Review Summary: Take me back to that place where I belong.
Sometimes, the title of an album tells the story of a band in so many words. Riot’s previous full length, the now critically acclaimed Immortal Soul
, was yet another statement that the New Yorkers were persisting through time and mischief, but soon it acquired a new meaning, in view of an utterly unfortunate event. The untimely passing of guitarist Mark Reale (R.I.P.) due to Crohn’s disease, shortly after Immortal Soul
got released, gave way to a dilemma regarding the entitlement of surviving band members to continue under the Riot moniker. As Reale founded the band in the late ‘70s, the situation called for a carefully thought decision.
In that light, Don van Stavern and Mike Flyntz asked for the consent of Reale’s father, and Riot paid its founder a different kind of memorial, this time on live stages in Japan and Europe. The fan feedback was of such magnitude, that the band started thinking about a new album. With the letter “V” signifying Riot’s fifth incarnation of with a different singer, and a new line up featuring old companions and promising new musicians, band comes back with Unleash The Fire
, a great album that lives up to its legacy.
Due to a series of circumstances, three thirds of the (classic) lineup that recorded Immortal Soul
are not part of the new album. While some would expect the quality of the music to decline accordingly, Unleash The Fire
looses some merit merely due to technical matters (the rather “thin” sound production), and the fact that it succeeds a behemoth of an album. In general, the band resides between the first “hard rocking metal” period (1977-1983) and the equally excellent, late ‘80s US heavy/power metal legacy, and it does so without sounding boring in the least. Despite the devastating absence of Reale and the significant lineup changes, Riot remain highly relevant in terms of song writing, and come as one of the best bands from the “tech” side of heavy/power metal. Apart from the music, the album’s lyrical content is excellent in that it praises the fans for keeping the band going all these years, while it stresses the nostalgia for ‘80s in general and good ‘80s metal in particular. Moreover, Flyntz and van Stavern pay their discrete but wholehearted respect to Reale with “Immortal” and “Until We Meet Again”, songs that lie among the most sentimental moments in the album.
Riot V’s album wouldn’t be worth it, if it wasn’t for the individual musicians coming through. Mike Flyntz and Don van Stavern have written yet another great album, and their general merit is “sine qua non”. Drummer Frank Gilchriest has already revealed his credentials on the Army of One
album back in the day (and in recent live concerts), and brings on the table the excess tension this band needs. Vocalist Todd Michael Hall is not Tony Moore, but it is common ground for those who have seen him live (like yours truly), that he’s a perfect fit for the band. His high pitch is “Rob Halford” level in the power metal moments of the album and equally good on the hard rocking metal tunes. Last but not least in terms of band newcomers, guitarist Nick Lee was called to fill the huge shoes of Mark Reale, but as long as Flyntz (his guitar teacher) and van Stavern are ok with it, so should everyone else. His recent European tour with the band was his first trip outside the States and he certainly stood up to the task during the Thessaloniki, Greece live concert.
When the surviving Riot members ask Reale’s father for his permission to go on as a band, he replied “Don’t bury Riot’s music with Mark, let it live”. Given the quality of Unleash The Fire
, it’s only fair that Riot V should go on for as long as they can, merely because there are people who need their music. The finest example in that respect is the gesture of a handful of Greek fans in order to get to see the band live. As no “constitutional” promoter would risk his money doing so, they paid Riot from their own pockets and brought them to Thessaloniki, Greece for a monumental live show that wound up almost sold-out. How can a band cease to exist with this kind of fans? It simply can’t.