Riverside - Wasteland
InsideOut Music
Progressive Rock/Metal
9 songs (50:49)
Release year: 2018
Riverside, InsideOut Music
Reviewed by Goat

Recorded as a trio after the tragic death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński in 2016, Wasteland is the Poles' seventh full-length and has an understandably melancholic air. The band have always been competent but past releases haven't made that huge an impression on me; Wasteland is good enough to change that and make me seriously reconsider that opinion. Lighter than past albums, somewhere in keeping with the general Porcupine Tree-y sound that they tend to produce yet with enough individuality and personality to stand out, this is a very well-written and often downright beautiful album that rewards multiple listens. Elsewhere this week I mentioned that straight-up black metal is sometimes all you need, but the melancholic, doomy wonder of songs here like Lament speak to the soul in a way that few bands can achieve. Riverside have mentioned in interviews that the decision to continue as a three-piece and not replace Grudziński means that they will never be the same, and have described the loss of their friend and bandmate as a scar; that intensity of feeling is clear throughout the album.

As good as individual songs are, it's the way that it all comes together as a cohesive unit that's really impressive. Song titles are referred to lyrically in other songs, the musical motifs are subtly repeated, and the variety of styles is spread so seamlessly that listening to the album is a delight. Even intro piece The Day Before is terrific, a short, sombre, near-acapella joined by building ambience before metal riffs burst in on Acid Rain, which uses Opeth-like dynamics to great effect. The mix of acoustic and electric guitars here, as across the album, is just fantastic, melodically dominant yet never far from the post-David Gilmour style that the band has set and ending leaving you wanting more where other bands would have overdone it by repeating sections to pad out songs. As a result, the album is mostly full of four-to-six minute songs with a couple of longer epics, yet every track has something memorable to it, a compelling vocal line here (such as Vale of Tears' "I am wading through the desert" and "the last time" mini-choruses between rhythmic verses) and a lovely bit of post-rock-esque instrumentation there (eg, the violin and banjo-enhanced outro to Lament). Plus, of course, there's plenty of ominous metallic chug to round out the band's sound, which always comes across as both smoother and less simpering than, say, Dream Theater manage.

Yet by and large this is a softer album than you'd expect from a "prog metal" tag, leaning closer to rock and using metal guitars more as punctuation marks than the base element. Even on the longest piece present, nine minute instrumental The Struggle for Survival, the band meander compellingly, avoiding metal riffs in favour of classic rock guitar heroics - on initial listens I found it a little misplaced but with time it grows on you and acts as a pleasant break in the tracklisting. Really, criticising this album is difficult; moments like the first part of River Down Below may initially seem a little too straightforward and Porcupine Tree-esque for comfort, but the extended acoustic guitar soon changes your mind, and the band have always worn their influences on their sleeve. What matters is how well they create songs from these components, and there's not a weak song present on this basis. Particularly beautiful is closing piece The Night Before, dominated by Mariusz Duda's vocals and piano and tying the album's loose post-apocalyptic theme together. Wasteland feels like its title, a barren sparse landscape shortly after a tragedy has hit; you know that eventually life will again grow there, but for the moment all that you can focus on is the overwhelming aftermath.





Killing Songs :
Vale of Tears, Lament, The Night Before
Goat quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Riverside that we have reviewed:
Riverside - Anno Domini High Definition reviewed by Boris and quoted 98 / 100
Riverside - Rapid Eye Movement reviewed by Boris and quoted 87 / 100
Riverside - Second Life Syndrome reviewed by Boris and quoted 94 / 100
Riverside - Out Of Myself reviewed by Boris and quoted 93 / 100
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