Riverside- Second Life Syndrome (Inside Out)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. After
2. Volte-Face
3. Conceiving You
4. Second Life Syndrome
5. Artificial Smile
6. I Turned You Down
7. Reality Dream III
8. Dance With The Shadow
9. Before

Poland's Riverside blasted onto the scene in late 2003 with their debut Out Of Myself. With a brooding, post-death metal meets progressive rock approach, Out Of Myself was very much a synergy of all its influences. Elements of Opeth, King Crimson and Anathema were all present, but Riverside also had a very distinctive sound, and a dark energy that was particular to their music. Driven mainly by the guitars of Piotr Grudzinski and vocalist/ bassist Mariusz Duda, Riverside were a notable force. Two years and a new label later, they have returned with the interesting and pseudo-conceptual Second Life Syndrome.

Second Life Syndrome awakens with a disturbing spoken intro, our protagonist whispering angrily about losing his shit, convincing himself that he is someone else. The dark, layered harmonies on the opening After become a nice appetizer for the moon-washed feast that follows. After also features a nice aching Steve Hackettesque solo as it draws to a close. Volte-Face, the first proper track on the disc, quickly shows us that we've moved in a slightly new direction from Out Of Myself. Soaring and crunching guitars compete with heavy, almost big beat drums and subtle keys, as the track has a much more prog metal feel that anything previous. We're a good three minutes into the track before Duda's vocals kick in. Things are definitely not going well for our protagonist, with lots of references to a wasted life, dreamless nights and general darkness. Grudzinski's guitar work is stellar- a diving and drifting albatross above drums and piano/ synth. The track builds to a monster conclusion, with Duda passionately growling "I'm not afraid", as a thunderstorm of drum and keys closes the track. Volte-Face is a true dark epic, rife with emotion and desperation, and is certain to grab anyone half-listening and throttle them against the nearest wall.

Conceiving You follows and is a nice, pleasant breath. "I've been watching you, and waiting for the right moment to make the first move." We can't tell whether we have a stalker or romantic here, but it's a satisfying experience either way. An odd choice of words for the chorus "I've been conceiving you for so long." You just get the sense that, despite the lush vocals and piano, something twisted lurks beneath. Another tasty pair of Grudzinski solos here-- one mournful and the other majestic- both sublime. Conceiving You is really a piano-based pop track at heart, it's darker elements merely lending texture to a basically straightforward love song. The 15 minute title track follows, and is very much the heart of this release. When the opening drums kick in it sounds very much like a march into battle. Some great off-beat drumming as the vocals enter at the 3 minute mark, and we get the idea that this track, and perhaps the entire CD, is about a man trying to extract himself from an obsessive relationship. "I erase you now, I don't need you now, I erase you now, with all of my best." A massive, cathartic song, musically and lyrically balanced, with doubtless the most amazing guitar work we've gotten from Riverside yet.

From the ashes of the title track we get the unexpected riffing of Artificial Smile. A very catchy, recursive lyric- "I don't like you cause they like you, I hate you cause they love you, I wish you ill cause they wish you well." Otherwise a very straightforward, radio-friendly rock track. I Turned You Down balances well with the earlier Conceiving You- a mellow track, recalling classic Floyd in structure, but again with a sinister, edgy undercurrent that has been ubiquitous on all Riverside tracks. Reality Dream III follows and appropriately recalls its siblings from the Out Of Myself album. It is a seething, full-on prog rock instrumental track, by far the most prog Riverside sound on this release.

Dance With The Shadow is the second epic on this disc. The best drumming on SLS can be found here, as well as the most complex interplay between the members. "Before you try to make me someone else, step out of your line- join in shadow dance." Duda's growling at the track's apex is near-death metal cookie monster here, and it works well. Before closes out Second Life Syndrome like a slow landing. "I've become resistant to myself, to my weaknesses and pain... is this what I really wanted?" Roger Waters could not have said it better.

What I like about Riverside is their unflagging passion. Musically we have a band that, despite being on a progressive label, do not fit neatly into any genre. Prog and dark metal mix with straight rock and pop, and the listener is quickly elevated beyond simple tags and forced to focus on the music itself. Second Life Syndrome is a release that grows with each listen, and will hopefully grant Riverside the attention the deserve.

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