All Access Review: B+
More an indictment of apathy towards war in foreign lands than a desperate plea for attention, “Riot,” the incendiary opener off Riot’s latest album, Immortal Soul, asks a pertinent question: “What’s it going to take to make you riot?” What, indeed, is it going to take for people to wake up and take notice of a grossly under appreciated cult band that’s been around since 1975 and tossed a few exquisitely explosive heavy metal Molotov cocktails into the fray between 1977 and 1981 with the albums Rock City, Narita and the quintessential Riot classic Fire Down Under?
When the New Wave of British Heavy Metal threatened to drown us all in spiraling twin guitar leads, screaming vocals and stampeding rhythms, Riot, the pet project of guitarist and lone remaining founding member MarkReale, a man who understands the capricious nature of rock and roll all too well, seemed poised to become America’s answer to English cousins Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, the Tygers of Pan Tang and Saxon, among others. Riot was cut from the same cloth, from the blazing guitar duels ignited by Reale’s ambitious fretwork to pulse-pounding rhythms and wailing vocals that could fill up the most spacious of arenas. The pace of their songs was blistering, and they didn’t opt for the clichéd fretwork and grooves so many lesser bands take when confronted with a fork in the road, musically speaking. At the very least, while opening for the likes of Sammy Hagar, Black Sabbath and KISS, Riot’s ballistic live performances should have spurred a groundswell of support that would eventually lead to massive record sales and sold-out stadiums. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
The usual suspects are to blame, of course. Too many lineup changes, record label treachery, seismic shifts in musical trends and the occasional lukewarm effort all conspired to keep a good man like Reale down. Word has it he was even living out of his car in Los Angeles at one point. And yet, through it all, Reale kept Riot alive, tenaciously holding on to the belief that his time was coming. Occasionally, he’s been able to recapture that old magic that made them one of metal’s top title contenders in the late ‘70s, as Riot did near the end of the ‘80s. The faithful always held a special reverence for the lineup that recorded 1988’s Thundersteel and 1990’s The Privilege of Power, and Reale has reassembled the crew of Tony Moore (vocals), Don Van Stavern (bass), and Bobby Jarzombek (drums), along with live collaborator and guitarist Mike Flyntz for another tour of duty.
The band’s rebirth is nothing short of remarkable. After a recent scorched-earth tour of Japan and a triumphant Sweden Rock Festival outing, Riot unleashed Immortal Soul in late 2011, and it is a beast. Out of the gate, the blinding speed and white-hot fury of “Riot” – a ballsy title considering it’s also the name of the band – outraces many of Riot’s thrash-metal brethren, with Moore’s squealing vocals adding urgency and excitement. “Sins of the Father” is just as scintillating, traveling as fast as a bullet from point A to point B and not forgetting to plant a series of hooks that claw flesh. “Crawling” is something altogether different. With an undeniably exotic Middle Eastern feel, courtesy of serpentine, hookah-smoking guitars, the undulating “Crawling” is a seductive and hypnotic siren’s call that listeners must repeatedly heed. Even more melodic is the soaring epic “Fall Before Me,” which artfully contrasts meaty, grinding riffs with angelic harmonies, while the title track is stylish and dark, a not-so-subtle nod to Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime.
Blessed with an impressive vocal range that easily reaches high notes other singers would have to stand on a chair to tough, Moore is impossible to ignore. He can sound tough and tender, as he redeems an otherwise lackluster “Whiskey Man,” or he can fill a room the size of a football field with his volume and high-pitched screams, as he does on “Insanity.” While Reale and Flyntz pound away at dynamic, thundering riffs and construct intricate helixes of notes that amaze and awe, as they do in the high-flying “Believe,” Moore’s presence is just as powerful. And don’t sleep on Jarzombek’s drumming, with its crispness and propulsive momentum, augmented by Van Stavern’s flexible bass work.
Not the edgiest album to ever see the light of day, Immortal Soul is, nevertheless, a classic-sounding heavy metal record, with strong songwriting and interesting diversity that mostly goes for the throat and takes daring risks. At times, it sounds almost reeks of desperation – not a bad thing for a band that’s been around this long – as if Reale and company are willing to try and do anything to catch your attention. More often than not, Immortal Soul does just that.
- Peter Lindblad