Riot - Army of one 3.5/5

Reviewed: 1-12-07





Tracklist:

1. Army of one
2. Knockin' at my door
3. Blinded
4. One more alibi
5. It all falls down
6. Helpin' hand
7. The mystic
8. Still alive
9. Alive in the city
10. Shine
11. Stained mirror
12. Darker side of light
13. Road racin' (live)


New York heavy metal/hard rock pioneers Riot celebrate their 30th year of existence with the release of 'Army of one' (in Japan and Europe only, to date). By my count, this is their 13th full-length studio recording, and a credit to their longevity and their stubborn persistence. It's been quite a journey, as Riot's sound has metamorphosed through the years from humble blues/rock beginnings to American speed metal perfection to Celtic-tinged emotional melodic power metal and now back into the hard rock phase again on the last couple of releases, including the current 'Army of one' CD. There's been something of a revolving door in band members too, with Mike Dimeo (who has just announced his departure for Masterplan by the way) being Riot's 4th lead singer, not counting touring vocalist Mike Tirelli (Burning Starr, Messiah's Kiss, Holy Mother), who's been involved for the last couple of years. Throughout the stylistic and personnel rollercoaster, the only constants have been founder Mark Reale's inventive, stellar guitar work, a high level of musical quality, and an astonishing dearth of commercial success outside of the Japanese market. To be sure, some highs have been loftier than others, as Riot holds the distinction of sporting 2 separate 5/5 CDs in my book, with the twist being that they hail from 2 distinct eras of the band. In particular, 1988's 'Thundersteel' and 1998's 'Inishmore' are landmark releases that are must-haves for every connoisseur of quality American metal. If you don't own them already, stop reading this review and go buy them right now. Then we'll talk.

As mentioned, in recent years, Reale & Co.'s pendulum has swung back in the direction of hard rock. This is not welcome news to me, but it's not exactly a new development either. Their last CD, 2002's 'Into the storm', has a distressingly low metal quotient, as the band took a sharp right turn from the power metal trappings that were so prevalent on 'Nightbreaker', 'Brethren of the long house', 'Inishmore', and 'Sons of society' and back to the land of hard rock. This new CD continues in the bluesy hard rock vein, but is undeniably heavier than 'Into the storm' and mixes in more than a few nods to the band's 1994-1999 power metal period. Specifically, Riot decided to throw fans like me a few bones on 'Army of one', giving us 2 bona fide power metal speed smashers ("Army of one" and "The mystic") that could have nestled comfortably on 'Inishmore'. Another track, "Shine", has plenty of speed, as well, albeit in the context of a lengthier, more complex arrangement.

Okay, so we've clarified everything now for the genre police. 'Army of one' is predominantly bluesy American hard rock with metal overtones and a couple of speedy metallic instant classics. But that doesn't really say much about 'Army of one', and certainly doesn't do justice to it. Whether you call it melodic metal or hard rock or whatever, this CD is quite well done. Vocalist Dimeo has delivered perhaps his finest singing performance ever, conveying buckets of emotion in that smooth, bluesy, versatile, powerful delivery of his. I know some despise him as a singer and will bid him good riddance in this, his finale in the Riot camp, but to me his voice has been one of the highlights of Riot's output for the last dozen years, and I can't imagine anyone else pulling off this 'Army of one' material as well as he does. Roland Grapow has scored a major coup by landing Dimeo as Masterplan's new singer and Mike Terrana as its drummer. If Grapow can come up with the songs to support it, Masterplan's forthcoming 'Mk. II' opus may blow everything else out of the water this year, given the mammoth talents of his new members. But, alas, I digress...

The thing is, even the bluesy hard rock cuts are enjoyable on 'Army of one', given the strength of the songwriting, Reale's magical guitar playing, Dimeo's magnificent voice, and the rumbling rhythm section of longtime bassist Pete Perez (Leatherwolf) and new drummer Frank "The Kraken" Gilchriest (Virgin Steele, Gothic Knights), the latter being a massive upgrade from Bobby Rondinelli, who previously occupied the drummer's stool in Riot.

In certain interviews, Dimeo has been quick to tout 'Army of one' as the pinnacle of his work in Riot. It isn't. But it is a worthy effort by a veteran band whose professionalism and talent appear to be equaled only by their obscurity on their home shores. Typically, I have no patience for hard rockish stuff, but I am fully satisfied with 'Army of one'. Sure, I would have preferred a CD full of stuff like the title track, "The mystic", and "Shine", but we all knew that wasn't going to happen. Long-term fans of Dimeo-era Riot will not be disappointed, and those who love (for example) Jorn Lande's solo output or Whitesnake will go absolutely bonkers over 'Army of one'. Now if only they could figure out a way to release it in the United States...



KIT




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