If you’ve ever seen Metallica’s famed documentary Some Kind Of Monster, you’d assume that creativity is a thing you have to strive for, painfully summoning ideas while sat around a table, frantically scribbling words and phrases on a whiteboard or taking a ride around your ranch in the hope that some nugget of inspiration hits the neurons and develops into that next killer album. But there’s a flipside to songwriting that comes from those born with a million mind-boggling thoughts and concepts rolling around in their psyche and desperate for an outlet. With Riverside’s Mariusz Duda, that creative urge never switches off. He’s a man on overdrive, gifted with (or some might say burdened by) an imagination and a drive to channel his creative impulses.
“I need to do something because of the chaos and the creative voices in my head so I just take the guitar and try to reflect what’s in my mind,” he says. “I’ve never had a problem with creating music. I’ve never had to move out of the city just to focus my mind. There’s always a lot of stuff in my head and from time to time I need to spit it out. I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite but this is what I do for a living, this is my passion and this is my job. I’m a full-time musician, I don’t have another job, but this is something I truly need. There’s an urge within that I can’t ignore.”
In his clipped Polish accent, the Riverside frontman assuredly reveals his raison d’être, briefly faltering when he chooses his words carefully. On the brink of releasing his sixth studio album with Riverside (not including the four solo albums he’s crafted under the moniker Lunatic Soul), Duda’s attention is solidly focused on the upcoming release, not for obvious reasons – there are no comments along the lines of ‘I hope fans will like this’ or ‘We can’t wait to tour this’ – but rather for its personal significance.
“Some things happened in my life and I wanted to make a change so the background is very personal this time. I’m not sure if it’s connected to my midlife crisis, that I turned 40 this year, or if it’s connected with something else, but I really wanted to find myself in a different light. When you ask someone, ‘Are you happy?’ or, ‘What do you want to do in your life?’ people often answer by saying what they don’t want to do, but they don’t know exactly what they want. I really wanted to know the answer to that very deep but very simple question and I think I found it on the new Riverside record.”
I need to do something because of the chaos and the creative voices in my head so I just take the guitar and try to reflect what’s in my mind.
For anyone familiar enough with Riverside to know that they match the word count of their album titles with the number of the album release, the name of their sixth album will make sense: Love, Fear And The Time Machine. What might not be as obvious are the words themselves, which are merely a cryptic clue to the message locked within the concept. However, with a little nudge, Duda unravels the story.
“Imagine you’re sitting looking at the sea and you’ve got one hour to make a decision. All the things in your head are connected with a) love b) fear c) future d) past. Love comes from excitement because you’re thinking of something good that happened, fear comes from the unknown, you’ve got experiences of the past and you don’t want to repeat your mistakes and, of course, you are imagining yourself. The first track is called Lost and the last track is called Found, which is optimistic, I think. I’m not a native guy, I don’t want to write lyrics in English that I don’t understand. I want to express my basic feelings and the lyrics and the music are the things that help me to survive.”
Throughout the course of this interview, Duda never reveals the cause of his sea change. It’s tempting to ask, especially when an artist so deeply channels his soul through his music, but his caveat is always the same – the album is about change.
“I don’t want to change the style, just the clothes,” says Duda. “Shrine Of New Generation Slaves was a dark album and my last solo album was about suicide so I realised I wanted to go in a different direction: I’ve been delving into darkness too much recently.”
Fans of Riverside might argue that there’s no such thing as too much darkness. From the thriller-soundtrack moodiness of their debut Out Of Myself to the metallic melancholy of 2013’s Shrine Of New Generation Slaves, there has always been a shade of obscurity that runs through their back catalogue. “Of course, I’m the sort of person that’s always filled with melancholy and dark sounds,” Duda muses.
Riverside’s rich blend of metallic prog has always favoured the minor key, awash with enigmatic and threatening subtexts that have brought fans back for more of their deliciously sombre odes.
“I’m not sure if we’re a progressive metal band any more,” Duda quips. “I really wanted to have positive vibrations in these new songs. But first and foremost I wanted to record an album about change.”
It’s a gutsy move for a band that comfortably fit into the progressive metal bracket. In fact, a quick dip into their past albums and you’re bound to come up with numerous morsels of lead-heavy compositions that resonate with fans of Katatonia or Opeth. “From time to time I need to take a breath and this time I thought it would a good thing to go in a different direction,” Duda reiterates.
Interestingly, and unlike the aforementioned Opeth, Riverside haven’t simply cranked down the amps to allow prog’s retrospective motifs to shine through. Instead, they’ve looked to a completely different decade.
“I’ve been a little bit sick and tired of the music I’ve heard recently. Everything sounds so vintage! So I said to the band, ‘Let’s step out of the 70s and connect with a different decade. Let’s say the 80s. It’s the decade we grew up in after all.’ Sound-wise, I wanted to base this album on the bass guitar, some simple elements, strong melodies and ambitious songs, because at the moment I’m not into writing 20-minute-long experimental tracks. And there’s something ambitious about songs from the 80s. Take Peter Gabriel’s So, for instance – you could say this is a pop album, but it’s full of songs that have many layers.”
The outcome of a few years spent soul-searching and a brief to the band to look to the 80s has produced an interesting result. Riverside’s newest album is much less concerned with ploughing prog metal’s underbelly for the crunchy riffs that were audible on Shrine Of…, and while Duda’s signature bass licks take centre stage and his smooth vocals soar, this is very much an album that delivers on its objective to sound different – but upbeat is another matter.
Sound-wise, I wanted to base this album on the bass guitar, some simple elements, strong melodies and ambitious songs.
The Cure and Depeche Mode come to mind while listening to Love, Fear And The Time Machine. If these are bands that anyone associates with optimism then they probably need to go out more, but relatively speaking, Riverside’s new edge glimmers with a subtle shade of neon, certainly if an album about suicide is your benchmark. As soon as you hear the heartbeat bassline of Discard Your Fear, thoughts of The Cure’s A Forest will emerge.
Elsewhere there are nods to Duran Duran and a dash of Tears For Fears, but they don’t lose those pastoral, lilting, plaintive elements completely, and if you’ve ever seen Riverside live, you’ll know how crucial these moments are. Towards The Blue Horizon is a prime example of the layered sound Duda referenced, beginning with a light acoustic guitar that slowly and naturally builds into a Hammond-drenched, choral semi-epic, but it’s that pin-drop moment that suckers you in.
Every artist you ever speak to will tell you the same – their new album is their best. But for Riverside, or at least for Duda, the journey doesn’t end at getting a headline festival slot or a five-star review – it’s about a state of mind. Whether it’s age, experience or a bucketload of self-analysis, one things for sure: that man who coyly stands on stage in front of thousands of fans is finding his feet at last.
“I think I’m on my way to feeling more self-confident. I’m living out of the shadow now. We’ve changed as Riverside, we feel more relaxed. We’re slowly becoming the band that I always wanted to have, the band with its own identity.”
Love, Fear And The Time Machine is out now on InsideOut. See www.riversideband.pl for more information.