One of the first things that strikes you about Lunatic Soul 2 — the second solo album from Mariusz Duda, frontman for progressive rock cult favorites Riverside — is that it has such a big cinematic feel to it.
But this is not so much in the same way as your everyday, garden variety ambient film soundtrack (although there are plenty of those same type of prerequisite atmospherics here). Instead, this is an album where the words and music conjure actual, visual images of a somewhat weary traveler as he makes his way through, what in this case appears to be, a journey into the different shades and stages of the afterlife.
The album is in fact a continuation of Duda’s first Lunatic Soul album, released in 2008. The cover art is even a reversed image in white of the black sleeve of the original, prompting some fans to call it “White Lunatic Soul.”
But rather than just explore the lighter shades the white cover might suggest, Duda instead takes you through a series of songs which also offer glimpses into the darker side of what lies just beyond the veil. The common thread with all the songs is the journey itself. These are songs where you are literally put into the shoes of the traveler, as he makes his way through the musical purgatory conveyed so effectively through Duda’s often quite stunning words and music.
Musically, the album draws from a broad range of genres and even geographic locales. You can hear bits and pieces of oriental, middle eastern, and Indian influences in songs like “Escape From ParadIce” and the instrumental “In Between Kingdom” which opens the record.
The prog influences are also there. Both “Otherwhere” and “Suspended In Whiteness” recall Steven Wilson’s recent, more headier sounding work with Porcupine Tree on albums like The Incident, and on his own solo album Insurgentes. You even get a bit of the grand sweep of early Peter Gabriel-era Genesis on “Transition” (which reminded me a lot of some of the middle parts of that group’s twenty plus minute opus “Suppers Ready”).
But mostly, the music conveys a sense of drama throughout that is oddly, but pleasingly quite compelling. The music ebbs and rises in direct proportion to Duda’s lyrics about a man making his way through the darkness and light associated with the afterworld of his loosely told story. Like I said, it plays almost like a movie, and often within a single song.
On “Suspended In Whiteness” for example, the first half of the song (sub-titled “This Heaven”) features dreamy sounding chimes, keyboards and flutes floating lightly in and out of the mix, before they are overcome by the huge drums and deep, doomy bass tones of the darker second part (“Don’t Feel Alive”), as our traveler asks himself “where the heaven am I now?” (clever play on words there).
On the album’s best track, “Asoulum” (which is apparently Duda’s way of spelling “Soul Asylum”), acoustic guitars and lush vocal harmonies seem to rise to heaven itself, before finally crashing down in a wave of darkness as the spoken word lyrics forebodingly warn “I watch as this place starts to change.”
This is just a beautifully haunting track.
Although much of what is heard on Lunatic Soul 2 might be described as trippy, dreamy or even a bit New-Agey — think of a slightly more rhythmic Daniel Lanois or a harder sounding Dead Can Dance and you’d be in the general ballpark here — the album also has its share of more rocking moments. The heaviest of these is “Escape From ParadIce,” where despite the absence of electric guitars (there are none to be found on the entire album), the mid-eastern sounds and big tribal drums make plenty enough noise on their own.
This is also a solo album in the truest sense of the word. From the percussion to the voices, Duda plays and sings virtually every note here, save for the occasional flute part or keyboard loop.
But the most impressive thing about Lunatic Soul 2 is the way it weds music to drama without the aid of pictures. Rarely does music achieve the feat of transporting you to another place in the same way as a good film can. This album, most remarkably, does exactly that. In that sense, it’s about as close to a cinematic musical experience as it gets.