It took some big cojones for the surviving parts of Riot to carry on after Mark Reale, the band's founder and its only consistent member throughout its multiple decades of heavy metal, tragically passed away. Reale's passing was especially heartbreaking considering Riot had been riding on the newfound energy of "Immortal Soul," which lived up to many of the group's classic albums and proved to be a significant product from a band formed in 1975. Riot's remaining crew changed the Riot name to Riot V to answer critics who felt the project ought to have its moniker reformed in respect to Reale, and because vocalist Tony Moore jumped ship and was replaced by Todd Michael Hall. The added 'V' marks both admiration for a legacy and a new era for what remains of Riot.
I must admit I was not expecting "Unleash the Fire" to rock my socks off. Its artwork tries to remind everyone that Riot is still Riot, just in case anyone forgot. It features Johnny, the band's mascot, and a bunch of references highlighting certain Riot songs and motifs, further drawing up the aforementioned connotation. A lot of this semblance carries over to the music, especially on "Return of the Outlaw," "Metal Warrior," and "Immortal," which all serve to instrumentally and lyrically reference bygone times. It isn't much of a nuisance, because nearly every tune here is rich in hooking riffs and excellent choruses that stay true to Riot's roots without overlapping them-I'm just whining because I'm a prick. "Unleash the Fire" is an album of variety, but cooked in a natural sense; nothing foreign, yet nothing predictable.
Speedy punches enriched by memorable melodies and noteworthy riffs like "Ride Hard Live Free" are balanced out by numbers that slow the pace a bit. The bruising mid-paced riffs of "Bring the Hammer Down" and the nostalgic rocky sections on "Take me Back" take things in a different direction, but they certainly do not appear forced next to more traditionalized Riot songs like "Fall from the Sky" or the title track. I'm most fond of Todd Michael Hall's vocals more than even the solid arsenal of speedy riffs and metallic grooves, mainly due to his ability to sound completely natural among the unbothered goings-on of Riot. He sounds flawless nailing the soaring chorus of "Land of the Rising Sun," which is probably the best song here. Grandiose riffs rising to let Hall nail its apex perfectly; a stellar anthem.
The ballads, "Immortal" and "Until We Meet Again," are heartfelt, but don't make much of an impact compared to the other tunes. By the time they roll around, "Unleash the Fire" has filled up the listener with tasty riffs and striking choruses; the record feels almost a bit too fattening. Beyond the ballads, "Unleash the Fire" is a huge statement from a band whose future was uncertain just a few years ago. I had my doubts, but I'll be the first to tell you nothing feels better than having a legendary group rise like an eagle after facing an unfathomable tragedy. This feels like it was geared with the spirit of Mark Reale's work in mind, and I'm sure he is listening to "Unleash the Fire" somewhere beyond and loving every second of it.
Riot V - Unleash the Fire
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