Riot - Army of One - 2/5
Born to lose. The underdog of all underdogs. Perennial underachievers. Riot are all of these things, and yet, they are considered hugely influential and even revered! What?
Riot(more accurately Mark Reale) has persevered through line-up instability, commercial indifference, lack of North American presence, and even death to become one of the longest lasting American metal bands on record. A true "institution". Yet, they are rarely talked about outside of circles in the know. Huh?
From their early beginnings, Riot were one of the premiere "true' metal bands, a burning light in a sea of pablum. From Reale's blistering riff and solo work, to Guy Speranza's "rock God" shriek, this was a band that had it together, and early. Speranza's loss(left the band on his spouses behest, to become an exterminator(!!!), later to succumb to cancer, thought to be the result of his continual proximity to pesticides. R.I.P. 09 November 2003) was a heavy blow dealt to the band. But they trucked on behind the soaring vocals of another huge talent, Rhett Forrester((R.I.P. Sep. 22nd 1956 - Jan. 22nd 1994, shot to death). Forging another couple of now classic albums, the band's poor fortunes led to a break up. This was thought to be the end of the band by all parties, fans included.
Mark Reale's never-say-die attitude was to come to the fore yet again however, as Riot reformed, this time as a clean burning speed metal band with the release of "Thundersteel". With Tony Moore vocalizing this new beast, the band enjoyed a moderate renaissance which was to last for another album, but as has always seemed to be the way for Reale and his beleaguered outfit( namely ally,drum master Bobby Jarzombek who added some stability to the line-up), this phase was not to be. It is at this juncture that the band released a live opus(Riot in Japan Live !!) chronicling this period. It is of special note because said live album included the touring band of Mike Flyntz on guitar and Pete Perez on bass, who would form the most solid and lasting core of the band in the future.
In 1994, the newest and most enduring incarnation of the band began, as Riot was reborn as a full blown power metal band. This was also the year that vocalist Mike DiMeo was introduced as frontman. This was the line-up(along with Perez and Flyntz) that persisted right up until the album at hand, Army of One(excepting a constant musical chairs at drums). Actually recorded in '03, this album was not released until '06, after DiMeo was out!!!!
Anyway, this line-up released some of Riot's strongest material over the years, and any review of "Army of One" has to be measured against this material, as it bears very little resemblance to what came before(save Reale's guitar mastery). With the exception of the rote and banal "Through the Storm" from '02, these are high standards to attain. I consider "The Brethren of the Long House" and "Sons of Society" to be near perfect examples of Power metal at it's best, with the rest of the albums from this period not being far off. And I have to say, this album is a fair disappointment. Perhaps it was the then current instability within the band that affected the outcome, but this is easily one of my least favorite Riot releases. It is much closer to the aforementioned "Through the Storm" in tone and delivery, than say, the majestic strains of "... Long House". Filled with AOR-ish type fodder, it contains none of the aggression or pop of Riot's shinier moments. Outside of the speedy and classic power of the opening title track, the Dokken-esque melodic cruncher "Blinded", and double bass driven "The Mystic", the rest of the album sounds like an unfortunate collection of songs written for the bands wives/girlfriends. Apart from the already mentioned cuts, it plays out something like this: AOR, mid pace rock, speedy AOR, ballad, funky thump, blues ballad, ballad, instrumental, AOR, and a close out with a live cover of the excellent "Road Racin'" from the band's debut. All I can say is "for shame!!". Quality has been sacrificed and subjugated for "accessibility" and reliving old glories.
As stilted as many old school rockers attempts at staying alive, this album is not one that will get much if any replay in this household. Decent production, sterling playing, and a scant three or four good tunes hardly warrant repeat visitation. I'm sure fans of traditional metal/hair will find something to enjoy here, because ultimately, that's what "Army of One" sounds like. A hair band trying to survive in unfriendly times. I am sure that some metalheads are going to hear this album first, and not bother to move deeper into the catalog because of it. That's a shame, cause Riot's catalog if rife with untold magnificence.
This is certainly not the type of effort that will pull Riot from it's obscurity, and it does nothing for their sterling reputation of quality either.
Recommended Tracks: Army of One, The Mystic
By J. Costigan