Riot V - Armor of Light

Riot V Armor of Light cover
Riot V
Armor of Light
Nuclear Blast
It’s friggin impossible to dislike a band like Riot. Stalwarts and Underdogs, they never managed to quite become the huge band they deserved to be and through their many reincarnations – the solid factor was that none of the sixteen albums, so far, has been a bad one. Maybe one or two are the weaker ones, but I doubt any band has managed this many albums in the 43 years that it has existed.
Not even the death of their “leader” and soul, the guy who really started the band, managed to “kill” them. The band following the death of the late Mark Reale, after consultation with Mark’s father and a couple of member changes, decided to go on in his honor and too keep performing his music, thus renaming themselves as Riot V and releasing even without him a helluva of an album in 2014’s “Unleash the Fire”.
Some four years later, but already in the can since the mid of last year, “Armor of the Light” arrives, the second album to not really feature Reale. I know that I theorized that “Unleash...” might have had a few of “remainders” from Mark’s era, a thing that somehow listening to “Armor...” sort of reinforces.
While the whole “V” band is all about centering itself around the “Power Metal” mid-80s years, while still being capable to churn out all other eras with “authority”, the previous album wasn’t all that “power metal” geared, through and through, thus feeling like a perfect successor to the “comeback” that “Immortal Soul” was. In “Armor” almost all things are turned onto 11 (not a bad thing I suppose) but the band too often seems to reference itself, to the point where it feels either lazy, or uneasy.
“Victory”, or taking Maiden’s “Trooper” and sticking Riot’s “Wings on Fire” on top, is indeed a great opener and it sort of works neatly, doing wonders to get the pulse racing, but not really when it comes to scoring originality points.
“End of the World” is more like neo-Riot-V (think “Fall from the Sky”) and it’s not bad at all, even if it’s a little more plain than what most people have been used too. The nice guitar melodies and the familiar atmosphere and cool chorus, make it all work without qualms.
“Messiah” can go and sue itself and maybe the other re-write that “Dragonfire” was a few years ago, for being a “Thundersteel” copy, but with a far more failed chorus. Nice flashy lead and all, but the crux of the matter remains. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing I expect from the band, to retread old and safe paths. Knowing when to change things around is also important and what kept Riot relevant and fresh sounding through all these years. Some may say it could also be what deprived them of getting bigger, but who knows… no use crying over spilt milk.
“Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Reign” also clones DNA and riffs from the past and while it feels like a little artificially put together musical Frankenstein in places; it actually manages to hold together and with the aid of some cool ass leads and TMH’s conviction to make this a metal on hell’s (or rather bikers) wheels hymnal, par example.
“Burn the Daylight” shifts it all a gear down, while keeping up with the whole bikes culture. It’s alright, more melodic and a tad less combustible, but at least it doesn’t come apart at the seams.
“Heart of a Lion” seems like “Flight of the Warrior”’s pretentious bastard cousin. It borrows its driving riff quite brazenly, but redeems itself by its nice leads and nice chorus that contrasts the rest of the song a bit. Still this sort of “mashing up” older stuff, is not exactly a direction I’d like to see the band going in the future.
“Armor of Light” is for the most part neat, pumping power metal, but that odd “supervillain” spoken part in the middle, sounds a little oddly done and didn’t quite seem to work or do it for me… mainly cause it breaks the mix – quite a bit.
“Set the World Alight” is a different sort of Riot, at least in terms of “recent” Rioting… it feels bluesier, as something that could have been born during the DiMeo era, only sung a little “differently”. This sudden shift in this Thunder-wanna-be-steel sort of album is most welcome, as it allows it to diversify and let a song grow in ways and forms that are not cookie-cutter. And that’s the beauty of songwriting.
“San Antonio” treads a bit back to the mid80s, but it feels a bit closer to the more pluralist “Privilege” era, rather than the pure metal style of “Thundersteel”; that being said, it’s still very much a pretty strong entry with lots of metal in it.
“Caught in the Witches Eye” feels as if someone took the “Sign of the Crimson Storm” and poured Rainbow’s Dio’isms all over… it’s actually not bad and not that unoriginal, it works well, overall, but over a derivative “riff”.
“Ready to Shine” is another tune, where the band seems to experiment. Without going overboard, it feels a bit more neoclassical inspired, different and more thought out and less instinctive. Dare I say, if the band was gonna go a bit prog, this could be it. Not sure how I’m taking to it – there are nice ideas for sure, but it all sort of feels a little too “clean” and clinical to me… not really sure.
“Raining Fire” is cranium-splitting metal, you know a little silly, a little cheesy, but hard to resist. It’s done well enough, but it’s so cliché laden that I had to stop headbanging for a moment and make sure, that this didn’t say “Manowar” or something somewhere… well not bad, just a little bit too cliché. Thankfully its redeeming qualities including the leads take the mind of such lofty thinking and throw it into the fray and back into headbanging mode once more.
“Unbelief” is offered as a bonus track along with a 2018 version of “Thundersteel”. The former is an interesting heavy eastern flavored song that feels a little atypical for Riot, but canonical enough, as it pilfers a nice riff from the past to incorporate into its more refined nature. The latter, well you know the song – it’s pretty much the same – more or less. Faithful, with the most noticeable changes in its drum barrages in the middle, better recorded, but probably lacking the excitement and ambiance of the original and let’s admit it, no matter how well you replicate something, it cannot really challenge the primacy of the original, only to maybe at best match it, that this rendition comes too close in doing. Well, on the entire album the band tries to “thunderstyle” things up, so what could be better than actually including the tune itself. Eh?
A 13 track, live second CD is also included from 2015’s Keep It True Fest with performances of “Ride Hard Live Free”, “Fight or Fall”, “On Your Knees”, “Johnny’s Back”, “Metal Warrior”, “Wings are for Angels”, “Sign of the Crimson Storm”, “Bloodstreets”, “Take Me Back”, “Warrior”, “Road Racin’”, “Swords and Tequila” and “Thundersteel”. All in all, fair given the rather bizarre ambiance of the place where it occurs. The whole thing seems “mixed” and with good balance, but not really “doctored up” with “additional/re-recorded” parts. Good value to add.
A step down from the “stellar” album that “Unleash the Fire “ was, but still good old Riot. A band worth rioting over! While, I would have normally awarded this a “true” 7,5 in my books, because of the many clinches in its “armor” (excuse the pun) and the many cases of recycled riffs, the addition of the live album and fanboyism hand in hand allow me to add another half a point or so to round things off.