I remember hearing about Riverside when their first album was just coming out. I wasn't yet interested in progressive music, but there was enough buzz about them that they were always in the back of my mind. By the time they got around to finishing their trilogy and releasing “Anno Domini High Definition”, I was ready to see what all the fuss was about. Moving away from the sound that earned the accolades as the best prog rock band of the new millennium, “Anno Domini High Definition” was the sort of genre-straddling, modern meets vintage, album that showed Riverside was a band that could evolve without sacrificing who they were. There were still those fans who couldn't give up the more reserved sound of their first albums, and their fears were assuaged with an EP last year revisiting that identity. That leaves the question of which Riverside we're going to get with “Shrine Of New Generation Slaves”. Or, are we going to get an entirely new Riverside?
The quasi-title track answers this early in the proceedings, as after a lengthy build up of false starts and distorted vocals, the band kicks into gear with the same mix of metal heft and Deep Purple organs that made the previous effort special. The sounds are lush and inviting, and mask the fact that the song itself is merely a sketch of what should have been a better piece of work. It doesn't have a hook, nor does it build into anything grand. It's more of an introduction than a song, and is a questionable way to open the album.
“The Depth Of Self-Delusion” remedies this, weaving a staccato bass line, acoustic guitars, and a lingering melody into a beautifully somber piece of music. It's evocative, but missing the hint of a spark that could make it ignite into something undeniably great. As does first single “Celebrity Touch”, which marries some of Riverside's hardest rocking in the first half with some lush soundscapes in the second half, but without the necessary ribbon to tie them together into a neat little package.
“We Got Used To Us” sets a wonderful mood, using the sparse instrumentation to craft a beautiful basis for a song, one that would make a perfect bridge between harder-edged pieces. “Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)” is not that piece, but does an amazing thing of grafting progressive sensibilities atop a song that recalls Chris Isaak's “Wicked Game”, in a combination as odd to write as it is to hear. But I have to say, it not only works well, but may in fact be the highlight of the entire record.
There are a couple issues I must take with the album. First, there's the issue of the too clever for it's own good title, an acronym that doesn't bear out what Riverside intended it to. Instead of being a statement of substance over structure, a rallying cry for prog bands to focus on songs instead of their own playing, it's more a reminder of what's wrong with the music they offer. They are songs, yes, but they often lack the propulsion to catapult the riffs and textures they conjure into more fully-realized compositions. That has much to do with my other issue, the over-abundance of distorted vocals found throughout the album. When you have a singer with an emotive voice, burying him under processed distortion may make the album sound more modern, or more vintage, depending on what you're going for, but it robs the songs of their heart. The more distant the voice becomes from us, the harder it is to get into the songs and connect with their message.
None of this should be taken as a harsh criticism. Riverside is still an excellent band, and “Shrine Of New Generation Slaves” has a lot going for it. The band is still adept at setting moods with their music, and portions of the album are gorgeous. There's just something missing from these songs that I was looking for. Perhaps the band was so focused on proving they can write songs that the very inspiration that makes music great got lost along the way. Whatever the case may be, this is a good album, just not as good as I know Riverside can achieve.