Post-progressive has barely even been born and it’s already in a crisis of identity. The genre is very loosely defined right now, to the extent that most people don’t even know that it exists. The only place where it seems to be striving towards self-actualization as a community of sorts is under the auspices of Kscope, a label who placed the post-progressive moniker right into their mission statement. A brief look at their roster can easily reveal the crisis of identity within the genre: Porcupine Tree and The Pineapple Thief, sure but The Anchoress, iamthemorning, Gazpacho and Nordic Giants? What can be identified between these artist is a certain type of aesthetic or approach to the balance between ambiance, instruments and vocals but it’s difficult to derive a cohesive and clearly defined sound.
Which is fine but, as newcomers RIVIẼRE (please don’t ask us what that tilde is doing there, we don’t know) show us, such lack of identity comes with its share of challenges and problems. On their debut album, Heal, RIVIẼRE attempt to tap into the aesthetic of post-progressive metal and generate the melancholy, ambient vibe which the genre is beginning to be famous for. When this works, it works extremely well; the heavier or more dynamic moments on the album are straight up brilliant. But in between those peaks, where the band have to rely on “duct tape” passages to keep everything whole, Heal falls a bit flat, confused as to what exactly is required of it in the interim between climaxes.
In order to understand the overall pattern, let’s begin with the climaxes. These moments remind us most of TesseracT (also signed to Kscope by the way) in their tone if not in direct musical technique. That is to say, there’s very little chugs and RIVIẼRE stray far away from djent (and thank god for that). But in the balance between punctual drums, soaring vocals, prominent, disseminating bass and emotional guitars, One is very much present in the mind of the listener. Which is a very, very good thing in this instance; RIVIẼRE are quite good at delivering these ideas solidly.
The opening track and the closing coupling consisting of “Binary Love” and “Yosemite” are fine examples of that. The former has one of the heaviest and most satisfying segments on the album, hitting hard with a huge chorus which benefits most from the drums. In general, all across the albums, the drums are perhaps the best executed instruments; their punch is vital and present without being overbearing and their production, while by no means unique or divergent, is exceptionally supportive of their central role. “Yosemite” also features a touching middle segment that draws on post rock for its calm buildup before another verse ushers us into the final parts of the chorus.
But what of everything which lies in between? The remaining tracks certainly have their moments, sharing in the percussive impact of the choruses already described. But the material which ties those moments together is both bland and confusing. It’s confusing because it wants to maintain the high-octane dynamic of the choruses but insists on delay laded guitars and moody compositions. It’s bland because the compositions aren’t interesting and rather dreary, repeating themselves instead of subtly changing whenever they are used again. Not every single moment on an album has to be distinctive (whether ambient and relaxed or direct and aggressive) but there are ways to write the non-distinct meat of the album in ways which still keep the listener engaged.
Which brings us back to the crisis of post-progressive. It is exactly because of this crisis that RIVIẼRE stumble. Most bands, when faced with the challenge of the majority of moments on the album and how to prioritize when writing them, fall back on their genre’s tropes. They dedicate their creative bursts towards interesting passages and climaxes, letting the main part of the album be carried by tried and true methods of writing their genre. Whether it be palm muted chugs, technical sweeps or unison, there are basic tools for the taking which help you write the majority of your album. RIVIẼRE don’t have that because post-progressive hasn’t yet coalesced enough to create these tools.
Does that exempt RIVIẼRE from the effort of making the album flow, of making the moments between climaxes as memorable? No. But it does put their less than stellar effort in that regard into context. Don’t misunderstand; Heal isn’t a bad album. When it’s there, it’s wholly there and RIVIẼRE are able to produce fresh, moving instances of powerful post-progressive music. But for the majority of the album the listener is engaged, confused or simply bored with passages which seem to try too much and not to try enough at the same time. Then again, this is a debut release. Maybe RIVIẼRE can be one of the voices innovating and coalescing post-progressive out of its crisis? Perhaps. For now, listen to Heal for those moments of honest delivery and try to get past the chaff. Hopefully next time, the ratio between the two parts will be different.
RIVIẼRE, Heal was released on the 20th of January via Basick Records. Head on over here to purchase it.