Nothing truly prepares you for the death of a parent. The agonising numbness. The despair of grief. Cloying guilt and suffocating remorse. The unwelcome soul-aching rawness of naked emotions exploding from nowhere, drenching every thought, every feeling and every shred of who you are. The emptiness is dreadful. The silence is complete. Life becomes fractured and you know with an unspeakable certainty, deep down at the very core of your life where things matter most, that nothing will be or will feel the same again.
Fractured is the fifth studio album from Riverside front man Mariusz Duda but is brutally unlike anything which has come before. In times of loss what we need are not words, no matter how well intended or sincere: more often than not they make the person speaking feel better or break uneasy silences. In times of loss a consoling arm around the shoulder speaks volumes; the compassion and solidarity of a silent hug, a warm embrace, the reaching for a hand speaks to the heart far more eloquently than words will ever achieve.
Fractured is that embrace, spoken from the solitary isolation of the mourning bench on which we have all sat. Inspired by the tragic death of his father and still reeling from the loss of long time band mate Piotr Grudziński, Duda buries himself in the chaotic morass and tortured turmoil of a life which no longer makes sense and creates an album which is hugely challenging, unremittingly personal and invigoratingly honest.
From the opening simulation of an Aboriginal didgeridoo it becomes immediately apparent that this is unlike previous Lunatic Soul releases. The sound is more austere, paired down, stripped back and as a result is cleaner, elegantly simple and a lot more accessible. The focus on rhythm shapes and directs the use of guitar, keys and electronica to directly wrestle with and express quite specific instances of feelings and emotions. Thus music brilliantly exposes the conflicts, the bewilderment, the sheer forlorn unknowing which rages at the heart of loss.
Anymore (Track 2) repeats a refrain I often find myself thinking of my own father’s passing: “you don’t talk to me anymore”. Your voice calls out, but the person is no longer there to respond. You can’t talk to me anymore. Duda laments:
I need to show you what I’m like
What I’ve achieved
What I have understood
Then you might tell me you are proud of me
But you don’t talk to me anymore.
Dialogue has become monologue and the music imitates and reflects the lone voice in search of a response.
Crumbling Teeth and Owl Eyes (Track 3) is a remarkable track which speaks of complete, head shaking desperation. A rippling arpeggio guitar is buoyed and embraced by waves of orchestral arrangements supplied by the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra conducted by Michał Mierzejewski, while Duda stares down on the sleeping innocence of a young child: as evening comes, dormant fears gather –
I know they’re coming for
what’s left of my soul
let me steal a part of your
let me sit down by your side
pull myself together.
There is nowhere to hide and no chance of escape.
The orchestra returns for A Thousand Shards of Heaven (Track 6) and with it comes a change of heart. We emerge from the maelstrom, slowly, haltingly:
but I’m not a prisoner
I want to feel what it’s like
when sorrow turns into strength
I want to feel what it’s like
when there’s no screeches in my head.
Time passes. We wrestle. We struggle. We grapple. We begin, slowly, to move the pieces of the jigsaw around, to feel again, to understand that life goes on.
so you know my way to survive
you can say that I’m surrounded
by the ruins of my previous life
but I am not a prisoner.
Therein lies part of the solution. It is ok to go on. It is ok to live again, to find the strength to cope, the will to get through each day, to build again without getting bogged down in the quagmire of emotions. Final track Moving On (Track 8) is no exercise in naive triumphalism; it is, however, a wide-eyed acknowledgement that whilst things will never be the same again, the choice to move on is both difficult and courageous. We carry the past with us and all the experiences, memories, joys and sorrows stay with us and live in our hearts.
The singular and most valuable triumph of this album is the deeply personal sharing of angst and catharsis from a place of pain. From the unbearable depths of loss it reaches out and says: you are not alone. It’s ok to grieve; to cry, to sob your eyes out and wail to heaven. It’s ok to question everything, to rage, to doubt, to be depressed. Fractured is the path taken by someone who has travelled the same road, has felt the same things and who is still wrestling with everything it brings upon us. It is a welcome musical arm around the shoulder in times of need.
1. Blood On The Tightrope [7:19]
2. Anymore [4:37]
3. Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes [6:42]
4. Red Light Escape [05:43] 5. Fractured [4:36]
6. A Thousand Shards Of Heaven [12:17]
7. Battlefield [9:05]
8. Moving On [5:14]
Mariusz Duda – vocals, instruments
Marcin Odyniec – saxophone
Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra, conducted by Michał Mierzejewski
Kscope/Mystic Production – 6th October 2017
CD – KSCOPE498; Vinyl – KSCOPE923; Digital
This review originally appeared for The Progressive Aspect