Formed in 1975 by guitar god Mark Reale, Riot is one of those bands that should have been huge. Line up changes, bad management, the tragic deaths of key members of the band, and just plain bad luck prevented Riot from achieving more than cult status in the U.S. rock and metal scene. Despite these challenges, the band succeeded in churning out classic albums such as Narita, Fire Down Under, Born In America, Rock City and their classic radio rock anthem Swords and Tequila. In the mid-eighties, to compete with their contemporaries of the day, the band transformed from hard rock to a more power metal sound, creating the metal classic Thundersteel and the underrated (and more experimental) follow up Privilege of Power. Despite the new focus and enthusiastic response from their fan base, the “classic’ Thundersteel line up disintergrated and the band was once again plagued with line up changes. In 2011, after an outcry from the bands rabid fanbase, the Thundersteel line up reunited for Immortal Soul, which was a return to the 80’s power metal sound. Sadly, founding member Mark Reale barely played a note on the album due to his ongoing battle with Crohn’s Disease, finally succumbing to the disease and sadly passed away in 2012 at the age of 56.
In 2013, longtime Reale partner bassist Donnie Van Stavern and the surviving members of Riot decided to honor Reale by continuing his legacy and in tribute to their fallen brother, re-christened themselves as Riot V (or Riot Chapter Five) with new vocalist Todd Michael Hall replacing Tony Moore and former drummer Frank Gilchreist returned replacing the departing Bobby Jarzombek (who left to concentrate on Fates Warning). The result of this re-branding is Unleash the Fire, an album that not only succeeds as tribute to their fallen brother, but also as a fresh jolt of Riot-inspired rock and metal that not only draws from the Thundersteel era but from every era of Riot’s glorious past. New vocalist Hall has an uncanny resemblance to previous singer Tony Moore in his prime.
Unleash the Fire contains twelve tracks (plus the bonus track, a blistering live version of Thundersteel) of pure power and glorious heavy metal. This is not just a band living off past glories; this is a band that sounds lean, mean, and hungry with thunderous speed metal drumming, heavy guitar riffs, and soaring vocals. On Metal Warrior “Johnny” returns in a nod to Thundersteel’s Johnny’s Back. Bring the Hammer Down is a mid-tempo headbanger that combines 70’s classic hard rock Riot riffs, 80’s soaring harmony vocals, and a touch of 80’s Dokken (to these ears) to create a metal monster. The early years of Riot are reminisced on the UFO inspired Take Me Back. The catchy chorus harkens back to Riot’s classic 70’s material and delivers their new mission statement. Guitarist Mike Flyntz does an admirable job of re-creating Reale’s playing style and breathes life into each song. The albums final studio track Until We Meet Again is a touching tribute from Van Stavern to his fallen friend Reale, and a perfect way finish the chapter of Reale’s Riot, while the live version of Thundersteel featuring Hall on vocals provides a glimpse into the bands present and future. I’m sure wherever Mark Reale is, he is smiling that his legacy continues to Shine On.