Friday, April 27, 2018

Album Review: Riot V - Armor Of Light

I don't know what to make of bands who get tagged as 'legendary', but yet who I have never heard of, and who never once made it into common conversation. Riot is one of those bands. If you listen to a lot of metal fans from the 80s, Riot gets mentioned often as one of the great yet underappreciated bands of the day. To the rest of us who weren't there in that moment, no one has thought of Riot in several decades. So when most of the band got back together, and lawyers forced them to add an extra character to their name, it was a cause for great.... ambivalence. Riot fans gobbled up their last album, and non-Riot fans went on as they always had, forgetting Riot ever existed.

But this new version of the band is back for another go 'round, so let's dip our toe into the water and see what all this fuss is about.

"Armor Of Light" is a very slick, modern interpretation of 80s speedy heavy metal. It's a hybrid of traditional and power metal, which means we get galloping guitars and big choruses, with a bit more attitude than the lighter side often provides. Their sound, for a modern comparison, is actually fairly close to the abnd Theocracy, both in composition and in Todd Michael Hall's vocal tone. If you've ever heard their album "Mirror Of Souls", it's an indication of just how high the bar can be set for this kind of music.

Not that Riot V ever gets there, nor should it be expected. "Armor Of Light" is not a modern classic, but that by no means implies that it's a disappointment of an album. Rather, it's actually a better record than I had been expecting it to be, given my usual feelings towards the bands from their era. The band has been around long enough that they have a comfort level that will always be met. When you get tracks like "Angel's Thunder, Devil's Reign", it's easy to see why people still connect to the music. It has the gallop to get your fist pumping, and a chorus that bounces with the right amount of hook. It's great.

Contrast that song to "Messiah", and you get an illustration of what I feared. "Messiah" is the generic 80s song that doesn't try to provide a big chorus, but just shouts the title in a few different ways. It was the way songs were written in the 80s, and whether it was Riot or Dio, a lot of those songs just don't hold up anymore.

"Heart Of A Lion" is the second or third time in the past year Richard The Lionheart has been a subject of the music I've listened to. The historical story leads to a few awkward lyrics, but the sound is a jaunty number the gets the job done well. For the most part, Riot is delivering solid material that I imagine plays right into what their longtime fans are going to want from them. And since they are the target audience, and not converting the uninitiated, we have to call that a success.

Really, my only criticism of the record is that by focusing on pace, fifty-five minutes of music seems to be a bit much. The album could have used a breather or two to slow things down, rather than race onward at full speed the whole time. But since I seem to be in the minority when it comes to such things, take that for what you will.

To get to the point, Riot V may not be the legends they sometimes get included among, but this current version of the band is doing good things. Traditional heavy metal fans are going to eat up what they're doing here. "Armor Of Light" is an album that brings the 80s up to date, and delivers everything an old-school heavy metal fan could want.

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