Riot (V) is one of America’s oldest, most enduring metal bands and the pride of New York City1. From their launch way back in the late 1970s through countless lineup changes and setbacks, they’ve pushed forward with typical New Yorker stubbornness. In a way they’re the American Saxon, forever rocking onward though greater recognition and fame perpetually elude them. Despite their never say die ethos, I wondered if even they would be able to overcome the passing of founding guitarist Mark Reale in 2012. Yet overcome they did with 2014s Unleash the Fire, and now the second post-Reale era album is upon us. Armor of Light brings back the same lineup from 2014, along with their awful seal-headed mascot, Johnny. All the key pieces seem to be in place for success, but can they, *AHEM*, seal the deal?
Opener “Victory” is classic Riot (V) with urgent riffing paired with the soaring vocals of Todd Michael Hall. It’s more vintage American metal than Euro-power, but it walks a fine line between the styles at times. The riffing is urgent, the solo-work is excellent and air guitar worthy, and the chorus is big and silly in the way classic metal should be. The band keeps things moving in good directions for the album’s first half with burners like “End of the World” and “Messiah,” the latter of which could have appeared on their timeless Thundersteel album.
“Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Rage” is like a lost White Wizard track, but that’s okay, since they had Riot to thank for much of their sound anyway. The standout is “Heart of a Lion” which is yet another ode of King Richard of England, the most popular monarch among metal bands2. The fret-board flash on this one makes it a keeper, and Todd Michael Hall’s vocals are the glittering steel icing on top of another classic Riot burner. The band’s gritty hard rock roots are represented by cuts like “Burn the Daylight” and “Caught in the Witches Eye,” and both groove along with attitude and swagger in the vein of ageless numbers like “Swords and Tequila.”
The album runs 55 minutes without the bonus tracks, which is a lot of metal for the money I suppose, but as you all know, less is more. That’s true here too unfortunately and there’s the inevitable filler material, which mostly resides on the back-end. “San Antonio” is a tale of tour excess and poor choices, and while I appreciate the rowdy flavor, it isn’t one of the band’s best, despite some nifty string work. “Ready to Shine” is another cut that feels like it should have been left behind or released as a Japanese B-side. The band’s talented enough where they never write completely worthless songs and there’s always something to like in even the lesser tunes, but filler is still filler.
The selling point for Riot‘s style was always the over-the-top guitar duels and harmonies, and Armor of Light is packed to the rafters with them. Mike Flyntz and Nick Lee light things up on every track, offering slick wankery that always feels traditional, metal and most importantly, fun. The guitar fills on “Heart of a Lion” are great, and their individual solo-work is always a joy to hear, especially as the pair keep Mark Reale’s unique style alive in their playing. Todd Michael Hall is the perfect vocalist for Riot, sounding a lot like Tony Moore, the mercurial vocalist on essential albums like Thundersteel and Immortal Soul. Todd’s got a commanding delivery and he’s more than capable of hitting those ball busting high notes we all love and wish we could safely emulate, but cannot. The band is tighter than a NYC subway car during rush hour and these aged vets know how to deliver this kind of old school material.
I’m very happy Riot (V) is still alive and kicking, even if they almost never play hometown shows, and Armor of Light is another worthy addition to their lengthy catalog. It may lack the sheer staying power of Unleash the Fire, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had here. Long live the Big Apple’s oldest, trvest metal warriors, and may the mighty Steel Seal shine ever on.