Monday, 15 February 2010

The River - In Situ (2009) 78/100.

The future of The River seemed unsure not so long ago, but from under my own nose, they have risen from the ashes and dusted off the sense of impending doom, if you’ll excuse the pun, and released a follow-up to their crushingly heavy debut, ‘Drawing Down The Sun’. I had not expected a sophomore anytime soon, in all honesty, so you can imagine my surprise when ‘In Situ’, The River’s sophomore effort, was brought to my attention. Since discovering The River and their superb debut, I had kept tabs on this London based band and followed their updates via various social networking sites. As far as I remember inspirational vocalist, Vicky Walters, had departed and there was a spot open for a new vocalist to contribute on the bands next record. I remember reading blog updates that specifically mentioned her departure and how the band were frantically searching for people competent enough to audition for the position as the bands front man/woman. Akin to feelings earlier on, once again, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that Vicky has performed the vocals for this record, too.

I read no mention of her taking part on this record, so I had not expected it. Their MySpace page currently lists her as “recording personnel”, so I assume she’s not been entirely relieved of her duties? To be frank, I’m not entirely sure what her position is anymore. She had definitely decided to leave, but here she is performing with that sullen voice once again on ‘In Situ’, a record which likes to astonish its audience with a number of unlikely surprises, including Vicky’s performance. Not much change has occurred when it comes to her actual performance however, which is a positive since she is the shining light that makes The River so different from the droves of mundane bands of a similar nature. With The River’s association to the heralded Warning through guitarist Christian, it’s no surprise that this band contains guitar work similar to that of their fellow British doom metal band. However, in regards to The River, they use far more distortion to carry their downbeat riffs and aren’t as slow in terms of tempo.

At times, though I do love Warning, I do feel as if their atmospheres can come across as quite sluggish, especially in comparison to the bombastic production used on both of The River’s records. That is another element which has altered -- the production. It would seem that the band were not satisfied with the crushing production of the debut and have altered it to sound slightly more polished, though the guitars still come across as brutally heavy, a factor which is juxtaposed wonderfully with the sultry clean vocals of Vicky, who puts in another top performance as the lead of the band. The lyrics suit her voice which, although gracefully melodic alongside the instrumentation, is raw emotionally. Though the lyrics have seemingly not been published by the band, the audible qualities of Vicky’s voice and the reworking of the production allows us to clearly hear her words of wisdom through the edgy distortion that aims to beat us down with its heavy handed tactics. Much like Warning, The River seem to abuse the boundaries by forcing ‘In Situ’ to become engrossingly emotional.

Vicky’s voice, again, works wonders as she weaves between the emotional scopes of the record and vividly paints a picture of the sorrowful lyrics which deal with ideas like rejection and breakdowns in social relations, as shown beautifully on songs like the epic ‘Frailties’. Unexpectedly, the instrumentation on ‘In Situ’ tends to look more kindly upon experimentation than it did on the debut, which was occasionally repetitive and had a familiar aura to it given the ties to the sound of Warning. With Christian leading the way with the guitar work, it isn’t a shock that this occurs. However, as I said, there is a more distinctive experimental factor here than on the debut, which experimented only when it came to the vocal approach. Including two instrumental songs which seem to take influence from outside of the doom spectrum, The River place a different stance on the material on occasions and aim to deliver a slightly different blow to the listeners upbeat emotions before hearing this darkly romantic vision of doom.

In comparison to the debut, I don’t think that ‘In Situ’ has what it takes to outdo its predecessor. I’ve heard complaints from others, though I do not necessarily agree with them myself, that the record is far too over-produced in comparison (though I do find this is true when it comes to the percussion), that it lacks to metaphorical edge to punish its audience to the same extent as the debut, which slowly squeezes the life out of the listener like a giant snake waiting for its prey to cease before it can devour its fresh meal. This feeling is magnified tenfold when the instrumental songs become a factor of the records vision, especially the soulful acoustics sections towards the end of songs like ‘Frailties’ which impact upon the listeners emotions in entirely different ways. With these introspective instrumental sections comes a feeling of doubt. I think the band were more suited to bearing down on the listener with their distorted guitar based style, which acted like a bulldozer easily overpowering us with its strength and obliterating us, than what is present on ‘In Situ’. An enjoyable sophomore without any truly outstanding songs.

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