Riverside is one of those surprise acts, emerging out of Poland to somehow join the ranks of Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree as one of the biggest progressive bands of the 00s. And with critically acclaimed albums like Second Life Syndrome and Rapid Eye Movement under their belt, they've proven time and time again that they can deliver powerful, complex music on par with the best. But all great bands hit a lull now and then, and unfortunately, Riverside seem to have hit that snag with their latest album, 2013's Shrine of New Generation Slaves.
I guess the biggest problem with the album isn't the band's musicianship--as always, it's top notch. What really gets on my nerves is how the compositions here just aren't that interesting. I find myself drifting off from the music by the time the third track rolls around, and sitting around to listen to the full album attentively isn't nearly as rewarding as it should be. Unlike in their previous releases, where the intention behind the music was more than clear, Riverside here just seem to float around without really stating anything, sometimes flirting with a strong message but never really resolving into something concrete.
As before, the album has that borderline-metal feel that's common amongst the canonical progressive rock bands of today, and now they've thrown a couple of growls into the mix just to heighten the ambiguity. But aside from a few moments of in-your-face shouting, the vocals seem very soft and distant, as if vocalist Mariusz Duda is questioning his every syllable. They create this pervading sense of self-doubt or hesitance that seems to radiate out from the vocals and inflict upon the other instruments as well--it's hard to find a single moment on this album with any level of intensity whatsoever.
Dedicated fans of the band will still love Shrine of New Generation Slaves without compromise, as it's full of the same things that Riverside's been doing for the past decade. Even I admit, it's certainly not a bad album--it's just not good, either. It does the trick for cursory background listen here and there, but it has little to no lasting power, and it's an album I can honestly say I probably won't return to. If you're only curious about the band (as you well should be), I suggest checking out their 2011 album Anno Domini High Definition instead--the compositions are much stronger and showcase the cream of Riverside's writing talent.
Recommended if you like: Porcupine Tree, Transatlantic, Spock's Beard