It takes a brave decision by any band to continue following the death of not only a founder member but also one regarded as the cornerstone of the act concerned. Some – such as Led Zeppelin – have decided not to attempt to replace such a key element, while others, to varying degrees of success, have soldiered on. Some have succeeded in doing so – AC/DC being perhaps the most notable example, but other iconic bands such as Y&T also deserve recognition for overcoming such career-threatening adversity.
Riot V is basically the surviving members of the last incarnation of Riot, with this album being the first to be released since founding guitarist Mark Reale lost his lifelong battle with Crohn’s Disease a little more than two years ago. It was Reale’s wish, and that of his family, that the band continue and carry his legacy forward – and that is exactly what longtime collaborators Don Van Stavern and Mike Flyntz have done, with the addition of guitarist (and former Flyntz student) Nick Lee, former Burning Starr vocalist Todd Michael Hall and the returning Frank Glichreist (who previously recorded with the band on their ‘Army Of One’ opus in 2006).
Of course, Reale’s death was not the first tragedy to have struck the band – former singer Rhett Forrester’s murder in Atlanta in 1994 remains unsolved 20 years later while his predecessor, Guy Speranza died of pancreatic cancer in 2003: but, the guitarist had remained the only constant in the band since its formation back in 1975, and so the release of this, the band’s 15th album, is all the more poignant, as it is the first without any of the outfit’s founder members. They’re not the first band to continue along such a road, and they more than likely won’t be the last (especially in these days when certain acts are regarded as a corporate brand): but, we have to ask ourselves – is it the music, rather than those who produce it, that really matters?
With that in mind, let’s in the first instance take ‘Unleash The Fire’ at face value: taking such a purely objective approach, what we have is a fairly standard collection of equally fairly standard power metal tunes. It starts well with the punchy and vibrant ‘Ride Hard Live Free’, with its rambunctious, rollicking riff and Lee’s powerhouse vocal over the punchy rhythm.. but, I’m afraid it’s pretty much downhill from thereon in, as what follows can really only be best described as predictable…
Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely well played: Gilchreist’s drumming, for example, is nigh on superlative, solid as a rock and yet producing unexpected little fills and frills which surprise as much as they reward careful listening. Van Stavern’s bass holds the songs, which are well written and constructed, together like glue, allowing the twin guitars of Flyntz and Lee to interwine and interlocute with equal measures of grace and verve. And there is no doubt that Lee has an amazing voice – one which easily stands alongside any of the great singers in the power metal genre: but, when he is almost solely responsible for keeping the listener’s attention, his performance is not quite impressive enough to elevate the material he is working with to the next level of retentive consciousness.
Now, let us ask the burning question: is ‘Unleash The Fire’ a fitting tribute to what Riot have produced in the past? Is it an album which will encapsulate and commemorate the legacy of messrs Reale, Forrester et al, and the band which recently was acclaimed as producing one of the progenitors of the “most ripped off riff in metal” (‘Swords And Tequila, from 1981’s ‘Fire Down Under’ album)? The answer is most definitely in the negative, as ultimately this is nothing more than a decent power metal album, albeit played with aplomb and obviously sympathetic intent, but just minus that modicum of passion (outside of some of Hall’s vocals) that would possibly have lifted this collection to the level of one truly worthy of the three decades of history behind it. If you’re a fan of Riot’s ‘Thundersteel’ and ‘The Privilege Of Power’ era output, then I’m afraid you’d be better digging out your battered old copies of those albums than investing in this pale imitation of past glories.
Ride Hard Live Free / Metal Warrior / Fall From The Sky / Bring The Hammer Down / Unleash The Fire / Land Of The Rising Sun / Kill To Survive / Return Of The Outlaw / Immortal / Take Me Back / Fight Fight Fight / Until We Meet Again
Recommended listening: Ride Hard Live Free
‘Unleash The Fire’ is out now on SPV/Steamhammer