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RIOT: Immortal Soul (2011), a Swansong for Mark Reale

–RIOT: Immortal Soul (2011), a Swansong for Mark Reale

“Hey, Johnny, brother take my hand

I remember, I am still your man,

Another round and don’t say when,

‘til we hit the ground and ride again,

Nothing’s changed and nothing stays the same.”

There’s something magical about a true, consummate artist that resonates within the inner fanboy in all of us. Those who live, bleed, and die through their art strike a mystical chord in the passionate heart of the fan, inspiring us to live harder and strive forever to touch the golden sun of our dreams and desires. It’s why great artists never truly die, in a metaphorical but still very tangible sense. They live eternally through their work and legacy, as long as there are those around to remember and appreciate it. Now, one certainly could take this opening quote from “Still Your Man,” off Riot’s newest album Immortal Soul, for what it was written to be: a sequel to a telltale story about a Vietnam veteran, now aged, who’s come home trying to reclaim his pride and identity in an America that’s forgotten and dishonored him. Or one could interpret these words to represent the fruitful work and indomitable spirit of the artist himself, Mr. Mark Reale, who on January 25th, 2012 lost his lifelong battle with Chrohn’s Disease at the youthful age of 56. Immortal Soul, released just a few short months before his untimely passing, certainly is an excellent platter of tasty and melodic traditional speed metal of yesteryear. But the record now is Mark’s swansong, a fact that obviously changes how I will write this review as opposed to if I had reviewed it right at release time. You may find more detailed musical analyses of the album elsewhere, but this feature is for Mark.

I never met Mark Reale personally. Heck, I never even had the chance to catch the criminally-underrated Riot live. But as with all bands you grow to become a huge fan of, there’s a story to how you got started enjoying their music, and that personal story makes it feel like there is a real connection between the fan and musician. That’s legitimate, and I believe all music fans should embrace the stories of their personal musical journey. For me, my introduction to New York City’s own Riot occurred in late high school after ordering their Privilege of Power cassette from Columbia House based on suggestions from fellow metal-headed email penpals. That 1990 release was a bit uneven and experimental, but it contained all the metallic elements that thrilled and energized me: speedy, razor-edged guitar riffs, impassioned, high-pitched vocals, and an ultra-catchy tunefulness that would have you attempting to sing along at top volume while head banging, a most difficult task. Yes, my interest was piqued, and for nearly 20 years I continued to follow the career or Mr. Reale and his merry band of New York metallers.

Like many before who had cut their teeth on 1980s metal, it was Riot’s previous masterpiece, 1988’s legendary melodic speed metal tour de FORCE, Thundersteel, that really charged my batteries. Perfect albums are few and far between, of course, but Thundersteel is nothing if not perfection incarnate in the traditional melodic speed metal genre. The album personified that ever delicate but essential balance of power and melody, and they did it all within nine catchy songs of purely uplifting, anthemic metal glory. Later, somewhere in the mid-1990s, I came across a random vinyl find of Riot’s 1979 release, Narita, named after the infamous Tokyo airport of mysterious beginnings. Now, this record had me a bit perplexed at first because this was groove-based hard rock, a bit mellower and more commercial in direction than their later power-metal oriented material. But in time I grew to appreciate and love this early incarnation of Riot with their memorable guitar melodies, the inimitably pleasing timbre of the late vocalist Guy Speranza, and the band’s exuberant, yet gritty and streetwise attitude. Indeed, early Riot records such as Rock City (1977) and Fire Down Under (1981) rank as some of my favorites of all time, as do other old-school Riot-metal albums such as Restless Breed (1982) and Born in America (1983) with the now also-deceased Rhett Forrester on vocals. Consistent commercial success on an international level continued to elude Riot throughout their 35-year career, but they slogged through the 1990s and 2000s with a slew of albums and frequent lineup changes. The one constant was Mark Reale himself, whose soulful and melodic lead-guitar playing and inimitable songwriting style always set his unsung but well-loved band apart. Reale, sporting his trademark sunburned Les Paul and flashing his always-tasty vibrato, WAS Riot.

Mark was very ill during the recording and mixing process for Immortal Soul, so second guitarist Mike Flyntz recorded many of the guitar parts himself with coaching and guidance from Mark. Much to the everlasting joy of many fans, myself included, this record features the reunited Thundersteel lineup of vocalist Tony Moore, bassist Don Van Stavern, drummer Bobby Jarzombek, Flyntz and Reale, and the results are predictably breathtaking for fans of Riot’s late’80s brand of melodic speed metal. It’s all here: the piercing high-range vocals of Moore, the crunchy and speedy guitar riffs, super-delicious guitar harmonies and leads, and those sing-along choruses that go on for miles. Give me some speed, glorious speed (“Riot,” “Wings are for Angels”), the obligatory RIOT-control metal anthems (“Still Your Man,” Whiskey Man”), haunting and moody mid-tempo crushers (“Crawling,” “Fall Before Me”), the infectiously galloping title track, or the epic barnburner “Echoes”). It’s all here in abundance on Immortal Soul, and nothing here should disappoint the old-school Riot fan.

Goodbye Mark Reale, and thank you again for 35 years of heavy metal mania. “Don’t look now but Johnny’s back again/I am your man.” Yes you are, Mark, always, and long live Riot!–Jonathan Kollnot

Immortal Soul Tracklisting: 1.) Riot 2.) Still Your Man 3.) Crawling 4.) Wings are for Angels 5.) Fall Before Me 6.) Sins of the Father 7.) Majestica 8.) Immortal Soul 9.) Insanity 10.) Whiskey Man 11.) Believe 12.) Echoes

 

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on March 8, 2012.

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