You can’t, I don’t think, love power metal without having at least a sneaking regard for American unit Riot V. Anyone dedicated to keeping the spirit alive of the band and man – Riot and sadly departed guitarist Mark Reale – that brought the world the Thundersteel album has to get a pass, that’s for sure.
That said, they do test the patience at times. The band’s new album, Armor of Light, does possess some highlights – the lead guitar playing is never less than amazing throughout – but it’s probably three songs too long and just a bit too samey at times to really qualify as a true must-buy album overall.
Opening track Victory is a good opener, even if the vocal melodies on the verses are a little too close to The Trooper for comfort, and End of the World features some nice multi layered harmonies to bolster the lead throat work of Todd Michael Hall. But neither of these tracks actively grab the listener by the throat and demand attention.
However third track Messiah does absolutely that; although basically a bare-faced rewrite of Thundersteel it’s done very well indeed, powered ahead by some astounding drumming from Frank Gilchriest, and a wailing vocal from Hall. This is surely what we want from the band, Mike Flyntz and Nick Lee meshing seamlessly to provide memorable solos and fabulous dual lead parts, and it’s set to be my power metal anthem of the year by some way at this point.
Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Reign rides in on a nice bass intro from Don Van Stavern and has a neat bridge and chorus, but the main body of the song is merely average. Burn in Daylight is similarly ordinary.
Of course ordinary for a band like Riot V is still as good if not better than a host of other power metal outfits, but there’s just isn’t enough variation in these tracks for my liking. As if to prove my point, Heart of a Lion, a fabulous paean to, you guessed it, Richard the Lionheart, ends ‘side 1’ of the album in great style, telling its story well and possessing a great chorus. Here the band aren’t afraid to take the foot off the pedal – if only for a few bars – but it’s enough to break thing up and inject a little ear-snagging point of difference.
The title track reverts to heads-down, double-kick powered type, but Set the World Alight really hits home hard and is the third really classic track of the album. Slower in pace overall, the song employs Maidenesque gallops rather than piston-legged pummelling, Hall front and centre atop a magnificently put-together guitar backdrop. I know the whole point of Riot V is thunderous, no-holds-barred power, but this song absolutely stands out because it’s the antithesis of that concept. Contrary Crusader that I am, that appeals to me!
San Antonio flies by without causing a ripple, but Caught in the Witches Eye – another mid pacer – utilises horns and a more ‘classic’ metal feel, sounding almost like a cross between Alice Cooper and Savatage. It works in part, and again it’s the songs basic ‘difference’ that causes it to stick out from the pack.
Penultimate track Ready to Shine brings a Queen/Rainbow feel with it’s multi-vocalled chorus and pompous bearing, and the solo is quite superb, whilst last track Raining Fire ends proceedings as we began, headbanging furiously and wielding air guitars like there’s no tomorrow.
When Riot V lay off the gas, they sound like a truly world-beating proposition; If they can re-focus their very raison d’etre – not easy, I know – and just concentrate on producing high quality heavy metal whatever the speed, they have it in them I’m sure to make an utterly devastating album. Armor of Light isn’t it, but it’s getting there.
Armor of Light will be released through Nuclear Blast on April 27th.