Although popular during their prime and revered by some metal fans, Riot never achieved their rightful due. Founder, guitarist, chief composer, and sole consistent member of Riot, Mark Reale, suffered a tragic death due to life-long Crohn’s Disease eight years ago. This band formed around the same time as Iron Maiden, Rainbow, and Motörhead, their album catalog is consistent, and released one of the best USPM records ever. However, even with all this, they never achieved the popularity the deserved.
Before we begin, we have to address the somewhat infamous Riot mascot – Johnny, the Mighty Tior. It seems the record company created it without the band’s consent to protest the killing of baby seals. Riot was thus stuck with this bizarre mascot and kept it in spite changing labels numerous times. He is the reason why there’s so many appearances of the name “Johnny” in Riot’s later songs.
Anyways, from my experience, Riot seems to be reserved for people who have delved deeper into the genre, even though they’re a classic act. This is our attempt at getting more newcomers to listen to and recognize the importance of this band.
Note: This article is just an opinion piece – our ode to Riot’s career and Mark Reale’s legacy. If you’re interested in the band’s history as told by its protagonists, we highly recommend the three-part documentary: Riot – Fight or Fall, available here on Youtube.
Ride into Glory’s Listening Guide:
Deep Dive Picks:
- Nightbreaker (1993)
- The Brethren of the Long-House (1995)
- Immortal Soul (2011)
- Unleash the Fire (2014)
- The Tyrant Sessions (1992/2005) – a recording with Harry Conklin of Jag Panzer fame
The Early Years (1977-1983)
Rock City (1977)
“Warrior” – “Take this song”, “Call for the Priest”, “Kill the King”, and “Overkill”. Is there any wonder where Speed Metal came from? One of Riot’s oldest tunes also yields one of their most recognized lines: Shine on! Riot was deeply rooted in Classic and Hard Rock. This is very evident throughout their first two albums.
My favorite track on this record is without a doubt the s/t instrumental, but there’s a lot of cool tunes, such as “Hot for Love” and “Road Racin’ “. This was as fast and aggressive as Metal got back in the 70s. It’s pretty clear that Riot contributed to the early development of what we now recognize as Speed Metal.
Fire Down Under (1981)
If you’re looking for some action, feel like causing some destruction, and running against the tide – look no further. This album has a lot to offer. If I’m looking to tear the night up, I’ll take “Swords and Tequila”. If I ever start an honest brawl at a bar, I’ll go for the title track. When I’m cruisin’ down the highway, I sing along the anthemic “Outlaw”. My favorite song has got to be the Rainbow-esque “Altar of the King’, though.
The last track contains excerpts spoken by Neal Key, the renowned British DJ who did a lot for the NWOBHM scene. He was one of Riot’s biggest supporters in Europe and this is the band’s way of saying thank you:
London, it’s been two years,
and a very hard struggle,
to bring a band to Hammersmith…
a good one, please welcome for the first time,
our guests from New York City: RIOT
Considered too heavy by Capitol records to be commercially successful, Fire Down Under stands alongside Killers, Breaker, Rock Until You Drop, and Denim & Leather, all from the same year, as a must-listen. Dan Beehler (Exciter), Neil Turbin (Anthrax), and Rodney Dunsmore (Devastation) all place this record among their favorites. This monumental release lead to problems with the label, however. One of Mark Reale’s big influences was his label-mate Ronnie Montrose. Ronnie would reciprocate this admiration by petitioning Riot to be dropped from Capitol Records – and just like that, Riot was left on its own.
Iconic vocalist Guy Speranza was a huge factor in making early Riot amazing. Sadly, Speranza quit band and the music business altogether to become a pest exterminator. Apparently, Lars Ulrich, a big fan of Riot, once called for an exterminator while living in New York, only to have Speranza show up! Scott Ian tried to get Speranza to sing in the first incarnation of Anthrax, but was unsuccessful.
Restless Breed (1982)
Speranza was replaced by Rhett Forrester, who did a good job in this and the next album, but despite that both releases are definitely weaker than the previous material. There’s somewhat of a bluesier sound to this album due to Rhett’s vocals and Mark Reale accommodating the music to fit the vocal style. Apparently, Rhett Forrester was quite the larger-than-life personality. For more details, check out the Fight or Fall Documentary.
Born in America (1983)
Forrester’s aggressive screams are a nice touch to Born in America’s sound. There are even Glam Metal-like type vibes with songs like “You Burn in Me”. I always enjoy it when Riot takes on a more fantasy approach, such as in “Wings of Fire”. However, this is probably Riot’s worst cover art; and that’s an achievement on its own.
After line-up changes, further issues with management, and failing to reach the success they wished, Riot sadly called it quits after this. I don’t know how fans felt back in the day, but I’m sure no one could’ve expected what was coming next…
The Revival (1988-2006)
Tell the boys to step aside, tell the girls to form a line: The King is back. Loud as Thunder and hard as Steel: Riot reinvents itself, sounding quite different than before. One of the the greatest comeback albums ever, I’ve seen some people consider this the best US power metal release as well. It marks the introduction of the banshee Tony Moore. Is he better than Guy Speranza? Maybe.
This is similar to what Judas Priest did with Painkiller, but Riot did it two years before. Just listen to the first song. When the opening track sounds like this, you know you’re in for something. It’s even crazier to think this song was actually recorded in 1985, with a short lived side project with members of S.A. Slayer called Narita. This album is understandably responsible for some of Riot’s best songs: “Bloodstreets”, “Fight or Fall”, “Flight of the Warrior”…there’s enough to keep you listening all the way through again and again. Not often can a band change its style and sound arguably better than before.
It’s important to mention at this point bassist Don Von Stavern. When Riot disbanded after Born in America, Reale spent some time in San Antonio, Texas. There, he met Don and they played together in Narita and S.A. Slayer. When Reale agreed to reviving Riot, he took Don with him back to New York City.
The Privilege of Power (1990)
Metal Soldiers clad in Black Leather and Glittering Steel are Storming the Gates of Hell. This album reminds me of Toxik’s Think This, with the cover art and the sample-heavy intro to the first song. Personally I think it suffers from filler content and too many samples, but when this album hits, goddamn it HITS. Closing with a very cool cover from an unexpected artist, Al DiMeola, this album shows Mark Reale’s eclectic influences and musical abilities. This solid album was Riot’s most experimental work yet, with the horn section in the first track courtesy of the famed Tower of Power group.
Fed up with financial problems and bitter disagreements with the band manager, Tony Moore quit the band after this album and Riot’s future was once again left uncertain.
The 90s. While classic bands experimented with different sounds, targeted broader audiences, and Extreme Metal exploded with new brutalities, a fourth incarnation of Riot defiantly stood their ground, firmly planted in the roots of Traditional Metal. Their whole output from this decade is a good slab of trend-ripping, hard-hitting, Heavy/Speed – and they did this before any Traditional Metal revival trend.
Yet again we have a different singer, Mike DiMeo, who’s sometimes considered the weakest of all Riot singers. After the Power Metal frenzy of the previous two albums, Nightbreaker revives some of Riot’s old Blues Rock influences. This is most evident in songs like “Magic Maker” and Medicine Man”. This may be due once again to Mark Reale adapting the music to fit the new vocal style, just like he did with Rhett Forester.
The Brethren of the Long House (1995)
This is a thematic album dedicated to the loss of native cultures in the Americas. Although Riot always stayed true to Traditional Heavy/Speed Metal, the band was never shy about experimenting. This album in particular sees Riot experimenting with a more melancholic, emotional, and varied sound. Songs like “Santa María”, “Sailor”, and the Trevor Jones covers are unlike anything else found on their catalogue.
1998 – 2006
Though Riot closed off the 90s in a steady march of Traditional Metal and had the most stable track of their career (lasting all the way through 2006), their output during these years lacks the creativity of their earlier releases. They had their moments, but their albums Sons of Society, Inishmore, Through the Storm, and Army of One just don’t quite stack up to Riot’s classics. Not to say they’re bad, but they’re just not as innovative as previous releases. After 2006’s Army of One, Riot IV took a five year hiatus.
The Modern Era (2011+)
Immortal Soul (2011)
This is the last album the legendary Mark Reale would record. Retrospectively and in hindsight, it’s kind of an ominous title. He got the Thundersteel line-up going again and it delivered BIG TIME. Having Tony Moore back on vocals was a welcomed change after six albums with DiMeo. With blazing speed, killer riffs, pounding drums, and excellent vocals, it’s not entirely a Speed/Power frenzy. There are slower tempos with mellow energy that are just as good.
Reale died while the band was on tour promoting this album. A terrible tragedy, but this Mark IV line-up ended the timeline with a blast. It’s very sad that we’ll never know what would’ve happened had Reale not died from Crohn’s Disease. Even if it wasn’t intentional, what a goddamn way to finish off a 30+ year career!
Unleash the Fire (2014)
Somewhere on the edge of town, a dark figure approaches… It’s the return of the Outlaw: Riot V! It was a risky move to continue the band without Reale. Previous members of the band and charismatic new vocalist Todd Michael Hall reformed to create a spiritual successor to Riot.
Surprisingly, the album is very good; a worthy follow up to its predecessor. The songs and cover art, by far the best so far, are filled with allusions to the band’s legacy:
- “Metal Warriors” – allusions to “Johnny’s Back” and “Bloodstreets”
- “Land of the Rising Sun” – sentimental tribute to Riot’s most rabid fanbase – the Japanese
- “Return of the Outlaw” – An obvious call out to one of Riot’s most popular songs, “Outlaw”
- “Immortal” and “Until We Meet Again” – Two songs dedicated to Reale: “Your time on this Earth was so very brief… Through your songs you are immortal!”
Kudos to everyone who worked on this. I would like to think that Reale would have been proud. The passion this new line up has is pretty evident.
Armor of Light (2018)
Steady as she goes, the Riot V crew continues the style they had on Unleash the Fire. Releasing an album with the popular Nuclear Blast label, things seem to be going well for this Riot incarnation. This album is full of energy and passion, just like the previous one. The music is upbeat and fast paced, further accentuating the band’s more modern, European power metal stylistic leanings.
Remembering Reale’s Legacy
As often happens with visionary musicians, the larger public is late to recognize their quality and contributions. Riot and Mark Reale have enjoyed a surge in recognition in the past decade. The band has been cited as a personal favorite by people such as Lars Ulrich, Katon de Peña (Hirax), Chris Black (Pharaoh, High Spirits, Dawnbringer, etc.), and the members of Hammerfall (they even once demanded their manager that Riot be taken on tour with them throughout Europe).
In 2015, a tribute album put out by Skol Records: Thunder and Steel Down Under: A Tribute to Riot, including covers from Savage Master, October 31, and Night Demon. Starting in 2019 and continuing into 2020, High Roller Records has done a fantastic job releasing the killer Riot Volume Archives which compile rare and unreleased tracks from Riot’s history.
As Riot V continues to tour the world and enjoy a signing with a popular label, the older spirit of Riot is kept alive by yet another band. In the 2015 edition of Defenders of the Old Festival, some of Riot’s first members, L.A. Kouvaris and Rick Ventura, made a surprise guest appearance. In 2019, said members announced they would play as a live act at Up the Hammers Festival 2020 under the name Riot Act.
Many talented people contributed to making Riot what it is. But through it all, the sole consistency was the genius of Mark Reale. His musicianship and tenacity carried the band from 1975 to present day (in spirit). He was no rock-star/diva personality, just a man passionate about music. Let his own words and others’ speak of his modesty and shy demeanor:
“In spite of the problems, all the music we made and got out there, it got us enough fans that we can go and have this cult fan thing going on… this whole tour we’re going to do in October, November, it’s like Hammerfall demanded the promoter to put us on the tour. And to me that’s like friggin’… so cool, man. To be able to influence other artists… I look at Lars Ulrich from Metallica in their tour pamphlet, wearing a Riot shirt — it does it for me. In spite of the mistakes I made, and how naïve I was and whatever went on, that does it for me… To be honest with you, man, I can’t complain. I’ve toured the world, I don’t know how many times over, I’ve had great experiences. It is just what it is. Just to be able to affect, not only the fans, but other musicians, it means the world to me.”-Mark Reale
Mark adapted the music to the style of different singers. He didn’t want to be a guitar-hero; all he wanted was to write a good song.” Mike Flyntz, studio member of Riot since the 90s.
For 40 years of history, Riot has been there: Stalwarts of Heavy Metal in the 70s, pioneers of Speed Metal, masters of Power Metal, and remarkably consistent in the face of so many setbacks and an unjust lack of recognition…
So, Shine on, Metal Soldiers. Shine on, Immortal Soul.
David Godfrey · January 26, 2020 at 3:02 pm
Amazing band and amazing retrospective of their career. Thank you.
Marco · January 26, 2020 at 3:15 pm
Truly one of the greatest.