US Power Metal from New York
Music can mean drastically different things to different people, but in general it’s safe to say that we tend to attach an emotional connection to the music we listen to. For me, there’s a handful of albums that I find myself leaning on over and over again throughout the years. Whether I’m in a rough patch of life or whether I’m just mindlessly staring at my collection unable to determine what I should listen to, it’s these handful of releases that I rely on for their sense of familiarity, and above all, for their unwavering quality. Over the years I’ve increasingly found myself turning to Riot’s Thundersteel to fill this vital role in my listening.
Thundersteel is everything and anything I could possibly ask for – it is the quintessential US power metal album. Riot blend elements of classic heavy metal, furious speed metal, and beautifully melodic power metal together into forty-six minutes of bliss. The album cycles through a variety of sounds across the nine tracks and not once does the quality dip. However, a fast paced, power metal classic of this caliber was totally unexpected from Riot at the time of its release. Shortly after they put out Born in America in 1984, Riot decided to split-up after failing to make it big. Luckily for us, Riot’s founding member, Mark Reale, decided to give it another go a few years later. Taking cues from their American and German peers, Riot triumphantly burst back onto the scene in 1988 with Thundersteel. Their early efforts like Narita and Fire Down Under were excellent, blues-tinged, hard rock based jams so something stylistically like Thundersteel was unfathomable – it represented a musical renaissance for Riot.
This musical rebirth brought with it riffs, riffs, and even more riffs. Paving the way for Riot’s comeback is Mark Reale’s astounding guitarwork. The tone is immediately set with the record’s self-titled opening track, a breakneck and technical marvel of power-infused speed metal. The following track, “Fight or Fall”, slows down the pace marginally but Reale keeps up the blistering speed to gives us a formidable 1-2 punch of an opener. From there, Riot gradually pump the brakes before the album closes with “Buried Alive (Tell Tale Heart)”, a nine minute, slow paced, lead guitar driven epic. No matter the pacing, Reale brings compelling songwriting complete with some of the best guitar solos around. The guitars are front and center with the rhythm section being de-emphasized overall. Despite this, both the bass guitars and drums are excellent with their fair share of fills and interesting moments all while driving the album forward. However, Thundersteel isn’t the masterpiece it is without the soaring vocals of Tony Moore.
Much like the guitars, the vocals are placed at the forefront of the mix and the song structures are centered around a strong vocal delivery. Tony Moore’s distinct, high-pitched voice is just the right fit for the music here. There’s an inherently uplifting quality about Moore’s singing that brings out the best in Riot’s instrumentation while simultaneously finding a way to brighten the mood. His vocal lines are unbelievably catchy and I can’t help but just find myself singing along with each listen. Stylistically, there are similarities to be drawn with Rob Halford, but a bit less intense. Overall, Moore’s vocals are a key puzzle piece in making Thundersteel such a tightly-knit force to be reckoned with.
Personally, trying to find something wrong with this album is just grasping at straws. There isn’t a single fatal flaw to be found here. The most common complaint I see brought up in regards to Thundersteel is the fact that the title track is the only one to really go at breakneck speed. This doesn’t bother me at all as there’s still more than enough speed metal elements sprinkled throughout the album to satisfy me. Whether Riot is operating at mach speed or whether they slow it down for a more emotional moment, they execute it tastefully. Thundersteel is one of those rare records where every song is both excellent in quality and truly unique while still managing to flow smoothly and contribute to the broader picture. With tracks like “Johnny’s Back” and “Bloodstreets”, there’s definitely no B-side slump here. I’ve been listening to this album regularly since my early teens and I’m still in awe at its sheer consistency. Over the years, it’s grown to fill a very special spot in my heart.
Thundersteel is the tender embrace of a loved one after a long time apart. It’s the warm, home-cooked meal following a tiring day at work. It’s hot chocolate by the fireplace on a cold, winter evening. Thundersteel is comfort, familiarity, and above all – it’s quality. I will never tire of this album. Perfect.
Album Rating: 100/100
Favorite Track: Thundersteel