Riverside - Eye Of The Soundscape album review

Polish proggers Riverside take an ambient trip into their hidden past

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It’s pure coincidence, but there’s surely a bitter irony wrapped up in the fact that this Warsaw-based quartet lost their guitarist Piotr Grudzinski to a heart attack in February, just weeks before they announced the least guitar‑oriented album of their 15-year career.

That tragedy having reduced them to a trio, they’ve created this compilation from studio experiments and outtakes from previous albums, all of which reflected their penchant for more ambient, widescreen instrumental sounds that were relatively minor elements of their previous work.

A far cry from their roots, showcasing their versatility.

While this is essentially a thematically linked compilation of previously released material, Eye Of The Soundscape also boasts four pretty impressive new tracks that make it worth investigation, even for hardcore fans who are already familiar with the other ‘rare’ cuts included within the 100-plus minutes of material. Sleepwalkers is a case in point, reeling you in with a delicate but hypnotic keyboard figure and then swathing it in ghostly whisperings. It’s an instant winner, and the plot thickens on Shine, the most obviously proggy of the new tracks, with its lolloping, syncopated time signature.

Where The River Flows, however, is in the more expansive camp. It benefits from a Sergio Leone-style twanging guitar motif that interjects in-between waves of Jean-Michel Jarre‑style synth washes and cosmic techno starbursts – the kind of instrumental journey you could gladly turn the lights out for and lose yourself in.

This record will also appeal to fans of early, progressively-minded ambient techno like Tangerine DreamAether and Night Session Part One are redolent of Edgar Froese’s krautrock pioneers in their heady, lysergic techno undercurrents and meandering, free‑form structure. Then Night Session – Part Two gets more ambitious, with a lonely squawking sax accompanying a sparse, rattling backbeat before a softly plucked Spanish guitar hoves into view and we wander off into the ambient ether. It’s a far cry from the prog metal habitat that spawned Riverside, perhaps, but an impressive showcase of their versatility as musicians and composers.

The oldest and most familiar tracks on here are the ‘2016 mixes’ of 2007’s Rapid Eye Movement and Rainbow Trip, both of which compare well to the material around them. They’re followed by the final new piece, the title track, that sends us drifting off into space on echoes of orchestral beauty.

So is this double album worth if for just 38 minutes of new music? That’s your decision, but as an introduction to a lesser-heard side of one of Europe’s most accomplished prog bands, it’s worth a few zlotys of anyone’s money.

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