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Unleash The Fire (Ltd Cd) Limited Edition
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To truly appreciate Unleash the Fire, you must be familiar with the history of Riot. While NWOBHM bands were tearing it up overseas, Riot was one of the first U.S bands to fly the metal band. They gained a following with their early masterpiece 'Narita' then kicked it up even heavier with their next album, the now-classic 'Fire Down Under'.
The band underwent a transformation in the late-80's, leaning away from their hard rock roots and more towards a power/speed sound. With a new line-up (including Riot V bassist Donnie Van Stavern) and higher-energy tunes, Riot released the fan-favorite 'Thundersteel', which was seen as a comeback. Throughout the 90's and early 00's, Riot stuck with the progressive speed-metal format, but the line-up became a revolving door.
In 2011 Reale reunited the Thundersteel line-up and released 'Immortal Soul', which was seen as yet another comeback. Unfortunately, the success was short lived when Reale died in 2012. I saw the last show Riot played while he was still alive in New York City on January 18 of that year. Reale could not make it to the show so Mike Flyntz played all of his parts. The band paid a loving tribute to Reale and kept his guitar case onstage with them (something they still do at every Riot V show). As a fan, it was heart-breaking to see what I thought would be the band's final show.
Many fans were skeptical when the remaining members of the band announced plans to continue under the name Riot V, but as a true fan I knew that it was done now out of greed but of love and respect for the Riot name and the spirit it represents. Donnie Van Stavern and Mike Flyntz recruited a fantastic singer, Todd Michael Hall, who has an incredible range and power in his voice. His performance on this record and live do justice to the power of the music. Filling out the line-up are guitarist Nick Lee, a young man who contributes a youthful energy, and drummer Frank Gilchriest, who does an admirable job, especially considering he's replacing one of the most fantastically skilled drummers in the business, Bobby Jarzombek.
With the new line-up filled out the band set forth recording twelve new tracks for this album, Unleash the Fire. Immediately upon seeing the album cover, Riot fans will recognize this as not only a tribute to the band's legacy (look at the street signs for example), but also to an over-the-top 80's awesomeness (lightening striking an axe held by a muscle-bound seal? Badass). The music definitely reflects both. For the most part the songs on this album are similar to the speed/power metal embraced in the band's 'Thundersteel' era, if not a little heavier. The twin guitar assaults in songs such as 'Kill to Survive' are reminiscent of Judas Priest, and the choruses on songs like 'Bring the Hammer Down' and 'Fall from the Sky' are a lot like what you'd expect from Blind Guardian in the 80's. There is a lot of variety in terms of intensity. For example, 'Land of the Rising Sun' is a more melodic than thrashing, as is 'Take me Back'. Its a rare delight to hear this sort of stuff in 2014.
The riffs are fast and heavy, the solos exciting and well-executed, and Todd Michael Hall's singing is impeccable. The lyrical content makes several references to Riot's history and past catalog. For example there is 'Return of the Outlaw', a follow-up to the bone-crushing original off the 'Fire Down Under' album. 'The Land of the Rising Sun' pays tribute to Japan, the country where Riot are most popular. Mark Reale's legacy is the subject matter to the song 'Immortal' which proclaims 'Though your soul has touched the sky/ through your songs you are immortal". A loving tribute if I ever heard one.
By far my favorite track on the album is the Flyntz/Hall penned 'Take me Back', a nostalgic ode to the glory days of past. With a simple yet effective structure and charismatic performance by Hall, its really the only song on the album that reminds me of the 'Fire Down Under' days. 'Take me Back' is a song that has been on regular rotation on my stereo and probably will for years to come alongside all the other classic Riot tracks.
Overall Unleash the Fire is a hard-hitting, fist-pounding salute to all things hard and heavy, a love letter to the legacy of a band that represents the spirit of heavy metal empowerment. Through the years of hopelessness and tribulation in Riot's history, the music always remained upbeat and inspiring. That legacy continues with Unleash the Fire, and hopefully will continue for years to come.
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.
I would say that Immortal Soul is a better album, yet Unleash the Fire still rocks, and it is very good to see the return of the legendary band with a strong line up and good material.
Ride Hard Live Free, metal warrior, bring the hammer down!! and until we meet again are my favorites.