By Rob Hughes
The term “neo-prog” has always been problematic. Used to lump together, if not denigrate, early ’80s second-wavers like IQ, Pallas, and Marillion, neo-prog connotes derivative, simplified music, the product of bands unimaginatively pilfering ’70s-era source material. “Neo-prog” reveals more about the user’s attitude than about the genre it purports to label. Personally, it’s an attitude I can do without. Life’s too short to be a prog snob.
Listening to this Riverside EP got me thinking though. If we insist on using “neo-prog,” maybe we can now attach it to an actual style of music, making it a more useful, non-judgemental, label. There’s a rich vein of modern rock that combines Pink Floydian atmospheres, electronica-derived embellishments, heavy guitar interjections, and emotive vocals, all wrapped up in crystalline production values—a sound that’s coalesced under the influence of Tool, Radiohead, and Porcupine Tree over the last fifteen years. Most importantly, it’s not dumbed-down. It holds fast to the progressive ideal of using virtuosity within an ensemble context—the song, not the solo, is the thing. That’s what neo-prog sounds like to me.
Riverside have been going for about ten years, so they’ve had time to mature and deploy all these influences with much grace. The Polish quartet’s music abounds with subtleties that create a satisfying whole. It’s languid and melodic. Mariusz Duda’s excellent bass playing is the most attention-getting element. It stands out especially because the guitar and keys often work in tandem, doubling up on lead melodies or providing background atmosphere. The thirty-two-minute EP features some clever transitions between the three songs and an apparent concept about an individual’s response to waking up in a post-cataclysmic world, working through realization, acceptance, and analysis of his dire new circumstances.
Their songwriting is strong; they can make a twelve-minute track flow effortlessly, using that time to reiterate and develop a few key sections while avoiding the urge to cram unsuitable parts together. On “Goodbye Sweet Innocence,” the music tenses up during the verses, then exhales come chorus time, a familiar strategy that always satisfies. The best, most muscular track is “Living in the Past,” which busts out with some heavy guitar—at least as heavy as anything on the last Opeth album—and builds to an exciting conclusion in its instrumental final third. The last track, “Forgotten Land,” takes a different route, focusing more on emotional content than musical majesty. Maintaining one groove throughout, it plays up the anger in Duda’s voice as the guitar gets grittier to match. Prog, neo-prog, art rock, apples, oranges… you can take your labels and pick them apart on your own time. Let’s just enjoy this classy excursion from Riverside for now.
(The Laser’s Edge)