Riot – Unleash the Fire
Reviewed by Nick Kane
Holy crap, I have not been able to stop listening to this record since I got a hold of it. Definitely best-of-the-year material for me. Okay, enough fanboying. Unleash The Fire has music for Riot lovers of all eras, as well as those who love old school metal. One thing I noticed after listening to this several times is how well they grasp Mark Reale’s style and riffing. For those that don’t know, Reale died in 2012, and the band is currently named “Riot V”, with Todd Michael Hall being the fifth major singer (Yes, there have been 7 in total, but only 4 others made records with the band). This is very much a Riot record, but it’s also the biggest tribute to Reale, with two veteran Riot members involved (Don Van Stavern and Mike Flyntz). Shoot, just look at the cover art. “Johnny” is scrawled on a wall, and there are street signs saying “Reale Way” and “Blood St.” And of course, the mascot Johnny himself.
I don’t know where to begin with this record. It’s awesome through and through, and there isn’t a throwaway track, though I’ll point to an “okay” one later on. It’s got guitar harmonies, vocals that make people with a two octave range wroth with jealousy, and riffs that hearken to the golden years of a pummeling Riot. I’m really glad that they chose Todd as a new singer, since he can really hit the high notes like Tony Moore could. Opener “Ride Hard Live Free” has the Thundersteel vibe that most people crave, with the speed and the double bass – most of the tracks do, for that matter. Songs such as “Metal Warrior”, “Unleash the Fire”, and “Fall from the Sky” fall into the speedy realm of Thundersteel influence. Want some Rhett Forrester era stuff? “Land of the Rising Sun”, with its awesome chugging rhythms, a simple but catchy chorus, and a rather infectious melody on the verses is the stuff for you. It really hearkens back to the traditional metal of the early 80s before the Thundersteel days. There’s even some Guy Speranza era sounds here, with “Return Of The Outlaw” (Hope that name rings a bell for some).
It’s very difficult for me to stop geeking out about this record. Riot really hits the spot for all those cravings for Riot goodness. Need I mention the guitarwork? Tis glorious. The dual guitar solos and harmonies are outstanding. I’m rather impressed with the drumming as well: the precision and speed of Frank Gilchrist of Virgin Steele and Liege Lord is a nice substitute for Bobby Jarzombek, who left for full time devotion to Fates Warning. Unleash The Fire feels like one huge tribute to Mark Reale, and arguably to the entirety of Riot’s catalog. Many of the songs mention Mark, Johnny (their mascot), their Japanese shows, and also contain some anthems like “Land Of The Rising Sun” and “Take Me Back”, which seem to be about nostalgia for the old days.
I was afraid going in that this would be nothing more than another over-hyped “reunion” record, but damn did Riot ever deliver. If this is the band’s swansong, it’s an excellent one that Mark would be proud of. Without sounding like a salesman: go pick up a copy. I know I will. Speaking of Mark, there are two tracks dedicated to him: “Immortal” and “Until We Meet Again”, they are of the ballad variety, and nicely done at that. It’s not overly cheesy or portraying a sob story, but rather a celebration of Mark’s music. It’s really hard to pick favorite tracks on a disc like this, but the ones that have really stuck to me are “Unleash the Fire”, “Land of the Rising Sun”, “Metal Warrior”, and “Kill to Survive”. The only song that I really didn’t care for was “Fight Fight Fight”, as it feels out of place to me, and the only song that doesn’t sound like Riot. It’s a small blemish on an overall fantastic album that I am perfectly willing to look past.
4.25 // 5