Riot are one of the most underrated and enduring symbols of classic heavy metal excellence. Along with Saxon they easily earn my pick of the best unsung bands of the strictly "traditional metal" genre - and boy has Riot covered some ground. In the beginning they were a bit of a hard rock / rock n' roll band with some heavier tendancies, but in the late 80's after changing every member except founder/guitarist Mark Reale, they became a speed metal powerhouse playing a style of music distinctively their own - thanks to the outstanding musicianship of every player involved and the piercing vocals of frontman Tony Moore. However, by the early 90's this lineup was no-more, and the band explored more hard rock territory with vocalist Mike Dimeo. It's fair to say that 1988's Thundersteel is one of the most revered classic metal albums ever made, often called "The Painkiller before Priest made Painkiller", and thus when it was announced in 2008 that this lineup of Riot was to reunite, fans everywhere (myself included) were salivating. I want to point out that this record seemed to take forever to make - and that I'm also writing it while listening to the album - having just listened to Thundersteel.
The record starts with a very majestic-sounding intro, reminiscent of something the band would've done in the Dimeo-days, but that quickly gives way to the absolutely ripping main riff of the aptly titled "Riot
", which is essentially the classic "Thundersteel" rewritten, which is not at all a bad thing. This song fucking DESTROYS everything, and one thing is certainly made very clear very quickly. Twenty years has seen these guys lose absolutely nothing. Tony Moore's vocals are still as shriekingly powerful as ever, and rhythm section is absolutely on fire, supporting the blistering guitar work. The solo section features some of the great harmonized soloing Riot fans have come to expect, and the final verse sees some astounding drumming from virtuoso Bobby Jarzombek. The choruses just slay, and after half-a-listen are sure to have you going absolutely insane. This track kicks the album off in an absolutely outstanding way. Riot is back with a fierce vengeance.
One of Thundersteel's more fun and memorable songs was a tune by the name of "Johnny's Back", which the second cut "Still Your Man
" echoes very vividly (in an obviously intentional way). There's some cleverly written lyrics which are sure to really grab fans of the original. It's more or less a perfect sequel - in that it perfectly follows up the theme and energy of the song, but never feels as though it's retreading old water. "Crawling
" changes the pace up considerably, as the tune truly lives up to it's name. Not only is the pace altered, the guitars also sound really down-tuned here. There's something fairly haunting about the track, and Tony Moore doesn't get up to his typical register until the excellent outro. The song is a grower and certainly showcases a little variety, but it's not one of the best tracks on the record. It's just not what Riot are best at doing. Next up is "Wings are For Angels
", which brings the tempo and energy right back up to where it was with the album's opener. It's another astoundingly technical and well-written speed metal track, and stands as a true highlight of the album. "Fall Before Me
" is a slower, more progressive-sounding track - but absolutely succeeds. The melodies are strong and powerful, and the band shows that they certainly know how to do more than blow you away with speed and technicality. The song has a great groove to it and some really nice vocal hooks and great riffing/soloing.
"Sins of the Father
" brings the tempo back up to the double-bass-drumming craziness of some of the previous numbers. The chorus is catchy and strong, but aside from that the song is pretty repetitive - nothing really that noteworthy going on here, aside from the blistering harmonized solo. "Majestica
" is essentially just a short instrumental, only about a minute long. It's just sort of there, like a misplaced intro track - but nevertheless it's not bad in any way, it's actually kind of oddly reminiscent of late 80's Iron Maiden. Next up is the title track, "Immortal Soul
", which ironically, along with "Crawling", is the least typically "Thundersteel"-esque song on the record. Nevertheless it is a superb song with some great melodies and riffs alike. Honestly this reminds me a lot of something that would've been on one of the Mike Dimeo-fronted albums, particularly 2002's Through the Storm. Next up is "Insanity
", which starts a-capella before firing into a great riff. Despite the speed, this song isn't particularly aggressive sounding, in fact it's pretty melodic and I absolutely LOVE the chorus. This is one of those sort of things that would've sounded cheesy with different vocal techniques or different playing behind it, but as it's presented here, it totally owns. This is another one of my favorites. Tony Moore definitely shows how tastefully melodic he can sound on this track.
" is sure to recall some memories of the first two incarnations of Riot, with its really vintage sounds, especially in the cleanly-played verses. The music of the chorus is superb with some typically great riffing and chord voicings from Mark Reale - however the vocals have this somewhat adgitating sound to them, like as though they were harmonized using a harmonizer or as though somehow outotune was involved in the editing. It's hard to pinpoint, I just am not crazy about the harmonization on the vocals. The section after the second chorus is rather refreshing and excellent though. The fact that this is one of the album's lesser tracks is a testament to its strength. The final two cuts are "Believe
" and "Echoes
" both of which are very strong. Both feature some great melodies, outstanding riffs, great lead work, and the ass-kicking rhythm section which any Riot fan should surely expect by this point. Both of these tracks are excellent, and overall it really helps the album end on a high note.
Thus ends "Immortal Soul" - which honestly is probably one of my highest anticipated albums ever. I'm not sure that I can say "The band picked up where they left off 20 years ago", for the fact that there's really not much of the Progressive-side of 1990's The Privilege of Power present here. Immortal Soul would best be described as a cross-section between the much-expected Thundersteel album (as heard on tracks like "Riot", "Wings are For Angels", and "Sins of the Father") - and a cross-section of both early Riot and the Mike Dimeo-fronted albums of the late 90's. If this is to be the band's final album, I would say Mark Reale did a superb job of sort of rounding up everything this band has been great at doing over the past 3 and a half decades into one great, contemporary album. As for what it means in the big picture, it's hard to say. This album is certainly not going to become as revered as the classic Thundersteel, as times have changed so much since then, and also because many older metal fans are incredibly biased when it comes to things like this. But the band has certainly met, if not surpassed the expectations of even their harsher critics. This album is 100% Riot, and also 100% awesome, despite what minor flaws it has. A great listen, and a great comeback album.