Unleash the Fire
When heavy metal/hard rock band Riot announced they would start working on new material, some fans were skeptical. The band’s founder and sole original member, Mark Reale, passed in early 2012 after a lifelong battle with Crohn’s Disease. With Reale’s passing, it seemed that the band would die with him. The band, now under the name Riot V, have been touring all of this year and now have a new studio album. The album, Unleash the Fire, is a touching hard hitting tribute to Reale. While Reale might be gone, the Riot riffs and melodies he wrote are very much alive on this new album.
Riot are one of those bands that carries a long history with them. The group were originally formed in 1975 by Reale in New York. Despite constant line-up changes, the band were able to churn out three studio album with original singer Guy Speranza. The band’s third album, Fire Down Under, is considered by many to be an underrated hard rock gem. Speranza left in 1981 and was replaced by singer Rhett Forrester. With Forrester, the band made another two albums. In 1984, the band were left in limbo as they had reached rock bottom with disappointing album sales. Reale left the band on the back burner until 1986 when he revamped the band with a new line-up and more heavy metal oriented sound. This line-up released 1988’s Thundersteel, which help resurrect the band and gain some attention. Although this line-up would end in 1992, Reale and guitarist Mike Flyntz (who was added to the group during the Thundersteel tour) kept the band going. The Thundersteel line-up reunited in 2008 and in 2011, they released an album entitled Immortal Soul. In early 2012, Reale passed away after being a coma for several days due to his lifelong battle with Crohn’s Disease.
Sometimes after Reale’s passing, Flyntz and Thundersteel era bassist Donnie Van Stavern started putting together a new version of Riot. Flyntz and Stavern are joined by three other members: drummer Frank Gilchriest (who drummed on 2006’s Army of One), singer Todd Michael Hall and guitarist Nick Lee (who is also one of Flyntz’s guitar students).
The band gets down to business on the head-banging “Ride Hard Live Free.” Right from the start, Flyntz and Lee are at it with their twin lead guitar melodies. As for Hall, he is a remarkable singer. Listening to this song, Hall could be mistaken for former singer Tony Moore. I highly recommend watching a video of the band performing live with Hall: the man has a range that gives him the ability to tackle all of the Riot material. The guitar heavy “Metal Warrior” is lyrically filled with references to other Riot songs. The cries of “shine on” are heard throughout, which references to the chorus of the Riot classic “Warrior.” There are also mentions of Johnny, the name of the band’s seal mascot (other fans will argue his name is the Mighty Tior, but I like to think of him as Johnny- the Mighty Tior): “Raise your fists up to our brother man” sings Hall. “Johnny lead us to your promised land.” The songs is filled with so many references to Riot songs, one might find it hard to keep track of all of them!
Riot sure know how to deliver heavy metal songs and this album is no exception. “Bring the Hammer Down” certainly lives up to its title while Gilchriest shows off his rapid-fire drumming skills on the thunderous “Fall From the Sky.” The title track is even badass, with Hall shining again on lead vocals. There’s also the anthem-driven “Fight Fight Fight” and the melodic “Land of the Rising Sun,” a Stavern-penned tune written for Riot’s rabid fanbase in Japan. Believe it or not, there are a few songs on here that are a throwback to the old school hard rock Riot. “Return of the Outlaw” is exactly what it sounds like: it is lyrically and musically a sequel to the Riot classic, “Outlaw.” Musically, the song captures the sound of the original while Hall channels his inner Guy Speranza. Hall channels his inner Speranza once again on the nostalgic “Take Me Back.”
Overall, Unleash the Fire is an impressive album. After listening to this album, I feel that Riot can indeed go on without Mark Reale. Somebody has to play these songs, and that is what this new band is exactly doing. I think it’s safe to say that Mark would be proud.