Years before leaking albums online became a trend, a few before online file sharing became the norm, and seven years before Radiohead sold their then new record In Rainbows thru pay-as-you-want at £ 0.00 minimum, Rivermaya self-produced and gave away their fifth album, aptly titled Free, not just online, not just digitally, but also in CD format, given to loyal fans thru mail and at their gigs. Yes, Rivermaya fucking did it first.
Free was released in “The Year Piracy Broke” and mainstream interest in local rock music reached ground zero. Again. Thus, you’d most likely learn about Free on the internet, than catch “Faithless” or “Ambulansya” on the radio—unless by radio, you mean NU107. And just in case you haven’t heard the album yet, do yourself a favor and check “Faithless” and “Ambulansya” on YouTube. The former is driven by Mark Escueta’s pounding rhythm and punctuated by Rico Blanco’s raspy, Kurt Cobain-like scream in the chorus. The latter is a piano-laden dirge about being caught in a causality loop of road accident and traffic jam (“Hindi na tayo gagalaw, hindi na tayo aabante,” Blanco sings on top of a looped ambulance siren).
Outside all the hype (or whether you consider it gimmick, commercial suicide or publicity stunt), Free is an exceptional rock record. It’s really good and by really good, I mean better than any of the first three Rivermaya albums. Imagine taking the best of late ’80s and ’90s guitar-rock (i.e., Nirvana, Pixies, Silkworm), Radiohead’s Kid A, some Chuck Palaniuk and mix them with the solid songwriting of Rico Blanco and Nathan Azarcon. That is, Rivermaya never rocked harder than with “Faithless”, “Serious Offender” and “Again” and they’ve never been as “out there” weird than in “Ambulansya” and “Steady” (Steady/ parang slowly/ na medyo relax/ pero hindi// Parang/ lumang free throw/ ni Bogs Adornado/ noong uso pa ang Afro… Ang gadget/ sarap tapakan/ ang chorus ay tubig/ delay kalangitan… Steady/ ang barbero/ may labahang bago’t/ kamay na pasmado).
Free‘s odd combination of the abrasive/aggressive and weird electronic psychedelia might have been Rivermaya’s response to the burgeoning new metal scene of the late ’90s (i.e., Greyhounds, Slapshock). Only, instead of adding a DJ to the line-up, they went deeper and turn the distortion and weirdness knobs to eleven. The result is more post-hardcore than post-grunge, more rock than hybrid metal.
Or maybe, this is just the natural progression from their last album, which alongside Teeth’s I Was A Teenage Tree and Sandwich’s Grip Stand Throw, is one of the best local guitar-rock albums of from the late ‘90s. Either way, Free contains songs that perfectly captures the raw power of late ’80s early ’90s rock in a bottle and mixed them with some of Radiohead’s early aughts electronic flavors without emulating Pixies or Nirvana or sounding like a Kid A-wannabe.
Just want to share this cool ‘baliktad’ version of “Steady”, the closing track of the album. Kudos to the uploader and whoever did this!