Released: January 20, 2023
- Mariusz Duda: vocals, basses, electric and acoustic guitars
- Piotr Kozieradzki: drums
- Michał Łapaj: keyboards and synthesizers, Rhodes piano and Hammond organ
- Maciej Meller: electric guitars
- Friend or Foe?
- Landmine Blast
- Big Tech Brother
- The Place Where I Belong
- I’m Done With You
- Age of Anger
- Together Again
- Friend or Foe? (single edit)
- Self-Aware (single edit)
Algorithms. Influencers and Curated Lives. How to Change Your Life in Ten Words or Less. Memes. Monetization. Tracking. Filters and Avatars. Targeted Ads. Conspiracies. Expectations versus reality. Who is real and who is not? How much control over our lives do we really have?
With ID.Entity, Riverside’s 8th album, Mariusz Duda and his bandmates explore these themes: negotiating virtual realities, hanging on to one’s identity and self, fighting the ubiquitous and implacable presence of the data collectors and algorithms that tell us what we should want, trying to deal with the polarization and angry echo chambers of the online world.
We get some hints from the outset that things are different: the cover is by Polish artist Jarek Kubicki and it thrums with life. This is not the dark, sombre palette of the covers of most of the previous albums. Bright, fragmented shards of colour fly out against a stark white background; we can glimpse shadowy figures in the background. Does this new vision reflect what is inside?
ID.Entity is a concept album, and all the songs address the themes noted above. Interestingly, there are at least two tracks that deal, to different degrees, with the notion of the artist as a commodity, at the beck and call of the consumers (fans), whose loyalties can change abruptly if the product is not what they want the artist to give them — the online fan groups display instances of this all too often, and ongoing examples of a divisive battle over identity. The album’s lyrics are pointed and direct, in a way we have not often seen before. They are infused with anger, cynicism, and sad resignation.
And the music… This album is prog as fuck.
However, this is not your granddad’s prog — this is Riverside. They don’t do prog the way most current prog bands do it. They might have started out that way, but Duda has always asserted — at least as far back as ADHD anyway — that the band has no plans to remain stuck in one style, and they have certainly honoured that promise over the several albums since. They have traversed metal, rock-based song-driven albums, delicate ballad-driven albums, huge thematic prog albums. So while not all fans love all albums (I certainly don’t), they have never released an album that isn’t somebody’s favourite. And that is because, at the core of all the albums, there is a fundamental and unmistakable “Riverside sound”. It may stem from prog, but it is unique to Riverside.
Remarkably, on ID.Entity, the band has encapsulated and synthesized all of that sound and history into one album, and has done it in a fresh, new way, with a confidence and enthusiasm we always knew was there. Frankly, this is the most Riverside-sounding Riverside album since the Reality Dream Riverside (where it all began), but with two decades of experience behind them. Despite the generally dark subject matter and angry lyrics, this might be the most dynamic and energetic album in their entire discography.
The album production is top-notch: the drums have a nice hefty feel, the bass sound is clean and fat, and there is a satisfying heaviness to the mix of guitars. The guys are playing at the top of their game; Łapaj especially sounds like he is having a blast. And the singing oh my god the singing… on this entire album Mariusz Duda’s voice is like nothing he has given us before. If he does not take all the vocal prizes for 2023, there surely is something wrong with this world.
The album kicks off with the single “Friend or Foe?” – but the album version begins very differently. A smooth synthesizer and wordless vocal line lead into a solid drum rhythm and nice chunky bass line, and we find ourselves in that 80s synthpop/prog track that has so entertained the fans as the single. Nevertheless it is a heavy, compelling piece, and a great way to start the album.
The robotic AI-voice intro to “Big Tech Brother” is a bit startling the first couple of times you hear it (and does wear out its welcome…), but it only lasts a few seconds and the song itself is a damned good one, starting with a nice rolling bass-and-drum intro, even including ADHD-like horns before it becomes a dynamic heavy prog track, and that singing… winding up with a massive repeating rhythm guitar riff.
“The Place Where I Belong” is the long centrepiece of the album, a three-part behemoth of a track. It starts out like a ballad with acoustic guitar and voice but after a couple of minutes and a Meller guitar solo it transforms into a mighty prog rocker, anchored by an absolutely rollicking Hammond theme and rolling bass line — this may be the one track that most powerfully evokes that signature “Riverside sound” …. oh, and have I mentioned the singing? It is one of the strongest songs on the album and I suspect will be a monster played live. In fact, one of the driving motivations behind this “new” Riverside was to create a studio album that attempted to capture the energy of their live performances; I think it worked. It is very easy — and rather exciting — to imagine this being done live.
The album ends with “Self-Aware”, a song meant to wind up the album on a more positive note: one might be tempted to walk away from the discord and negativity of the current online world, but really, we need each other. This is a straight-up hard rocker, at least in the single edit, but the album version includes an additional three minutes at the end, and this completely changes the character of the song. It is not my favourite track on the album mostly because I don’t find that the band does upbeat wind-up tracks particularly well, but that might just be me.
The album also includes bonus tracks — two solid instrumentals: “Age of Anger” and “Together Again”; and the two single edits.
“Age of Anger” is a monumental track. At almost 12 minutes long, it starts out slow and darkly ambient but soon transforms into a righteous monster, blasting some of the most prog-metal riffs the band has ever come up with. The power is relentless, and the song also manages to incorporate almost all of the Riverside sound-palette into one magnificent package. If “Age of Anger” can’t convince you of Duda’s mastery of the long instrumental, nothing will.
ID.Entity is the album that all Riverside fans have been waiting for, even if they don’t realize it yet. The band is as tight and cohesive as they have ever been, and they cover a vast amount of musical territory. You want Reality-Dream heavy prog? You’ve got it. You want some rock songs? Some ballads? They are there. Some metal? No shortage of that. But for all that, the sounds are fresh, and with a new vitality. It is an album of extraordinary energy and drive and in the end I’m pretty certain it is going to rank up there among their best. It may in fact unseat ADHD as my favourite album by the band. This truly is a Riverside album.