There have been a number of great albums in 2020 that have popped up out of nowhere. They were seemingly announced and released, all within the space of a few weeks. This is the case for the new solo album from Maciej Meller. “Zenith” was released on September 18th, and it is a hidden gem for the year.
Maciej comes to us from Poland. He is the newly added guitarist for the legendary Riverside, replacing Piotr Grudziński after his sudden passing (RIP, Gru). However, Maciej is a veteran of progressive music, being involved with Quidam (active since 1996, at least) and Meller-Gołyźniak-Duda. He knows what he is doing. This particular solo outing includes performances from Maciej on guitars and mandolin, Krzysztof Borek on vocals, Robert Szydło on bass, Łukasz Damrych on keyboards, and Łukasz Sobolak on drums.
With this solo offering, Maciej gives us an atmospheric, emotional progressive rock. There is a certain amount of “retro” prog influence here, but only just enough. Much of the album feels hazy or misty in tone. You will also hear plenty of electronica, spacey musings, and ballsy guitars. In fact, Maciej’s guitars here are meaty, commanding, and resolute. He offers expressive moments right up against walls of weighty riffs and licks, and his compositions feel purposeful and thoughtful. He offers some very outstanding solos, too, which I think really raise the bar for this record. For this reason, I think that fans of the heavier side of Polish prog will feel right at home here.
“Zenith” is a strong album, for certain. One of the reasons for this is Krzysztof’s wonderful vocal performance. He stretches and expresses in familiar ways, and just feels right for this album. He simply has a great voice. The rest of the crew are equally talented, laying down deep bass lines, thundering drums, and memorable keyboard solos.
The album is just shy of 45 minutes long, a perfect length in my eyes. Every song on the album, including the two minute closer, are wonderful. Songs like the opener “Aside” and “Knife” have more drive in their veins, and you will hear some fantastic guitars. Other songs, like “Plan B” and “Halfway” are softer in composition, though I think these two songs contain the best guitar solos on the album, especially the fantastic solo on “Halfway”.
For my money, though, tracks 5-7 are the best songs on the album. Actually, I should throw “Halfway” in there, too, just because of how imaginative the beat is and how strong the expressions are. So, let’s say tracks 4-7. The other tracks are “Frozen”, “Fox”, and “Trip”. “Frozen” was the first single, and it has a great chorus that has stayed with me. “Fox” is an interesting song that feels like it is holding back a little bit. But it sounds amazing, and I just find myself listening to it quite a lot.
“Trip” is the best song on the record. Interestingly, Mariusz of Riverside is credited along with Maciej as having written this song. That doesn’t surprise me, either, with the layers that are present. This song has a strong structure overall, and I especially love the electronic second half that feels grey and introspective as rumbling beats play up against Maciej’s emotive guitars. It’s a brilliant track, and will definitely be one of my favorites this year.
Maciej has so much to offer. Quidam hasn’t ever gotten the attention they deserve, even from me, and Maciej’s contributions to Riverside’s “Wasteland” album have grown on me with time. “Zenith” is much the same. It will grow on you, and your mind will break through the bleak and hazy tone to discover a wealth of emotions and musical accents. Good albums are always worth the time it takes to understand them, and this album is a prime example.
Find Maciej Meller online: