Riot V- Unleash the Fire (SPV/Steamhammer)

A new chapter.
Release Date: 
22 Oct 2014 (All day)

Riot is one of the overlooked gems of the heavy metal world. They started way back in the late 70’s and released a few albums, such as the masterful Fire Down Under, which were some of the best of that style in the world for that time. With a hard rocking sound that sometimes got so fast that it entered the thrashosphere before Lars Ulrich could even play a drum fill, they should have been prepped to enter into the history books with the likes of Saxon and Angel Witch. Sadly, a combination of lineup turmoil and possibly the worst band mascot to have ever existed adorning their covers, the embers of possibility faded out in the early 80’s.

However, Riot was too good a band to be kept down and they reconvened with a brand new lineup to release another all-time metal masterpiece in 1988’s Thundersteel. This album ditched all of the bands previous hard rock tendencies and took up an incredibly fast speed/power metal sound which was driven by the frankly astounding shredding of guitarist, leader and all around creative force of the band, Mark Reale. The follow-up album to Thundersteel, 1990’s Privilege of Power was arguably just as strong an album, however that level of quality would be something out of the band’s reach as lineup turmoil would once again consign the band to 20 years of mediocrity and obscurity. 

That run of crap was to change however, when the band reunited the Thundersteel lineup and released Immortal Soul in 2011. That album breathed new life into the band, and apart from Tony Moore’s tired and obviously aged vocals they hadn’t sounded fiercer since the 80’s. It looked as if Riot was about to enter into a late-career peak of creativity and success. 

Then Mark Reale died.

The band’s founder and one consistent member throughout its 47 year history passed away on January 25th 2012 after suffering a subarachnoid haemorrhage. It would have been quite reasonable to assume that the band would have folded there and then. That wasn’t the case however, as two members from the Immortal Soul album- guitarist Mike Flyntz and bassist Don Van Stavern- decided to press on with the band.

So here we are with a new lineup and a new moniker, Riot V. A new name is a shrewd move, and a respectful one, but the question still remains as to whether or not any incarnation of the Riot name could succeed without Reale, especially after such a promising return.

Well, in this reviewer’s humble- or perhaps heretical- opinion, Unleash the Fire manages to one-up Immortal Soul.

The first noticeable improvement is new vocalist Todd Michael Hall. While Tony Moore is much beloved by Thundersteel fans, his vocals were easily the weakest element of Immortal Soul, sounding strained on some of the faster tracks and completely unable to hit the high notes. Hall’s vocals on the other hand are powerful and much more well-rounded. 

It also helps that there’s a plethora of infectious choruses for him to sing. Half of the songs on this album have that infectious, stick-in-your-head quality that makes for great power metal. Songs like the Maiden-tinged Land of the Rising Sun, the title track and particularly the forlorn, nostalgia tinged campfire sing-along that is Take Me Back all rank up there as some of the best melodic metal to have come out all year.

Another tenet of this post-Reale sound is the scaling back of guitar theatrics. Oh, there are still plenty of virtuosic harmonies about, but for the most part the riffs are straightforward, hooky affairs. This isn’t either a good or a bad thing, but just an illustration of the differences in songwriting.  

Ultimately, Unleash the Fire is the sound of a band rising from the ashes after the loss of an irreplaceable member. Some may debate integrity of carrying on without Mark Reale, but with a set of tunes as strong as this, it’s undeniable that they’re doing justice to his memory.