ID. Entity is Riverside’s first album since 2018’s cathartic Wasteland, and as the title suggests, this release very much focuses on their exploration of identity, including their own.
Riverside have been through tough times, most obviously the tragic loss of guitarist Piotr Grudziński in 2016, soon after the release of one of the best albums of their career, Love, Fear and the Time Machine. Like the rest of the world, Riverside went through the strange global dislocation of the Covid pandemic in 2020, which clearly delayed proceedings. However, maybe that peculiar period of enforced isolation, separation and introspection also gave Mariusz Duda and the rest of Riverside time to reflect on who they are as individuals and as a band, which they have eloquently expressed in characteristic style on ID. Entity.
The issue of identity is explored lyrically, but also through the differing strands of their musical history echoed in the songs of this album. The staccato rhythm and driving power of the remarkable Landmine Blast hark back to the glory of their 2007 album Rapid Eye Movement (the album which made me fall in love with this band back then), whilst the funky horn sounds and the chunky, meaty riffs of the beast that is Big Tech Brother is reminiscent of by far their heaviest album, the magnificent Anno Domini High Definition in 2009. The crunching 1970s rock groove of Post-Truth is a track that could easily have sat on 2013’s Shrine of New Generation Slaves, and the melancholic, melodic progressive swathes of the epic The Place Where I Belong could very easily have belonged on the beautiful Love, Fear and the Time Machine. This Riverside musical Time Machine continues on the impressive I’m Done With You and the expansive Self-Aware, which at times echo their really early days on Out of Myself and Second Life Syndrome, but in truth some songs are reminiscent of more than one of their previous albums, such as I’m Done With You. It is almost as if Riverside are saying ‘here we are in all our guises – this is who we were and what made us who we are today…’ – so, take your pick of your favourite manifestation of Riverside through the years and you will find some of it on this high-quality album… and yet even with this range of styles it is a remarkably cohesive and rounded album which flows along with their characteristic command of both rock power and melodic subtlety. The album looks outwards at modern society and social media, but there is also an element of looking inwards at the self. The title ID. Entity may indeed imply a person wrestling with their own ‘Monsters of the Id’ or their own Ego, so this is an imaginative concept album on multiple layers.
Riverside plunge us straight into the album with chiming, pulsing keys of Friend or Foe? which builds in intensity with an insistent bass line before settling down to an ’80s style synth riff. The opening line asks the questions about how we present ourselves in social media:
Well, strangely for a while it could be said that, with the poppy synth line and Mariusz Duda’s softer Morten Harket-like vocals, Riverside could be seen as trying to imitate Norwegian ’80s pop minstrels a-ha (not a bad thing, by the way)… but a-ha never had the musical balls that Riverside weigh in with for much of this song! Some may find the peculiar synthesis of poppier sensibilities with their trademark rock a little challenging, but it shows Riverside like to mix it up… don’t worry pop pickers, Riverside soon turn on the power and roll along to the end with the metronomic rhythm section over which Michał Łapaj lays an ethereal synthesiser.
Riverside continue to explore the pitfalls of modern communication in Landmine Blast in which ‘we are polarised’ and ‘we have lost a sense of community’ when any comment or posting can explode in our face and be the subject of intense criticism. The staccato, insistent and jittery rhythm oozes a sense of anxiety or unease, which Riverside build upon towards an emphatic end. Big Tech Brother speaks for itself as a title, commencing with a fake robotic voice announcing ‘Hello listener, if you want to hear the next song you must first agree to terms and conditions…’ The use of this device may be irritating to some, and it certainly lacks subtlety, however such an annoying introduction is actually kind of the point! In a world of streaming, where music is just a commodity and people largely only ‘rent’ the music they hear, the price is always some form of ‘terms and conditions’ and the inevitable interruptions of advertising… so much for ‘free’ music. Big Tech Brother is a peculiar mixture with the opening and end sections thundering along bombastically with references to dystopian visions of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Huxley’s Brave New World, sandwiching a much shorter, quieter and introspective reflection of voice and piano.
What seems apparent is that this album is much more collaborative, the band clearly delighting in playing and recording together in a studio after the separation of recent Lockdown years, and you get the feeling that whilst Mariusz Duda remains the leader of the band there is more of a sense of this being an album created by a band rather than an individual who then has others play it with him. Taking such an approach channels where Riverside are best – on stage, and there is a real, palpable live energy to the songs on ID. Entity.
Michał Łapaj really shines on this album, whether conjuring all sorts of noises and banks of sounds from his keyboards or delicately embroidering songs with delicate piano play. He starts Post-Truth with some distinctive keyboards before an avalanche of electric guitars, bass and drums cascade into the song in typical Riverside style. There is a real sense of anger and frustration in a lyric about the lies which permeate so much of modern communication and politics, playing on fear and stoking prejudice, influencing so many and clouding the real truth.
On their previous Wasteland album, Maciej Meller was a guest who added some solos in the absence of the sadly departed Piotr Grudziński, but on ID. Entity Meller is clearly a fully integrated band member and, dare I say it, establishes his own unique identity on electric guitar. He stamps his own personality, whether with his fluid rhythm play or his stellar solo flights, both of which he excels at on Post-Truth, before Łapaj brings it to a close with a wistful, fading piano.
Mariusz Duda is one of the finest vocalists in modern progressive rock, seemingly at ease with sweet passages of delicate emotion or vocally raging with passion. On the extended and resplendent The Place Where I Belong Duda’s sweet voice opens proceedings with his own simple acoustic guitar. After the intensity of much of the previous material this is quite a refreshing change of pace and tone. However, the sweetly melodic music of the opening section belies a lyric filled with bitterness about seemingly feeling trapped in a relationship, and the tempo increases as emotions are unleashed. Duda’s brilliant bass line marks a complete transformation and in one of the album’s most thrilling passages Riverside click into a ‘cool as f…’ rock groove with guitars, bass and drums in perfect synchronicity – meanwhile Łapaj oozes sheer class with delicious Hammond organ flourishes. Meller joining the fun with some sensual guitar licks. This is classic Riverside at their best and Duda sings with cool reassurance above the musical melting pot as he expels his emotions about the superficiality of many aspects of modern life.
The Place Where I Belong metamorphises beautifully in the third section as Duda appears to have an epiphany about his life. Soft keyboards give way to an eerily distorted but beguiling guitar line with Duda softly intoning:
When I feel calm and comfortable, where I don’t care anymore
If you believe my words, Yes, I am tired of your requirements”
There is a sense of liberation and not living one’s life on someone else’s terms, and in the final section Duda’s voice takes flight joyously before the electric guitar and synthesisers intertwine gorgeously. Indeed, they seem to almost be talking to each other as Meller’s guitar takes on a distinctive tone and Łapaj replies smoothly on keyboards. This feels like a true band piece and is imbued with real feeling – this not an extended, bloated piece designed to show off self-indulgent instrumental virtuosity, this is a finely crafted song in which each piece fits perfectly to the overall feel, and means something in the context of the song. The final two songs of the album have been released in the lead up and are two of the strongest songs on the album. Rapid Eye Movement was my gateway album into Riverside and the full-on juggernaut feel of I’m Done With You most resembles that brilliant album, with its distorted bass intro and spiralling guitar and keyboard fanfare taking us into a more restrained vocal and guitar interlude before the spiralling power of the main riff and melody take over with clipped guitar lines. Piotr Kozieradzki anchors the song, as he does the whole album, with great panache and rhythmic power, whilst Duda roars his frustration as he struggles to escape the prison of others’ expectations:
Why don’t you simply shut your mouth, And take your poison from my soul,
Far Away, Far Away”
Riverside fittingly leave one of the most impressive and revelatory songs to the end with the fabulous Self-Aware, featuring the ever fabulous bass playing of Duda underpinning a rollicking rock song which barrels along joyously with Duda proclaiming the relief of becoming more self-aware. This opening could easily have appeared on Shrine of New Generation Slaves, but then Riverside go in a different direction with a couple of surprising passages underpinned with more of a reggae rhythm before inevitably turning on the rock power again. Meller’s fluid electric guitar lines illuminate the skies above this behemoth whilst Kozieradzki pounds away with such vehemence. There is a definite feeling of positivity in which the singer feels happier about himself and therefore much more able to relate to someone close to him:
I want to be close to you, Being complete for the first time”
Maybe such simplicity lacks in poetry or imagery, but in simplicity there is clarity and beauty at times. Perhaps significantly after a distinctive and unconventional electric guitar passage the song recedes peacefully into the distance with over three minutes of much more ambient instrumental music. Duda’s cool bass lays down the foundations for more impressionistic keyboard brushstrokes by Łapaj and contributions from the rest of the band… the implication could be that some sort of inner peace has been achieved and that this is not the end as we fade with optimism into the future.
After the sense of loss and grief which has marked their more recent albums, Riverside return with an album brimming with power, focusing upon the toxicity of social media, fake news and how we can become isolated and disconnected. However, out of that maelstrom they magnificently create an album ultimately imbued with a sense of optimism and resolution, and a much clearer sense of Identity.
Riverside are emphatically and positively back, and without doubt ID. Entity will be regarded as one of the finest progressive rock albums of 2023.
01. Friend or Foe? (7:29)
02. Landmine Blast (4:50)
03. Big Tech Brother (7:24)
04. Post-Truth (5:37)
05. The Place Where I Belong (13:16)
06. I’m Done With You (5:52)
07. Self-Aware (8:43)
Total Time – 53:11
Mariusz Duda – Vocals, Basses, Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Piotr Kozieradzki – Drums
Michał Łapaj – Keyboards, Synthesisers, Rhodes Piano, Hammond Organ
Maciej Meller – Electric Guitars
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 20th January 2023
– Out of Myself (2003)
– Voices in My Head [EP] (2004)
– Second Life Syndrome (2005)
– Rapid Eye Movement (2007)
– Reality Dream (2008)
– Anno Domini High Definition (2009)
– Memories in My Head [EP] (2011)
– Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013)
– Love, Fear and the Time Machine (2015)
– Eye of the Soundscape (2016)
– Lost ‘n’ Found – Live in Tilburg (2017)
– Wasteland (2018)
– ID. Entity (2023)