itself doesn’t strike quite as hard as previous ones. Once again, a plethora of unknown names with some great releases, and well-established acts who finally caught my interest with worthy efforts.  In terms of genres: still some metal, still industrial electronica, some albums on the edge of prog (but no actual prog to speak of), some albums on the edge of pop, and this year a bit of…gangsta rap.  Well, as I often say, You Just Never Know.

2017 also heralded the discovery of a band whose (recent, anyway) music has hit me inexplicably hard. They have been around for thirty-five years and I suspect for most of that time I would not have paid them any attention (if I had heard of them) … but their last four albums (new producer, entirely new sound) have just blown my head off.  Those albums (and the related side-project by the lead singer) have all been on pretty heavy rotation since early spring, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Every year brings its particular sorting challenge, but this year it is a bit different.  The top two spots are not in dispute; the issue here is that these albums tower so far above the rest of the pack I have given them their own slots, and kept 15 albums for the rest.  In other words, I have a list of 2 and a list of 15, or I have a list of 17…whatever.

After the first two…well, things get much harder to sort out.  Most of the subsequent fifteen albums are almost equivalent in quality; the mix of genres and styles is so wide that blunt comparison may as well be decided by closing my eyes and pointing: how does one fairly compare an album of country-rock by Swedes to gangsta-metal by an experienced Los Angeles media stalwart? Each album brings its strengths, and its weaknesses, and it becomes a matter of deciding which strengths are stronger and which weaknesses are least intrusive to the listening experience.  That said, the first six albums in the List of 15 are almost equal in quality. But we will start with Number 17 overall (15) and work our way up. Continue reading Welcome to the Post-Apocalypse Or: The Year of Introspection 2

Welcome to the Post-Apocalypse; Or The Year of Introspection

The Music of 2017, Part 2 — Honorable mention, and albums 17 to 8.

You can read the introduction to the Music of the Year posts here. 

Honourable mention:

Tune – III

I did not receive this album until the second week of December, which is too late for it to be considered for a spot in the Album of the Year list.  But I do want to comment on it.

Tune are a rather odd bunch, a quirky art rock quartet out of Poland; I liked their second album (Identity) from three years back, showcasing clever and accessible pop songs but with a bit of an edge, but still there was something a bit too fey about them.

III is a step in the right direction.  It is a very short album, pretty much EP-length, but I have never really been concerned with that sort of thing.  It is better to have an album on the short side than one that outstays its welcome. At any rate: the songs here are darker, heavier, much edgier, demonstrating maturity and experience, and less quirk. The production is rich and up-close, showcasing the nice chunky bass sound and guitar – suddenly it is obvious that these guys are pretty damned good musicians.  Hopefully this album will bring them a bit more attention – it is worth the listen.

 

  1. Steven Wilson – To the Bone

Steven Wilson continues down the road well-traveled as he heads closer and closer to pure pop.  The last album had its pop moments, but this one Is pretty unapologetic: breakthrough is what he wants, and To the Bone gets him a lot nearer.  It is not a bad album but it is a rather boring one, really; Wilson is sticking to the safe route. There are those who excoriate him for his apparent abandonment of the prog that made him so beloved in the first place, but he has always been an International Pop Star at heart. Album review is here.

 

  1. Necro Deathmort – Overland

Another new album from one of the more prolific of the ambient electronic acts out there. Necro Deathmort never seem to be overt: they don’t promote themselves much, they don’t have a major social media presence, but they never quit and somehow I have amassed quite a collection of their stuff.  Overland is smooth and chill and unsettling, as befits the best of their music. The duo appeared on Steven Wilson’s latest album and they have slyly made use of the same colour scheme on Overland.

 

  1. Eclipse – Monumentum

Eclipse is a hard rock quartet from Sweden, been around for a few years now, and they make pretty decent no-frills rock songs: melodic and heavy and not too long, definitely worth a listen or two.  I like the album, and I really like two or three tracks from it.  Eclipse joined with Pretty Maids singer Ronnie Atkins to make one of the better hard rock efforts from 2016, Nordic Union.  Rumour has it they will do it again in 2018.  Thumbs up for that one.

 

  1. Glass Apple Bonzai – In the Dark

Upbeat synthpop from Toronto, cheerful retrowave about satanism and devil-worship.  Well…why not?  It is actually a pretty good album.  And the guy does have a great voice.

 

  1. Nathan Gray Collective – Until the Darkness Takes Us

In July, I said this: “At some point in his life, Nathan Gray lost his faith in God and it made him very very angry.” Well, he’s still pretty pissed off, but the album has grown on me a bit.  Dark and dense and pretty heavy at times, and Gray certainly sounds like he means what he says.

https://nathangraycollective.bandcamp.com/track/skin

  1. While She Sleeps – You Are We

These guys are a metalcore quartet from Sheffield, been around for a decade or so, and with You are We they have created a pleasingly melodic but face-meltingly heavy collection of tracks well worth checking out.  Alternating between screams and clean singing, they have a bit of a Linkin Park vibe, but in a good way.

 

  1. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

An outfit that has been around for a while, but I can’t say I have paid them much notice. They do seem to shift styles and genres to a considerable degree, however, and this incarnation has managed to catch my attention.  This version of Ulver seems very synth-driven, dense and musical, and they do some interesting things here. Definitely worth a listen.

 

  1. The Quill – Born From Fire

Stoner blues rock from the southern US, an album about redemption, reclamation, conversion, finding God.

Oh wait – these guys are Swedes.

Well, they do this thing very well indeed.  I’ve been putting a lot of mileage on this album, and if I’d started playing it a bit earlier, it might have risen higher than 10.  It is certainly engaging, and I like it a lot better than I thought I would.

 

  1. Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

Everyone needs a little pop in their lives, I think.  But make it good pop. Real pop, heavy and fun – like Royal Blood, the British bass-and-drums power duo. These guys are pretentious, popular, and very good at what they do, and I have an unaccountable fondness for them.  The album is short and to the point, and they put out so much wattage you would swear they have onstage help – but I have seen them.  They don’t.

 

  1. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand

I never really paid much mind to Mastodon, and at this point in the year I don’t even remember why I listened to the new album.  But I did, and I liked it a whole lot, and went to see them live and everything.  In the meantime Emperor of Sand continued to grow on me. I don’t know if I will dig into the back catalogue, but I’m happy with this one.

 

 

Eye of the Soundscape

Released:  October 21, 2016

Tracklist:

CD 1

  1. Where the River Flows
  2. Shine
  3. Rapid Eye Movement (2016 mix)
  4. Night Session Part 1
  5. Night Session Part 2

CD 2

  1. Sleepwalkers
  2. Rainbow Trip (2016 mix)
  3. Heavenland
  4. Return
  5. Aether
  6. Machines
  7. Promise
  8. Eye of the Soundscape

(Triple vinyl tracklist is in a somewhat different order)

When I first discovered Riverside, I really had no idea what I was getting into.  I was astonished: this music grabbed me in a way none ever had before — emotionally, intellectually, even physically – I listened in an enraptured transcendence that never seemed to fade.  A friend of mine likes to say: “The music of your life will find you”, and it was only with the discovery of Riverside and Lunatic Soul that I truly understood what he meant.  I’d listened to and loved a lot of music and artists over the decades, but nothing like this.

I eventually realized that I had also become part of an extended family, that there was a real connection – something I had never experienced before – between the band and their fans, and the fans with each other.  We shared anticipation, accolades, joy, and alas, the tragedies.  In this year especially that connection became manifest, where we came together, sharing our shock, our loss, our memories.  The line between the band and the fans blurred in the tears.

I discovered the experimental side of the band early on with the REM bonus material, and those tracks became among my favourites from that album. Fast-forward to the release of Shrine of New Generation Slaves and the spectacular “Night Sessions” bonus tracks: surely here was a direction that the guys should explore — in fact it would almost be criminal if they didn’t. Of course, the “Day Sessions” tracks just reinforced this. Piotr Grudziński was openly eager to do a dedicated ambient experimental project; his excitement was palpable.  And then, it became a reality.  The guys – at least Piotr, Mariusz Duda and Michał Łapaj — headed into the studio to make this special album, this anticipated addendum to the Riverside discography.  Good news indeed.

recording

Then…early in 2016 came that devastating blow to band and fans alike; and instead of being a celebratory exploration of a beloved genre of music, the project became a memorial.  A poignant tribute to an unfinished journey, a legacy of love and loss.

Continue reading Eye of the Soundscape

Love, Fear and the Time Machine

Released September 4th 2015

Tracklist

CD 1

  1. Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat?)
  2. Under the Pillow
  3. #Addicted
  4. Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire
  5. Saturate Me
  6. Afloat
  7. Discard Your Fear
  8. Towards the Blue Horizon
  9. Time Travellers
  10. Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching)

CD 2 Bonus “Day Sessions”

Tracklist

  1. Heavenland
  2. Return
  3. Aether
  4. Machines
  5. Promise

It was about a year ago as of this writing that Riverside’s sixth album, Love, Fear and the Time Machine was released, with all the usual hype from the band, and excitement and anticipation amongst the fans near and far…and oh, I was going to review the shit right out of it.  I had the keyboard all polished and ready to go, headphones warmed up, I’d heard a couple of the songs on Youtube that had been played live at summer festivals…it sounded so hopeful.

Well…I listened to it and listened to it.  There were days when I loved it to death, and days when I couldn’t figure the damned thing out.  It was both a Riverside album and not a Riverside album.  It was marvelous to hear, and yet at the same time strangely off-kilter.  It should be a well-known fact by now that Riverside refuses to remain stylistically static – but LFatTM went even beyond that.  The album was written by Mariusz Duda during and after a series of events that influenced its flavour and direction, and his persona is more deeply embedded in this album than in any that have come before. It hangs like an obscuring veil over the presence of the other guys in the band. In fact, this is the first Riverside album on which Riverside the band received no writing credits at all.

My review, at least something sensible and coherent, never appeared.  I simply couldn’t figure out what to say.

Now, whatever the roadblocks were to writing … they might still pertain in some ways, but their importance is diminished.  Love, Fear and the Time Machine, due to an event after its release that no-one could even imagine, let alone foresee, is for all intents and purposes the last Riverside album.  There may well be other albums by a Polish band with that name, but with the death of Piotr Grudziński the old Riverside is gone forever.

So this is what I will say.

Continue reading Love, Fear and the Time Machine

Music Inspired by Alchemy

Released: April 2016

 Personnel

Artur Szolc: drums and percussion

Robert Srzednicki: keyboards, guitars, programming

Kris Wawrzak: basses, wave drum, programming

 

Guests:

Mariusz Duda; Anja Orthodox; Anna “Anucha” Piotrowska; Katarzyna “Dyba” Dybowska; Daria Druzgala; Mariusz “Maniok” Kumala; Barbara Piotrowska; Agnieszka Sobolewska; Igor Szeligowski; Tomasz Chmielarz

 

Tracklist:

  1. Alexandria
  2. Hermes Trismegistos
  3. Albertus Magnus
  4. Nicolas Flamel
  5. Transmutation I
  6. Trithemius
  7. Agrippa von Nettesheim
  8. Transmutation II
  9. Faustus
  10. Alexander Seton
  11. Sendivogius
  12. Transmutation III
  13. John Dee
  14. Edward Kelley
  15. Transmutation IV
  16. The Philosopher’s Stone

Music Inspired by Alchemy is the third in what appears to be an occasional series of albums released by the members of the Polish prog outfit Annalist, but not, apparently, under that name.   In the liner notes they call themselves “Inspire”.  To be precise the first album, Music Inspired by Tarot (1998) involved only Artur Szolc; the second, Music Inspired by the Zodiac (2001) involved all of the guys.  Certain listeners will be familiar with Robert Szrednicki in his role as producer of Riverside and Lunatic Soul.  At any rate, Annalist and Inspire have the same lineup.

…Alchemy is an album of short, largely instrumental prog/ambient pieces, full of atmosphere and melody, with rich arrangements of synths, strings, guitars and percussion. Plenty of guests contribute everything from vocals to strings and horns; it is clearly related musically to the other two Inspired by… albums, but with more mature production values. Most of the track titles take the names of various historical (and perhaps not-so-historical) alchemists and occultists.

However (yeah you saw this coming, didn’t you?)…while it makes for pleasant listening, there is very little that is especially gripping about this album.  The standout tracks are clustered near the beginning:  “Alexandria” is a powerful opener with sweeping synths and orchestration, and a vaguely eastern rhythm and flavor, and the next two tracks manage to maintain the interest by being different enough but also very atmospheric.  Of course, one must give special mention to the three tracks on which Mariusz Duda provides vocals (not words, mind you): “Transmutation I”, “Faustus”, and “John Dee”.  His voice is a thing of such extraordinary beauty and emotion that it really can elevate even the most conventional piece above the ordinary.

Overall though, the album does not live up to the promise of these songs.  The tracks range from experimental ambient to almost conventionally poppy — and almost all of them are simply way too short.  That is the major problem with Inspired by Alchemy – instead of a sweep of emotion carrying the listener along through track after track, it comes across as more a compilation of movie or game soundtrack snippets than anything else (in fact, “Hermes Trismegistos” sounds like an outtake from the soundtrack of the movie Serenity).  The pieces are barely long enough for the ideas to really develop: as soon as something begins to sound interesting, it ends – only reinforced by the fact that “Edward Kelley”, one of the few long-ish tracks on the album, manages to sound like a full-fledged song.

This would make for good background music, but even then it doesn’t work completely: there are very nice moments, and ones bound to grab attention for a brief time, but overall it is just too disjointed-sounding—its brevity works against it. Given that this is the third effort in this series, it is strange that it strikes one almost as a freshman effort with the kinks still to be worked out.  However, it has also been more than a decade since Music Inspired by the Zodiac so maybe it’s like starting over, I don’t know.

7/10

They Go From Us Too Soon

Piotr Grudziński:  1975 – 2016

As of this writing, I have spent well over a week reading the flood of tributes, stories, and remembrances of Riverside’s guitarist, from everyone: those who knew him intimately, those who knew him casually, and those who knew him only through his music.  It is astonishing how thoroughly he has touched people’s hearts, what an impression he made simply by being himself.  I have not said anything substantial beyond shock and sadness, but I need to say goodbye now.

2016 started out as a year bound to go down in collective musical memory as a major suckfest, as one by one musical icons and beloved individuals left us…but for most of them, somehow it was not completely unexpected. Illness, age, lifestyle choices — we regret their loss, and mourn it, but at some level we know that it is inevitable.

This was not one of those times. Fate was not yet done with us.  On February 21st, with both middle fingers stuck high in the air, she dropped the biggest karmic Fuck You possible on the prog music scene: She took Piotr Grudziński.

There are people in this world whose kindness, generosity of spirit, whose sheer genuineness set them apart. They find a way into your heart just because of who they are.  I met Gru because of what he did for a living.  I am broken-hearted because of the man he was.

MD PG

Continue reading They Go From Us Too Soon

Shrine of New Generation Slaves (SoNGS)

Released January 2013 Europe; Feb. 2013 RoW

Tracklist:

  1. New Generation Slave
  2. The Depth of Self-Delusion
  3. Celebrity Touch
  4. We Got Used to Us
  5. Feel Like Falling
  6. Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)
  7. Escalator Shrine
  8. Coda

Bonus Disc:

  1. Night Session Part 1
  2. Night Session Part II

Confession time…and some context. I will say right off the bat: I struggled mightily to review this album when it first came out.  I made a few attempts, and even posted some, but frankly none of them ended up worth the time it took to launch Word.  It pains me to say that they were pretty much the sort of hagiographic piles of adulatory crap I deplore reading from others, and deep down, even at the time I wrote them, I knew it.  But I chose to ignore my gut.

What I think happened was this: Shrine of New Generation Slaves was the first album that Riverside released after I discovered them and became a fan, and I had just spent most of the preceding year immersed in the band’s (and Lunatic Soul’s) discography, listening to almost nothing else, stunned and exhilarated by the discovery of music I had been waiting for all my life.  Naturally I had a huge emotional stake in the new material.

When the special blue vinyl pre-order arrived (the first of the several versions to hit my doorstep) and the playing began…well, things started to go south from there.  My immediate reaction was: This is not the album I have been waiting for.  But because at some level it had to be that album, and the accolades began pouring in from all directions…I suppressed my instincts and spent the next year trying to talk myself into loving it. Even the video accompanying the first single, “Celebrity Touch”, didn’t dismay me as much as it should have.

…But now a couple of years have passed, and I hope I am far enough distanced to deal with SoNGS fairly. The truth is, I don’t love the album, and that is tough to admit.  So let’s get this party started.

Continue reading Shrine of New Generation Slaves (SoNGS)

Memories in my Head (EP)

Released June 2011

Tracklist:

  1. Goodbye Sweet Innocence
  2. Living in the Past
  3. Forgotten Land

After the release of Anno Domini High Definition, four long years passed before the fifth full-length album appeared in 2013. However, the guys were not idle: Mariusz Duda released two albums for his Lunatic Soul solo project:  Lunatic Soul II in 2010, and Impressions in 2011, and the band continued to work on new material.

As it turned out, 2011 marked the 10th year of the band’s existence, and the Memories in My Head EP became part of the celebration of their first decade.  It certainly seemed as though the band had reached a high water mark: Their label in Poland, Mystic Productions, released the 6-cd Reality Dream box set (combining the first three albums with additional material), and Inside Out released several limited edition coloured vinyl versions of their first four albums.  The band then embarked on a “Jubilee Year” tour of Europe, which culminated with the release of this EP; they also began talk of a new album.

 

“When something ends, something else begins/We are moving on”. 

Memories in My Head was intended as a farewell nod to the foundational Riverside sound of the Trilogy years (and perhaps to placate the fans impatient for a new album): as ADHD (and subsequent albums) demonstrated, the musical intentions and direction and of the band had shifted, and would continue to do so.  Still, the EP may well be one of the band’s most beloved releases, and it is not hard to see (or indeed hear…) why.  MiMH truly is a magnificent little album, a consummate distillation of everything that made the Riverside sound unique, an almost perfect summing up of ten years of musical and lyric artistry, inspiration and influences, writing and touring.

Clocking in at a shade under 33 minutes (and by now the numbers game should need no explanation), the three glorious tracks merge seamlessly into each other, creating a musical flow that makes the EP feel almost like one long, magnificent song.  Driven by Piotr Grudziński’s hallmark melodic winding guitar themes, and Mariusz Duda’s powerful leading bass and fine vocals, it is packed with musical metaphors and classic Riverside tropes and themes, lushly atmospheric, full of the vast, cinematic soundscape that is so fundamental to their sound.  Lyrically Duda is very much on the ball; there is some excellent word-smithing here, at least on the first two tracks, evoking both nostalgia for the past and hope for the future.  “Forgotten Land” does break the continuity in that regard, being one of the very few songs he has written (for any of his projects) that is not from an intimate first or second-person perspective.  However, the track was used in a trailer for The Witcher 2 video game, so it works in that respect.

Memories in My Head looks back to the more expansive, more progressive, much-beloved sound of the band’s origins, and winds up that era of the band’s history in an almost perfect fashion.  There could hardly be a better way to commemorate their first ten years.

Anno Domini High Definition (ADHD)

Released: June  2009 (Poland); July 2009 (Europe and RoW)

Tracklist

  1. Hyperactive
  2. Driven to Destruction
  3. Egoist Hedonist
  4. Left Out
  5. Hybrid Times

And then there were four….

Mariusz Duda, when interviewed, often likes to draw attention to a couple of things: that Riverside has a recognizably distinctive sound, and the band does not like to remain stylistically static.  These facts are abundantly clear nowadays, but I warrant that even after three albums, the second point was not so obvious. The Trilogy introduced an unmistakable Riverside-ish musical Gestalt, one that essentially defined them and even though there were some differences from album to album (especially in regard to how heavy they became), there really was a unity of sound that likely has helped pigeonhole them in the “progressive” category from which it is proving difficult for the guys to extract themselves (in fact, anyone who has paid any attention at all to interviews and comments over the past couple of years will realize that being styled “progressive metal” is somewhat of a Duda bugbear).

Anno Domini High Definition (ADHD), their fourth album (with its four-word title and double-entendre acronym) was the first album where this desire for stylistic change became undeniably manifest.  And what a change it was.  It must have seemed as if they were not just abandoning their lush progressive roots, but dropkicking them into the next solar system.  The guys took their sumptuous atmospheric sound and slammed it head on into a heavy metal wall; they embraced it so enthusiastically one might even suspect they were eager for a change.  The keyboard sound acquired a much harder edge.  The guitars are dense and raunchy and full of relentless energy, the bass punchy and riff-heavy, taking the lead like it had never done before. Piotr Kozieradzki must have been in drum heaven on this one, with his extensive death metal background.  No acoustic guitar, no ballads, no real soft pieces except the start of “Left Out”.  For all that, Duda’s first point stands: There is no doubt we are listening to Riverside—their distinctive core remains untouched.

Continue reading Anno Domini High Definition (ADHD)

Interlude: Reality Dream Live

Released:

  • 2008 on cd and vinyl
  • 2009/2010 on DVD
  • 2011 in the Big Box Set (6-cd compilation)

Live tracks recorded and filmed during a concert played in Łódź, Poland on May 17th 2008.

The reviews of the three studio albums that make up the Reality Dream Trilogy are posted, so it seems like a sensible spot to put a brief précis of the only live concert video Riverside have managed to bring to fruition thus far, a live set of tracks and a DVD stitched together from songs from those albums. If they played anything from Voices in My Head or new songs during this show, it does not appear here.

As of this writing, apart from some videos on the band’s and the label’s Youtube channels, the Reality Dream DVD is the only official record of the band’s on-stage presence—at least as it was at one point in their career.  It provides a touchstone for comparisons to their recent performances, especially if one refers to the documentary “In Between” that accompanied the last Lunatic Soul album wherein Mariusz Duda briefly discusses the changes made by the band in how they approach their live shows.  Duda is indeed much more of a physical presence on stage now than he was in the early days, and Michał Łapaj is much less restrained…but otherwise there isn’t a lot of difference.  They were and are superbly rehearsed, almost preternaturally in touch with each other as performers, and while audience participation is more actively encouraged in recent years the band seems to play more to each other than they do directly to the audience.

In terms of production it is a good record of a live performance, fairly straightforwardly shot but alas edited as if someone had spent too much time watching Porcupine Tree’s Arriving Somewhere DVD, chock full of faux scratches and fading colour and the flare of decaying film, with aspect ratios flipping back and forth at random.  All of that distracts more than it enhances.   Just give us the show.   The songs are almost perfectly rendered versions of the studio tracks with some minor concessions to the live context.  This perhaps is the biggest contrast with the current approach: today many of the songs have been modified and transformed into unique and in some cases superior versions for live performance.

There are four versions of this show, in different formats, and each with slightly different track orders. At the moment the availability of the different releases varies from “You Can Find It If You Dig” (the DVD mostly) to “Yeah Right, Dream On”.  Set lists for the different versions continue  below the fold.

Continue reading Interlude: Reality Dream Live