Love, Fear and the Time Machine

Released September 4th 2015


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”


  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.

When I got the vinyl version and played it, I finally understood how to think about the album structure. It is a double vinyl album, with six tracks on the first record, and five on the second (including a bonus “Day Session” track).  And suddenly it became obvious that this is an album with an identity crisis, “in between” as it were.  The first half – the first record of the double vinyl – is the band’s album.  There are fantastic, powerful songs here, and the lyric themes do not depart radically from Duda’s regular oeuvre of social distance and psychological struggles. All the band’s chops are on display, and Piotr Kozieradzki may well do some of his best drumming on these songs.  There is a real sense of cohesion.

But the second half, the last four songs (excluding, for the moment, “Promise”, which is actually part of the bonus material) – this is where the album takes a puzzling turn.  Love Fear and the Time Machine loses the plot after the sixth song.

I will not dispute the immense power of some of these later tracks, taken as individual songs.  “Time Travellers” is stunningly beautiful, perhaps the most anthemic ballad in the band’s history.   And the tribute track “Towards the Blue Horizon”, majestically nostalgic, prog-as-it-should-be (that is, non-derivative)….Nonetheless, the second half of the album shifts its focus:  it almost feels as if the guys have been relegated to the role of guest musicians supporting what are indisputably Mariusz Duda vehicles.

I do not review track-by-track, but I do focus on some of the outstanding songs.  In this case it is the middle third of the album, the monster trifecta of  “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire”, “Saturate Me”, and “Afloat.  These three tracks together may well represent Riverside at the height of their powers – at least, I will argue for it.

“Caterpillar…” is rapidly becoming my favourite Riverside song – in fact, it may be close to my favourite Mariusz Duda composition of all, which to this point were all Lunatic Soul tracks.  It is a damned near perfect song, bass-driven, lyrically miraculous, building with its martial rhythm to that mesmerizing finish.  “Saturate Me” is classic, effortless Riverside heavy prog, and an incandescent live track.  And finally, “Afloat” – elegiac and dirge-like, with its simple bass line, haunting words, and massive, stately organ – a transitional song if ever there was one.

One of the aims that Duda had for this album was to change the “feel”, to lighten the dark atmosphere that tends to pervade the previous albums, at least in terms of lyrics and thematic ideas.  In one way this has surely been accomplished. The music is open, airy, with lots of acoustic guitar–probably the most since the first EP Voices in My Head. There is less emphasis on the keyboards, and more nuanced guitar and drum work; and Duda’s vocal work continues to go from strength to strength. It is a beautifully produced album.

Alas, the attempts to provide an upbeat lyrical message have met with less success.  The intent is laudable; the accomplishment – well, let’s just say that the chorus to “Discard Your Fear” veers dangerously close to the lyrical equivalent of a Facebook feelgood meme. “Lost” fares somewhat better, maybe due to the beautiful video that accompanies it, but… “Ooooh it’s a lovely life”…?  Hakuna matata.

For me, one measure of the success of an album is the essence it leaves behind – how I feel when it is over.  A great album feels bigger than the sum of its parts, lingers in the ears and consciousness.  When Love, Fear and the Time Machine is over, I feel vaguely dissatisfied.  I have to confess that when I play the vinyl, I very often do not continue past the first record.  Sides C and D get short shrift, mostly because the first half of the album is so truly outstanding that the second half, as lovely as the individual tracks might be, simply cannot live up to it.  Overall there is just too much restraint, too much delicacy, a lack of the grit and energy that seemed an essential part of the Riverside “personality”.  And Duda’s voice, as transcendent as it is here, lacks “bite” and variety across the songs.  It is too bad that the band had to essentially end on this note, with the less than successful experimentation of the last two albums.

On the other hand…Day Sessions

The Love, Fear and the Time Machine deluxe edition comes with a bonus disc, the Day Sessions, the continuation of a project that took root with Shrine of New Generation Slaves and the Night Sessions bonus tracks, although it is probably true (see my reviews for REM and SoNGS) that the genesis of the “Sessions” was back in 2007 as the bonus tracks to Rapid Eye Movement.

The Day Sessions are five tracks of varying length, featuring Duda, Łapaj, and Grudziński,  and entering even more deeply into the realm of ambient electronica than the Night Sessions did.  These marvelous tracks truly showcase the range and breadth of musical vision these guys are capable of.  It probably was inevitable that this would have become a project separate from Riverside, and a dedicated release, Eye of the Soundscape, is in the offing, collecting the Sessions, remakes of REM tracks, and new material, and dedicated to Piotr Grudziński, who did love to make them. Alas, we will never know how far this project could have gone.


5 thoughts on “Love, Fear and the Time Machine

  1. I persnonally thought the second half flowed well and the finish seemed complete. Just my opinion. Loved the whole thing but i agree it was so different from the other albums.

  2. Interesting review, and indeed after 1 rough year for Riverside, it makes you look different a this record. As always, appreciate your knowledge (and huuugeeee collection) of Riverside !

  3. Very interesting and surprising review.
    An album I will come back to in due time as music taste has differed and never really gave it a chance. A very thought provoking review

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