Historically speaking, RIOT is a very curious phenomenon, in almost equal significance as that of MANILLA ROAD, though perhaps a bit more accessible musically. Their birth in the 1970s as more of a mainline Hard Rock act with a few proto-Speed Metal elements made them a curious foil to the likes of JUDAS PRIEST and MOTORHEAD, both of which dabbled in a similar musical aesthetic, though vocally they were a bit more ahead of their time. Particularly of note is that RIOT inadvertently stumbled into the now commonly emulated style of Power/Speed Metal about one year before the two aforementioned bands, and RAINBOW did. But the RIOT that most tend to know is a very different beast than its earlier incarnation, in much the same respect that JUDAS PRIEST was after "Painkiller" when comparing them to their own late 70s works.
The RIOT of today is, to put it simply, the RIOT of "Thundersteel", a wicked yet irresistibly catchy mixture of orthodox 80s Heavy Metal and high speeding fury. With the exception of Michael Flyntz, who joined the band for the near equally vicious follow up to their 1988 classic "The Privilege Of Power", this is actually the exact same line up, together and cutting heads like it's 1992 and the band had never gone through any further personnel changes. The only noteworthy update is a greater production clarity that comes with improved digital recording equipment, which mercifully avoids all of the compressed excesses of many mainline acts in this day and age. This is an album that could have been put together in the early 1990s, and for all intents and purposes, should have been.
Amid the solid mixture of melodic anthems and blistering riff monsters that make up "Immortal Soul" is an ingenious level of sophistication and nuance that is reflective of the band's age and experience, yet much more consistent with their younger days than the recent offerings out of PRIEST and MAIDEN. With the powerful mid-tempo cruisers that are "Fall Before Me" and "Insanity" is a familiar set of elongated, harmonized lead guitar sections that rest in a comfortable middle ground between the singing restraint of "Somewhere In Time" and the elaborate virtuosity of "Keeper Of The Seven Keys Pts. 1 & 2". It's on the songs where Mark Reale shows his ability to be a melodic player as well as a shredder, and where Tony Moore shows that he can sing with a restrained, tuneful character rather than simply soaring in the Halford stratosphere all day.
Nevertheless, those junkies out there who want speed and aggression need not fret at the prospect of another collection of half-hearted mid-tempo rockers in the mold of "Through The Storm". This is equally possessed of the goodies that were on full display circa 1988, spearheaded by a havoc driven opener titled after the album, which rivals the famed title song that first introduced us to the Tony Moore era of the band. Likewise, "Still Your Man" (bringing back another familiar character named Johnny), "Wings Are For Angels", "Sins Of The Father" and the closer "Echoes" bring the frenetic guitar work, soaring banshee wails and double bass driven drumming with a vengeance, leaving all but nothing to be desired in its wake.
It might be a hex to get my hopes up too much, but what the world of American Heavy Metal needs right now is a good two or three albums of this same caliber out of this band to help get things back on track. This is the original Power Metal, forged in the late 70s and not yet married to either the soft keyboard aesthetic of the Euro scene, nor the nastier aspects that eventually morphed it into the more extreme sub-genres. Sometimes the way to go forward is to get back to basics, and Mark Reale and the rest of this New York born colossus make no secret of where they come from. Recommended to anybody who likes Metal, no exceptions.
(Online December 7, 2011)