What’s to like?
Fifth solo album from the singer and bassist in progressive rock band Riverside, and his most personal collection of songs to date. Lyrically reflecting on loss and isolation, but with an underlying theme of humanity and hope. And musically engaging with the listener in a way that is unpredictable in style and uncertain in mood, but ultimately rewarding.
The low down
Lunatic Soul has been the experimental side project of Mariusz Duda, the principal writer for progressive rock group Riverside (alongside his role as bassist and singer!). While his day job has seen Riverside go from strength to strength as it broadens its music and its appeal beyond the boundaries of progressive metal, it’s Duda’s night-time activities with Lunatic Soul that have allowed him to express himself more individually without the burden of expectation or compromise that comes with being in a successful group.
Long term fans would agree that Duda puts heart and soul into his Riverside music, and the past two years must have seen him and his band mates dig deep into their emotions to grieve for their former guitarist who passed away. But the Lunatic Soul albums have taken Duda down a slightly different path, digging even deeper into his psyche and exposing more of his soul, so to speak, in a more natural and ambient setting outwith the confines of a traditional four piece band.
Fractured comes at a particularly difficult point in his life, having lost not only a bandmate but also his father; and writing as someone who lost his own father only a couple of years ago, I can perhaps understand a little of the emotional turbulence that he must have been experiencing as he wrote the material for this album.
According to promotional material, the pivotal theme here is one of coming back to life after a personal tragedy. Duda comments “It’s inspired by what happened in my life in 2016 and by everything that’s happening around us and what’s making us turn away from one another and divide into groups, for better and for worse.”
If you’ve heard anything from the previous four albums, then you’ll feel very comfortable with Fractured, which continues the journey from sparse ambience and experimental sound towards structure and form. The previous album Walking On A Flashlight Beam saw the music develop towards a more recognisable song format, while still retaining the moods and rhythmic tempos of the earlier albums.
Fractured builds on its predecessor, with the songs becoming more fully developed and the sound becoming more detailed as Duda accumulates more experience with synthesiser programming and expands his repertoire of bass guitars. His voice is still as soulful and wonderfully clear, and there’s an interesting statement in the liner notes that says no female vocals were used on this album. Initially I paid the statement little heed, but as I got deeper into the music there were moments where I could swear I was hearing female backing vocals, and then the penny dropped – it’s Duda still on the vocals, stretching himself, but in a completely natural extension of his familiar range.
That liner statement also advised that no electric guitars were used on the album either, and yet again at one point in the album I found myself listening to a solo that sounded exactly like it was coming from an electric guitar. Possibly the solo was played on a bass guitar, or an acoustic guitar, and then given some sort of electronic treatment in production, or it may have simply been a synth programme designed to create a specific sound that Duda had in mind. Either way, it works perfectly in that moment in the song, and knowing that “it’s not what we think it is”, adds to the appreciation of the man’s willingness to experiment.
The lack of electric guitar may also be a subtle choice in still coming to terms with the loss of his friend who was Riverside’s guitarist. Certainly the absence of any obvious electric guitar helps Duda to realise Lunatic Soul as a separate entity from Riverside, which must be a challenge at times, given that he is the voice for both groups and is channeling similar moods across.
But there are clear differences between the two projects. Riverside’s keyboard sound is very much old-school Hammond organ, warm and full-bodied, whereas the music of Lunatic Soul is based around more contemporary digital instrumentation, producing a colder and unsettling mood. And it takes Duda’s singing to bring the warmth and humanity to the music. Occasionally his lyrical phrasing sounds a little out of kilter with the tempo but I felt that it fitted the “fractured” nature of the music and the life experiences that have inspired the songs.
Here’s the title track to try out:
The booklet comes with lyrics, and while a cursory read of them may bring added understanding of the emotions underlying the music, they still remain fascinatingly and frustratingly enigmatic. Duda clearly has stories to tell, but on his terms, and by the end of the album I’m still no wiser to what has transpired in between the songs. But a glance at the titles – Blood On The Tightrope, A Thousand Shards Of Heaven, Battlefield – tells you that there was clearly some suffering on the part of the artist.
And for any of us who have been in a relationship, the sentiments behind the lyrics for Anymore, are something we can all empathise with at some point in our lives:
But regardless of the trauma behind the music, I was left with a feeling of closure by the last song, Moving On, and with an acceptance of damage done beforehand and a desire to start afresh, and it made the album feel like a satisfying and complete experience. It’s certainly an easy album to listen to, and not at all oppressive or heavy going, and it’s mixed to the high audio standards, with plenty of depth and space for every instrument. I listened to Fractured on a noisy commute and I could still enjoy all the subtleties and nuances in sound mix.
It would certainly be interesting to hear the material played live, but given the nature of the instruments and the music, it would need to be an intimate club setting, to enable the audience to fully engage with the artist.
Is this the album to bring Duda’s solo work to a wider audience? It’s certainly good enough to share with new listeners, and existing fans will enjoy this every bit as much as the previous albums without feeling that it’s becoming repetitive. And Riverside’s growing audiences will help ensure a wider circulation of the album, through gigs and word-of-mouth.
If you haven’t heard anything by Lunatic Soul, then Fractured is a fine album to start off with and then work your way backwards through the previous four. (The progression from the first to the fifth works equally well if you listen to them in reverse order!)
If you’re already familiar with the previous albums, or anything by Riverside, then Fractured will sit happily alongside them, and I have a feeling that it’ll be an album that inevitably grows on the listener with every spin.