Mariusz Duda: vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, piccolo bass, banjo, guitar solo on “Lament” and “Wasteland”
Piotr Kozieradzki: drums
Michał Łapaj: keyboards and synthesizers, rhodes piano and hammond organ, theremin on “Wasteland”
Maciej Meller: guitar solo on “Acid Rain – Part 2: Dancing Ghosts”, “Guardian Angel”, “The Struggle for Survival Part II – Battle Royale’” and “River Down Below”
Michał Jelonek – violin on “The Day After”, “Lament” and “Wasteland”
Mateusz Owczarek – guitar solo on “Vale of Tears”
The Day After
Acid Rain: Part I – Where are we now?; Part II – Dancing Ghosts
Vale of Tears
Struggle for Survival: Part I – Dystopia; Part II – Battle Royale
River Down Below
The Night Before
If you have been reading reviews for Wasteland, you already know how they tend to start, so I will not repeat all that. In summary: Wasteland is probably the most fraught album in Riverside’s career, awaited with enormous anticipation, apprehension, trepidation…and so on. As fans, we all know why.
The big question is: Did the decision to continue as a trio, with no permanent replacement for the beloved Piotr Grudziński, actually work? Did they pull it off? The responses have ranged from enthusiastic “absolutely!”s to carefully worded versions of “nope”, and everything in between. The only thing we knew for sure about Wasteland was that it wasn’t going to be the same as the previous albums, but Mariusz Duda always says that. I did have a hint of the sound to come, hearing something early in the spring albeit in an unfinished form, and I liked it very much; but auditory memory being what it is (bad), I wasn’t willing to bet the farm on that few minutes of a demo heard once.
Three singles were released in the weeks before the album hit. Promotion, marketing – it is an understandable practice, but it is fair to say that for the most part, these songs caused more consternation than relief among the fanbase. I was certainly among those consternated. The first, “Vale of Tears”, despite some interesting moments, came across as a rather cliché poppy mashup of … well, everything. What on earth was that all about? There was a gradual improvement with the next two such that by the time “Lament” appeared, folks had gotten their hopes up again…but still, doubt had been sown.
Mariusz Duda: bass and acoustic guitars, piccolo bass, keyboards, percussion, programming, vocals
Wawrzyniec Dramowicz: drums
He Av En
Under the Fragmented Sky
Rinsing the Night
The Art of Repairing
“And it’s going to be the best story of your life….”
The tracks from this short album/EP/however you want to call it, were written during the Fractured sessions, but clearly did not fit that with album’s feel or direction. However, they were good enough (and I think recognizing how much of a departure from LS Fractured really was), that Mariusz Duda decided to gather them together into their own release.
In fact, I submit that Mariusz Duda had no choice but to release this album. Under the Fragmented Sky is an astonishing collection of music, so deeply evocative of everything Lunatic Soul as an idea stands for that I wonder whether LS really is an entity unto itself and Duda can only bow to its demands for life. I barely dared hope for something even half as good (especially after the disappointment of Fractured).
Or the tl:dr version of the previous paragraphs: Under the Fragmented Sky is a miracle.
Mariusz Duda: bass and acoustic guitars, piccolo bass, keyboards, percussion, programming, vocals
Wawrzyniec Dramowicz: drums
Marcin Odyniec: saxophone
Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra
Blood on the Tightrope
Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes
Red Light Escape
A Thousand Shards of Heaven
It is no secret by now (to anyone) that Fractured, the fifth Lunatic Soul album, was not the album of 2017 for me. I stuck it in at Number 5 but that was probably higher than it should have been. To say that I was disappointed and baffled would be an understatement. No matter how hard I tried, it just wouldn’t take. Fractured is anomalous, an outlier, straddling the border between Lunatic Soul and Riverside, not really one or the other: but perhaps closer in spirit to the last half of Love, Fear and the Time Machine than to any Lunatic Soul album.
It is hard to pin down exactly where the problem lies. I know this might sound a bit…self-serving, but the warning bells rang when so many people, heretofore not particular LS fans, embraced the album with enthusiasm. Lunatic Soul is a project with a fundamentally different feel than Riverside, darker and more ambient, less hard (but not “soft” by any means) dense and percussive, more adventurous and syncretic, perhaps even more nuanced. It is a project that has a rather more specialized audience, and perhaps a more dedicated one; certainly a much smaller following than Riverside. So it seemed distinctly odd that suddenly so many Riverside fans should profess to love the new album so much.
It is indeed an album of high accomplishment, with the trademark beautiful melodic passages that are a Mariusz Duda forté, and with some very powerful moments. But somehow, it doesn’t add up. The whole is not more than the sum of its parts. It is an album of fragments, a couple of very good songs (“Blood on the Tightrope”, “Fractured”) and exceptional bits from other tracks (“A Thousand Shards of Heaven”, “Battlefield”). But it has few of the attributes of Lunatic Soul. Duda has been moving away from lush analogue sounds towards more electronically-driven music, so the sound is sparser, more open, cooler. The rich density of small percussion is largely absent, replaced by a lot of guitar and electronic effects. This trend began with Walking on a Flashlight Beam, but that album retains the Lunatic Soul gestalt. Fractured has moved in a different direction.
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→
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
Robert Srzednicki: keyboards, guitars, programming
Kris Wawrzak: basses, wave drum, programming
Mariusz Duda; Anja Orthodox; Anna “Anucha” Piotrowska; Katarzyna “Dyba” Dybowska; Daria Druzgala; Mariusz “Maniok” Kumala; Barbara Piotrowska; Agnieszka Sobolewska; Igor Szeligowski; Tomasz Chmielarz
Agrippa von Nettesheim
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.
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.
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.