RIOT V – Mean Streets (Album Review)

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Johnny owns these here streets.

The name Riot is all but synonymous with that of power metal, if not American heavy metal as a whole. Born out of the streets of New York in the mid-70s, at roughly the same time that the earliest incarnation of Iron Maiden came into being, they stood alongside the likes of Rainbow, Judas Priest, and Motörhead in taking the early strides of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath into a faster and more dangerous direction.

Early metallic cruisers such as “Warrior” and the title anthem off their second studio LP “Narita” stood among early, late 1970s examples of speed metal that would jumpstart the entire genre with the onset of the 80s, to speak nothing for the masterful employment and further expansion of the dueling guitar arrangement started by Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest.

Yet with the passage of time and an ever-changing lineup, this was a beast most readily associated with the vision and continued presence of co-founder and guitarist Mark Reale, who saw Riot evolve into a more ferocious creature as the 80s progressed and resisted the temptation of compromising its core sound with the uncertainty of the 90s.

With his untimely passing in 2012, mere months after this outfit had reclaimed its former late 80s glory with the colossal 2011 offering “Immortal Soul,” the continued presence of this prime mover was left in doubt. Following the blessing of the late Reale’s father and a rebranding of the project as Riot V, the legacy of high-octane speed and vintage heavy metal majesty was rekindled with a new incarnation of the band.

In keeping with the formula that has been employed since 2014’s “Unleash The Fire,” Riot V has reprised the old-school swagger of its vintage early 80s entries alongside the impact-based aggression of 1988 smash entry “Thundersteel” and the consistent blend of flash and musicality that would define their sound throughout the 90s.

In more basic terms, their latest and 2024 studio outing “Mean Streets” is a near-perfect amalgam of every positive musical moment in this band’s nearly 50-year history and stands as the most astounding tribute to Mark Reale’s legacy since 2012. The continued presence of longtime bassist Don Van Stavern and guitarist Mike Flyntz anchor the resulting sound in 80s heavy metal nostalgia, while the thunderous battery of newer member and drummer Frank Gilchriest and the technical edge of shredder Nick Lee give things a more modern edge in keeping with where metal has been the past 10 years.

“Mean Streets” Album Artwork

But at the center of Riot V’s present incarnation are the soaring pipes of ex-Jack Starr’s Burning Star and ex-Reverence vocalist Todd Michael Hall. His approach could be likened to a slightly edgier and more expansive take on prior and longtime vocalist Mike DiMeo’s sound meshed with a less raucous take on Tony Moore’s Halford-like wail, but when the rubber hits the road, he brings a presence all his own to the table.

The versatility and adaptability that he showcases as this album wheels from mid-paced, almost hard-rocking nods to the 80s exploits of Accept and Dio like “Feel The Fire” and “Open Road” to speedier and more agitated fair is on another level, and the unforgettable hooks and blending of harmonized voices that often emerge during the chorus sections make for an almost symphonic level of pizzazz in spite of the stripped down, straightforward character of the instrumentation surrounding it all.

Though the aforementioned duo of down-tempo bangers, alongside the 80s sleaze-infused rocker “Lean Into It” and the mid-paced metallic crusher with a haunting edge “Love Beyond The Grave”, are exemplars of this band all but passing for rock radio, this is an album built primarily out of uncompromising speed and fury.

Following a creeping intro of shimmering clean guitars, the opening foray “Hail To The Warriors” hits with the level of pummeling fervor that flirts with thrash territory, while the six-guns slinging speeder “High Noon” and the technical freewheeling riff extravaganza “Higher” deliver the riffs and lead guitar high-jinks with reckless abandon while still maintaining melodic coherence and charm. Yet the two coup-de-grace moments to come racing out of this riveting opus are the shuffle-happy cruiser and title entry “Mean Streets” and the infectious yet swift closer “No More”, each trading blows with the most pivotal entries in this outfit’s expansive back catalog.

In every respect, this is an album that builds upon what has come before, refining an already winning formula that has been paying dividends since the 80s into something that the current generation can experience with the same degree of intensity as those who were the target audience of Riot’s seminal classics.

Between the highly compatible stylistic templates of traditional heavy, speed, and power metal, a unique middle ground is established that continues to keep things distinct from the revivalist crazes that have cropped up in recent years, yet also appealing to the same crowds that have adopted them. And while some of the old guard might rightly remark that this isn’t quite the same band that it was before 2012, everything that followed has been as close to a logical progression of what this band would have otherwise been, and “Mean Streets” presents the zenith point of what has been a brilliant resurgence.  

Released By: Reigning Phoenix Music
Release Date: April 12th, 2024
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Todd Michael Hall / Vocals
  • Don Van Stavern / Bass
  • Mike Flyntz / Guitars
  • Nick Lee / Guitars
  • Frank Gilchriest / Drums

“Mean Streets” Track List:

  1. Hail To The Warriors
  2. Feel The Fire
  3. Love Beyond The Grave
  4. High Noon
  5. Before This Time
  6. Higher
  7. Mean Streets
  8. Open Road
  9. Mortal Eyes
  10. Lost Dreams
  11. Lean Into It
  12. No More

Order “Mean Streets” HERE

9.0 Excellent

Now with nearly 50 years of metal trailblazing in the rearview, Riot V hit the sonic streets with their 17th studio excursion, merging the vintage intrigue of “Fire Down Under" with the kinetic fury of “Thundersteel” and reprising the level of compositional consistency that has marked their handiwork since the dawn of the 2010s

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9
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