Despite his passing in 2012, Mark Reale’s music with Riot lives on through the offshoot band Riot V. Formed a year after Reale’s passing by guitarist Mike Flyntz and bassist Donnie Van Stavern, Riot V have been touring around the world playing all of the classic Riot tunes. Now signed to Nuclear Blast Records, the band has released an album of new material. The album, Armor of Light, is the band’s first album since 2014’s Unleash the Fire. Armor of Light is not only a strong follow-up but it’s also another great addition to the Riot catalogue.
When it comes to the history of Riot’s music, fans usually divide it into two different eras: the Guy Speranza-Rhett Forrester years (1977-1983) and the later years (since 1988). The reason is due to the fact that the band’s sound and style had changed. When fronted by Speranza and Forrester, they were a hard rock band. When Reale revived the Riot name, the band’s sound leaned more towards heavy metal. As a result, there are some fans who prefer one era over another. On the other hand, there are those fans who have come to embrace both as the music of Mark Reale. The songs on Armor of Light lean more towards the heavy metal sound, although there are a few surprises in variation on here.
The album’s opens with “Victory,” a fittingly militant track with Maiden riddled gallops. Musically, it fits right in with the tunes from Thundersteel. Drummer Frank Gilchrist shines throughout the track with his rapid fire drumming, adding to the militant theme. The twelve songs on Armor of Light tackle themes that have been present throughout Riot’s career. The aforementioned “Victory” is a military themed but that’s only scratching the surface. A majority of the songs here deal with mythology, a favorite topic of Reale’s. Examples of this include the spiritual “Messiah” and the prophetic title track. Both tracks feature solid lead guitar harmonizing from Mike Flyntz and Nick Lee.
Speaking of guitar work, this album is loaded with a plethora of splendid guitar riffs. These riffs can be found in guitar heavy tracks such as the apocalyptic “End of the World” and the melodic “Ready to Shine.” Of the album’s twelve songs, “Ready to Shine” is the song that comes closest to sounding like a song from the Speranza/Forrester years. Listening to the song, it sounds like the late Guy Speranza could’ve belted out this tune back in the day.
While Armor of Light is a metal album, there is some variation in the songs. Songs such as “Caught in the Witches Eye” and “Set The World Alight” are great examples of this. The former is a sludgy, meaty metal tune reminiscent of early 1970s UK heavy metal while the latter sees the band dabbling in alternative metal. Of the many songs on the album, my personal favorite is the biographical “Heart of a Lion.” While it musically sounds like what you’d expect from later Riot, the song’s lyrics tell the story of Richard the Lionheart. It’s a well-written tune, as singer Todd Michael Hall belts out the tale of a warrior’s rise and fall. “Born the son of a king/His passion was undying” sings Hall. “A relentless warrior/With a heart of a lion.”
From top to bottom, Armor of Light is a great album from Riot V. While I do find myself preferring Unleash the Fire, that doesn’t mean Armor of Light is a disappointment. If Unleash the Fire was the nostalgic album, then Armor of Light can be seen as the continuation of Riot’s music. As such, it does not disappoint.