Sometimes you just need to take a break in order to recharge your creativity. Such was with the case with Riot V, as their two post-Speranza albums weren’t exactly hot. Once reformed, the band departed from their early rock-based style and this resulted into a full blown power metal transformation. Interestingly enough, I’ve heard people compare Thundersteel to Painkiller but I don’t really get that. Less clinical and more vibrant sounding, Riot V sounds as if they’re having fun. In Judas Priest’s case, I’m reminded of a band that has a mid-life crisis… but that’s neither here or there.
Thundersteel introduces Tony Moore on vocals, but right away I’ll admit that he’s not a favorite. Sure, Moore’s got some range; he can scream and wail with conviction… but that’s basically all that he’s great at. Once he’s not screaming from the top of his lungs, he suddenly becomes less passionate to my ears. It’s those plain average mid-ranged vocal lines of “Sign of the Crimson Storm” and “Run for Your Life” that makes me wish that Guy Speranza was still part of the band. Oh, these are fine tracks, but vocally they’re not too exciting now, are they? Guy Speranza sounded like he lived for music and while he may have lacked the higher range that Moore possesses, he was definitely a superior singer. Tony Moore sounds like he’s just doing his job he’s more of a one-trick pony than anything else.
Fortunately, most of the compositions fit Tony Moore’s limitations and this is an obvious advantage. The title track is all about Moore’s electrifying vocal presence and that lightning-bolt of a main riff. Metal nerds might recognize how similar the latter sounds to the main riff of Hocculta’s “We’ll Play Again”, but this song sounds clearly superior to me, so what the hell does it matter! Like an explosion of relentless speed metal, it highlights Mark Reale’s trademark style that would become notable on several following albums and you couldn’t ask for a better album opener. Granted, the rest doesn’t sound as forceful, but you still end up with several effective tunes that leave a lasting impression behind. “Fight or Fall” is another blistering cut, with some machine gun-like riffing, thundering drum performance and an elaborated chorus. Still, it’s “On Wings of Eagles” that features the most prominent power metal chorus between the high-octave riff mastery and if many European power metal bands followed this direction, I bet the style would have been far better off. Of course, you could tell that Riot V were an American band, as “Johnny’s Back” gets introduced by some plumping bass lines, before turning into a maelstrom of old fashioned American power metal. That Maiden-inspired main riff could have been written by several 80’s power metal bands… but that’d only be a bad thing if this style was never enjoyable to begin with.
Alas, not everything rules so hard and Riot V make two mistakes that they shouldn’t have made. First of all, “Bloodstreets” is a piss-poor ballad attempt and I’ve never understood the appeal of it. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it when metal bands switch gears and write something sentimental, but Riot should stick to fast and heavier cuts… because that’s what they’re best at. This is one of those “let’s write a ballad in case it turns into a hit” kind of ballads, so you know what to expect; there’s the soft, dull verses, the heavier chorus that’s just as unimaginative and Tony Moore sounds totally unconvincing. Second of all, ending the album on an epic note is a great idea on paper, but this isn’t where Riot V’s strengths lies either. Come on, a nine minute track is supposed to go somewhere, but here you end up with some random sections thrown together for length’s sake. There’s a random acoustic introduction with a cute melodic solo on top to kick things off, but unfortunately it sounds like it goes on forever. Then the track turns into a mid-paced offering with chunky, if quite unexciting riffs and you can also forget about a captivating chorus. Tony Moore gives another unimaginative performance and whines about how no one can hear him… which we unfortunately can. You’d think that Riot would compensate for that boring introduction with some actual action soon after, but unfortunately the track dwells on and on. Should have kept this track buried, boys!
Nitpicking aside, like most of the Riot V albums that I’ve heard, Thundersteel makes a worthy listen, even if I’m convinced that it’s a bit overpraised. If you’d ask me, this isn’t the band’s finest hour either, but we’ll cover that some other time.
Score: 75/100 – Moving on with the times
Release date: 1988
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