Shrine Of New Generation Slaves, from 2013, is the fifth full-length studio album by the superb Polish Progressive band Riverside.
If you haven’t heard Riverside yet, but are a fan of Prog, Neo-Prog or Prog Metal and especially if you are a fan of bands like Pink Floyd, Marillion, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Pain Of Salvation, Tool and Karnivool, then you really ought to at least check them out. They blend familiar sounds from many types and eras of progressive music into a distinctive and fresh sound all of their own, and manage to write great songs in the process.
To call Shrine Of The New Generation Slaves a departure from the band’s established sound may be a little bit of an overstatement, but its certainly no repeat of anything they’ve done before either. Don’t get me wrong, the band are still playing creative, interesting and thoughtful progressive music that is accessible but with a bit of depth, and that owes as much to the 1970s as it does to both the 80s and modern Prog and Prog Metal bands like they always do, but the mood of the record is very different.
Its a lot brighter, bouncier and almost happy sounding, which is not something you would usually associate with the band, save perhaps 2009’s ADHD album. Its definitely closer in spirit to ADHD than it is to 2011’s Memories In My Head EP, but then again its really not all that sonically similar to ADHD either when you get right down to it.
It feels like the band just want to mix it up a little and avoid becoming stale. The main riff from the lead single ‘Celebrity Touch’ for example sounds more like something from a stoner rock band, or perhaps even Coverdale era Deep Purple.
The title track; after a powerful intro reminiscent of the band’s Second Life Syndrome material, is a similarly fun and 70s sounding track. There are really heavy bits punctuating it, but the track is primarily constructed from fun bendy riffs and playful keyboards.
‘Feel Like Falling’ has an off-beat and synthetic tinge to it that is very reminiscent of the 1980s. Its fun, but fun in a completely different way. ‘Deprived’ by contrast is moody, hypnotic and jazzy sounding.
Then there’s the twelve-minute ‘Escalator Shine’, which at first sounds like a modern reimagining of Gentle Giant’s ‘In The Glass House’ doing a tour of different moods before it goes off on various tangents. At points, its the closest the band have ever come to sounding like Jethro Tull in a strange, small way but other sections are drenched in keys that remind you of Animals era Pink Floyd, then theirs fast bits that go a little Dream Theater-esque, vocal styles the band haven’t tried before and it even kicks off into big groove at one point.
The record ends on an acoustic number, which the band have done before, but this one has a much brighter, sweeter and more positive sound than any they’ve written in the past.
If you love the band’s early stuff already, don’t be scared off by reports of a drastic shift in sound and style. Its not so much a band reinventing themselves but rather the same bad in a different mood. They undeniably do try new things but their core sound is still detectable. There are still lots of proggy moments, bits that calm down into spacey moods and Mariusz’s distinctive voice and bass sound still anchor’s it to the band’s core sound.
Regardless of style, the quality of the material is superb. Its brilliant, genuinely fresh and exciting progressive music that isn’t too basic, or indeed too dense. There’s a mixture of acoustic, electric and electronic components, brilliant clear vocals conveying a mixture of emotions, additional instrumentation in small non-novelty bursts. Everything is tastefully woven together and it flows well as an album. You get small twinges of everything the band have done before and new ground as well. Really, you couldn’t ask for more.
I’m not sure if this would make a great first Riverside album for a new fan or not, its certainly pretty accessible and very enjoyable indeed, but at the same time perhaps try it in addition to one of their other studio albums as well just to be safe.
For existing fans, give it a try. It is a very good and enjoyable record indeed. As long as the stylistic shift doesn’t put you off, the incredible quality of the music should convince you. The only real flaw anyone could level against it is that the experimentation results in less cohesion than Riverside albums usually offer, but that’ really down to personal taste.
Personally, I love this record. It delivers enough heaviness, enough subtleness and enough fun little touches here and there to draw me in. It balances enough of what I already liked and enough surprises to really captivate me as a fan and I haven’t been able to take it off repeat since I first heard it.
*** If you can, and if its reasonably priced, try and get yourself the special edition of the record. It contains a second disc with two bonus instrumental tracks called ‘Night Session’ parts one and two, which collectively come in at around twenty-two minutes. They’re in a completely different style than the album itself, but are a great addition. ***
**Oh, and if you found this review by search engine, when you discover it again on Amazon it is me posting it. It hasn’t been copied and pasted off here by a stranger, I post my reviews on Amazon as ‘Gentlegiantprog “Kingcrimsonprog.”’ So please don’t unhelpful-vote it because you thought it was stolen from me.**