Riot V

The new Riot V album spread joy to the metal world cuz it is worthy of being included in the band’s back-catalogue. Even though, Mark Reale, is not among us anymore and the band has a new singer, the music quality of the album is simply stunning. We had the pleasure to chat with the talented singer Todd Michael Hall about Riot V, his other bands and metal music in general…
Riot V band pic

Hi Todd… you really hit the spot with “Unleash the Fire”. It is a remarkable album in my opinion… Kudos!
T: Thank you very much. I am really happy to hear that you like it. We wanted to make an album that would make Mark Reale proud and one that would sound like it belonged within the Riot catalog.
First things first... Why is there a V after the name Riot on the European release and not in the Japanese one? Is this due to the label’s terms and/or conditions?
T: The official name for the band is Riot V, but we do have this confusion with the Japanese release versus the European release. I did not handle the situation directly, so I only know what I was told by Donnie. I was told that the Japanese record label considered the release to be a continuation of the previous contract with “Riot”, so they did not want to use the V. We emphasized our desire to use the V, but could not change their mind.
How and when exactly did the Riot thing pop up for you? Did you have any second thoughts at first or Riot was also one of your favorite metal bands of the past?
T: I received an email from Bart Gabriel (Skol Records and also unofficial manager for Burning Starr) that Riot was looking for a new singer and that they wanted me to audition. Apparently, Bart is friends with Donnie and had been suggesting quite a few different singers. I had not been following Riot and was unaware that they had reformed the “Thundersteel” line-up for the release of “Immortal Soul” back in 2011. I must have been sleeping under a rock, but in my defense, I sing in two other bands, run a company for a living, and also have a wife and three kids. I stay very busy, so I am not always up to date on all the metal news.
My first experience with Riot came in the early 80s, because my older brother Jon loved the “Fire Down Under” album, so it was played a lot in my house. Jon’s cover tune band used to play Riot songs and I remember standing in with the band during their practices to sing “Swords & Tequila” when I was around 14 years old. “Thundersteel” was another popular album in my household, so I was aware of the Riot history from way back in the 80s.

You were called in to fill some big shoes, the ones of the ex-singer Tony Moore. Were you afraid at any point? Did you think of how the traditional Riot fans would see your presence in the band?
T: I was initially concerned more about the fact that Mark Reale had passed away and I was not sure how the fans would respond to the band continuing. After speaking to Donnie and Mike and learning more about their long history with the band, my concerns started to go away and then my concerns about continuing completely disappeared after our first shows in February, because we received a warm welcome from the fans.
As for filling Tony Moore’s shoes, yes, I was definitely intimidated about that as well. I have confidence in myself as a singer, but it is always a challenge when you have to perform another singer’s material. Different singers have different comfort zones. I was not sure that my voice could handle all of the material, but my focus has been to duplicate the original material from all the different singers as closely as I can to the original and the fans have responded positively, so I have felt very welcome in the band.

When you finally reached an agreement with the guys and stepped in the studio, was the album already written or did you have the freedom to add your own little things as well?
T: Donnie had already written quite a few songs and recording vocals for “Metal Warrior” and “Ride Hard Live Free” was part of my audition. Even though Donnie had music written, he did not always have lyrics written. The third song I worked on was “Bring the Hammer Down” and it was a blank slate, so I wrote the lyrics and almost all of the vocal melodies for it. Mike was a little late getting his song ideas put together, so all of his songs came after I was already in the band and we had played shows together. In the end, I wrote lyrics for 8 of the 12 new songs, so I was pretty happy to be able to make a contribution.
What did you think when you heard the new tracks for the first time?
T: When you are recording music in a band, you are close to the music, so it is pretty difficult to be impartial. Based on what I was hearing in the demo recordings, I thought we had a lot of strong songs. I like to keep things pretty heavy, so I was happy that there was a lot of heavy material as well. Once all of the final recordings were done, the work of all the instrumentalists really becomes obvious and that is when you hear how great the guitar, bass, and drum playing really are. These guys are great musicians, which I already experienced from playing with them live.
How and in which way did Mark’s loss affect the band, the songwriting and the whole atmosphere of the album?
T: I feel like I have an outsider’s perspective on this type of question, because I did not know Mark. I can tell you that Donne, Mike, and even Frank, talk about Mark a lot, which makes the loss very apparent. In some ways, I feel like I know Mark now because I have met his father and heard so many stories about him. We definitely talked about the need to create an album that would make Mark proud and we are concerned about shedding a positive light on his legacy. As for the song writing, I think Mark’s passing gave Donnie and Mike inspiration to include other types of songs that spanned the career of Riot and not just to stay just within the “Thundersteel” sound for this album.
What does the album title “Unleash the Fire” declare?
T: It is always hard to think of a title for an album. We tossed around quite a few ideas, some of which were not song titles. We decided on “Unleash the Fire” because we were trying to come out blazing with this new album, so we thought it made a fitting title.
Do give us a hint about each track…
T: “Ride Hard Live Free”, “Metal Warrior”, “Fall From the Sky”, “Bring the Hammer Down” & “Unleash the Fire”I think the first five songs are all pretty much straight up pounding metal.
“Land of the Rising Sun”: This song is an ode to our Japanese fans. It is metal. A little less pounding with a catchy chorus.
“Kill to Survive”: I am not sure what to call this song. Not so straight up metal, but definitely heavy. It has a different feel than the others with a majestic double bass chorus.
“Return of the Outlaw”: This song is an old school rocker and I love the heavy groove of the verses.
“Immortal”: This is a metal ballad, heavy, but slower in tempo, dedicated to Mark.
“Take Me Back”: This is an old school throw back to Riot’s hard rock days with a catchy chorus.
“Fight Fight Fight”: This is another pounding metal song with the crowd chant style chorus.
“Until the Meet Again”: This is another ballad dedicated to Mark, but it has an interesting arrangement. There is really no chorus, although the final refrain does repeat.
How did the cooperation with Joshua Block (engineer, mixing, production, mastering) occur? Are you satisfied with the final outcome?
T: Joshua played with Frank in Virgin Steele, so Frank had experience with him. Frank originally went to Josh for assistance with recording the drums. We worked well with him, so Mike and Nick ended up recording guitars with him as well. Josh was putting together all the tracks for us and we liked the sound of his sample mixes, so we ended up using him to mix the entire album.
Are there any thoughts of releasing a video anytime soon? Probably a video for “Take Me Back” or any other track would be great. What do you think?
T: We definitely want to release a video and we’re hoping to do so before the album is officially released at the end of October, but we have all been so busy with the rest of our lives that it has been difficult to make it happen. It doesn’t help that Donnie lives in Texas, I live in Michigan, and the rest of the band lives in the New York area. I think we will end up releasing a video, but probably not by the end of October.
You have already planned a live show in Japan and one in New York too, as we speak. Are there any plans for other live shows, especially in Europe? What about Greece?
T: We are all excited to play more shows and we are getting more offers. Although nothing else is really confirmed other than KIT in April, I am sure we will announce more live shows before too long.
Riot V band pic

Are Riot V here to stay? This ain’t a one-time thing right? What are your future plans?
T: One of the comments that Donnie made after our first show was “we have ourselves a band”. There was uncertainty about whether or not we should continue, but the first four shows we played in February gave us a lot of energy. It is hard to predict the future, but all of the guys plan to continue. In fact, Donnie just told me that he wrote another new song. (i.n.: That’s great news!)
Back to you Todd. How difficult is it to take part in three bands and how do you share your time among those acts?
T: I am really only now seeing how difficult it really is to divide my time between three bands. Writing songs can be difficult, because I need to create some head space to get in the frame of that band. Consequently, I need to find little breaks where I am not doing anything in order to get in the right frame of mind. Live shows are a potential problem and I am still figuring out how to handle it. I work for a living, so I cannot be gone all the time. Also, it is very likely the bands will get offers at the same time and if that happens, clearly, someone will not be happy with whatever choice I make. I am still figuring it out and hoping that everyone else will show understanding.
I know that you’re working on the new Reverence album. Do you have any first details to share with our readers about it?
T: I had a really productive period recently in August where I wrote five new songs. We are really close to having enough songs for a complete album. I have two more song to write and I think we will be ready to go into the studio.
It’s time for our “weird questions”!!! What do you think about this “Views, tweets & Likes” mania of our time?
T: I tend to burn the candle at both ends, so I really do not have a lot of time for social media. I appreciate the fact that it makes it easier to contact people and keep in touch with them, but I do not have time to be posting things all the time.
How do you see the “free downloading issue” of our time? What can a band or a label do to change that thing?
T: Downloading has made it pretty much impossible to make a living being in a band. I really do not see a solution.
Do you think that funding platforms like Kicksatrter, Indiegogo etc. can give any kind of solution to the “legal downloading” matter? Can bands/artists only be supported by their fans in order to make music?
T: I think these platforms do offer up an opportunity for a band to get funding in advance to assist with recording. I don’t know if bands could make enough doing it to make a living, but perhaps.
Best 3 heavy metal albums of all time according to you?
T: First and foremost, I would never claim anything is the best of all time, just that it is my favorite or was heavily influential on me. Narrowing it down to albums is really difficult, because the bands I like the best have quite a few albums that are really good. I would probably say Manowar, Iron Maiden, and (early) Queensryche.
Top 3 metal signers of all time?
T: I really have so many more favorites than just three. My top would be Eric Adams, Geoff Tate, and Ronnie James Dio, but there are probably at least ten honorable mentions that I would want to list. There really are a lot of great singers out there.
Best pick-up line that has worked for you several times in the past?
T: I don’t think I ever had a pick up line that worked and I have been married for 15 years, so even if I could remember one, it probably wouldn’t work anymore. (i.n.: Hehehe…)
What are those things that you do not like in the music industry nowadays?
T: I cannot stand the fact that hip hop music seems to totally pervade all of popular music in the United States and that female pop stars (and some male ones for that matter) think they need to be half naked and pretending to be having sex in order to sell music. (i.n.: Sex sells… but it has nothing to do with music!)
Which character from the “Game of Thrones” would you be – if you lived in the Seven Kingdoms? The other guys from the band?
T: I am not very up on that show to be able to provide a good answer.
Which of the Seven Deadly Sins do you reckon is the one, that’s more likely to send you straight to Hell, in the afterlife?
T: I can be very driven, which I think can make me selfish with my time. I don’t really see a deadly sin that corresponds well with that. Lust, greed, and gluttony do not seem like they really fit me. If I have to choose one, perhaps Pride. Perhaps I am arrogant to think I can do all of the things I try to do.
Thx for talking to Grande Rock Todd. Close this interview in your own way. Thx for the music! Take care dude!
T: If you have made it all the way to the end, then I thank you for taking the time to read this interview. Metal music is one of the great joys in my life and I am very thankful for all my metal brothers and sisters that help keep this type of music alive. Take care and God bless!