Poland’s Riverside should be no stranger to the dedicated reader of these Angry pages. After discovering the band’s Anno Domini High Definition in 2009, Riverside has sneakily become one of the staples of my playlist. I wasn’t completely enamored with Shrine of New Generation Slaves; but its chill, more reflective moments are the ones that I keep coming back to: “The Depth of Self Delusion,” yes, but especially, “We Got Used to Us,” which has a slow groove and a transcendent chorus. Still, SoNGS lacked the punch and progressive drive that ADHD—and the band’s earlier material—had, and landed far more in the territory of post-Marillion prog, without the brooding darkness into which late Gazpacho has wandered recently. SoNGS was, arguably, nothing more or less than a road sign, though, pointing towards 2015’s latest record: Love, Fear and the Time Machine.
Love, Fear and the Time Machine is a subtle, calm album: defined almost more by its feel than by its songs. The record, at least at first blush, could be accused of being uniform—particularly in comparison to the band’s earlier material. At an hour long, I have to admit I was gearing up for a gentle reminder that quantity is not quality. But similar to staring at 3D Stereogram for a while, Love, Fear and the Time Machine opened up before me and started to take form and definition. It proved to be worth the wait. Like its predecessor, this record is mellow; but the band has started to perfect the formula. There is very little of the heavy, urgent material that littered the band’s earliest material. Aside from about 3 minutes in “Towards the Blue Horizon,” the bands heaviest moments sound a lot more akin to ’80s British melancholic rock (see: “#Addicted”) than Riverside circa 2004.
Don’t get too caught up with this idea that the band has started sounding like The Cure, though; if anything, Riverside is transforming into something more akin to Steven Wilson‘s solo material. While not produced and mastered with the grace, skill, and dynamic range of Hand. Cannot. Erase., Love, Fear and the Time Machine definitely walks the same fine line between poppy and melancholy. A song like “Afloat” is simple, but the vocal harmonies evoke existential sadness; “Time Travellers” reminds me of “We Got Used to Us,” with its slow burn groove, nostalgic theme, and melodies reminiscent of Opeth‘s Damnation. Both opener “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat?)” and closer “Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching)” bookend the record with hooky—though somber—melodies. And Love, Fear and the Time Machine shines in these moments, showing a deft touch and talent for songcraft.
I have two issues with Love, Fear and the Time Machine. The first is that I’m not enamored in the production (and mastering). While not bad, this record is simultaneously too wet, but not airy enough. The heavier parts sport high-compression modern rock distortion—like the crunchier parts on “#Addicted” and “Under the Pillow”—and while this has defined the band’s sound since its earliest days, their writing has left it behind. Something more akin to later Opeth or Steven Wilson in its bouquet would better complement the band’s sound—where Kozieradzki’s drums don’t have to be so far back in the mix, and Duda’s bass can pop and throb. The production is wet, and it doesn’t feel organic; but the band’s sound—even on its heaviest moments like “Saturate Me” and “Towards the Blue Horizon”—is starting to require something else.
I suspect that this also affects the flow of the album, which tends towards monochromatic on the bridge between the opening strains and the superb closer. While I love individual songs—”Discard Your Fear,” “Afloat,” and “#Addicted” all stand out—there are times when I lose track of where I am in the album; the cover art imitates the music, colors that bleed together, forming something foggy, but beautiful. A record with a bit more punch, and more dynamic production would turn moments like the break between ethereal and heavy at the end of “Discard Your Fear” (at around 4:40, for those listening to the embedded video below) into something powerful and memorable. I think it would be wrong to argue, even though the album is 60 minutes long, that this is a consequence of the writing not being sharp; the writing is sharp, but those edges are dulled by production choices which mute the pallet at work.
Having said that, Love, Fear and the Time Machine is a clear step up from SoNGS, and while it’s “relentlessly mellow,” as Dr. Fisting put it, it’s precisely the mellow material where Riverside shines brightest. The band as a whole—while still eminently talented—has become secondary to the feel and the songs. No one musician stands out, but everything is in its place. It’s gorgeous, well-written, and a great listen. Love, Fear and the Time Machine isn’t going to blow you out of the water, but it will creep under your skin and stay there.
- I know that I also gave SoNGS a 3.5, and I’ve said this record was better. I should clarify that I think the songwriting here is very good—great, even. My complaints about the feel make me think I really shouldn’t give the record higher than a 3.5 even though I think the music is really good. It actively undermines my enjoyment of specific moments of the record. So while it’s a better record, the different aspects kind of even the albums out. And heck, maybe I gave SoNGS too high of a rating. Or, maybe ratings are highly subjective and will fluctuate wildly depending on all sorts of factors and the fact that measurements like this are so important to everyone involved should be an indictment of our culture of music critique and the enjoyment of art. This record is really good, and I am enjoying the hell out of it. So, y’know, take that for what it is. ↩