Simply put, Riot is one of the best hard rock/heavy metal bands ever. That’s right. EVER. For those of you who don’t know, Riot albums such as Fire Down Under (1981), Restless Breed (1982) and Thundersteel (1988) are classic albums of the heavy rock genre. And each album has a different singer on it, a distinct voice, and for years Riot founder/guitarist Mark Reale and the other musicians have been able to shape the songwriting around each vocal style in such a perfect manner.
Gone are a slew of formidable members, including vocalists Guy Speranza (left the band in 1982, died of cancer in 2003) and Rhett Forrester (left the band in 1984, murdered in Atlanta in 1994) and guitarist Rick Ventura (left the band in 1984, was a part of the great songwriting on albums like Fire Down Under). Jag Panzer vocalist Harry “Tyrant” Conlin even joined the band for a short period of time. But Riot now releases the album Immortal Soul with the reunited Thundersteel lineup of Tony Moore on vocals, Bobby Jarzombek on drums, Mike Flyntz on guitar and Don Van Stavern on bass and, of course, Reale on guitars.
The following is an interview with guitarist Mark Reale:
I thought Thundersteel was a remarkable comeback album when it came out in 1988. The same can be said for this new album, Immortal Soul, too …no?
Mark Reale: Immortal Soul is basically the follow up to Thundersteel (1998) and Privilege of Power (1990) 20 years later. The sound of the Thundersteel lineup is so identifiable and the songs on the new CD have the same feel and sound but with more of a modern power metal twist. This lineup’s writing and performing skills have the same kind of magic we had back when we recorded the Thundersteel album. I couldn’t have asked for more, this CD is definitely a great comeback for us and everyone gave it there all and brought their “A” game on Immortal Soul. I’m very proud of the way it came out. The guys did an amazing job and Bruno Ravel did a great mix and production job.
Since Thundersteel the band has moved into more of a power metal style. How did this evolution occur? Was it at first due to Tony Moore’s style of singing?
Reale: The Thundersteel lineup had a certain kind of formula for writing songs and a sound that people loved. Don (Van Stavern) was responsible for a lot of the changes of the sound of Riot during that period because of his background in heavy metal. He wrote most of the songs on Thundersteel and you will hear some of his recognizable style on Immortal Soul. Everybody participated in the writing on this CD. Mike did a lot of excellent writing and lead playing and Bobby of course did his usual awesome drumming and Tony outdid himself lyrically and vocally on this effort. I pretty much took a producer standpoint for a lot of this. I am very proud of these guys and could definitely not have done it without them.
How did Tony Moore come back to the band? Why did he leave in the first place?
Reale: When the Thundersteel line up broke up over 20 some odd years ago, Don left first due to managerial conflicts, shortly followed by Tony. We kept the lineup going with the remaining members. During that period Don continued on in various projects, touring and recording, whereas Tony kind of left the scene and was doing stuff on a more grounded level. So I think after 20 years of that, and a home life, and then getting thrown back into the fire it was a little overwhelming at that time for him. We all didn’t know how this was going to turn out. But it ended up going from reunion shows to an overwhelming outcry for permanence. He had to step back and re-evaluate his stance during this period. I think he just needed time for this to sink in and that there was such a demand for the group. He had to arrange his personal life’s schedule to give it some priority that it was requiring. He also was seeing the people commenting on him singing, everyone wanted a new CD with him on it. After his short departure we had a band pow wow and we decided to give it a shot again. Tony’s vocals are a big part of this sound and we were exciting to have him back. You will hear on Immortal Soul how lucky we are to have him back. The vocals sound better than 20 years ago! It’s amazing. Hell, the whole band blows me away. Hopefully we can keep this unit together for years to come, God willing.
How is Moore after his emergency surgery? How will it affect his vocal range?
Reale: Tony had emergency oral surgery about three weeks ago and is still recuperating but is in good spirits and doing well so we should be back up and running within a couple months. We were really bummed that we had to cancel (shows) but (it was) something we had to do for Tony. He had an infection in his jaw bone that required a bone graft which complicated the use of the mouth and as you know he needs to be 100% to sing this new stuff. His doctor said he will be fine and able to sing normal again, which is amazing because his vocals still sound great after all these years. I can’t apologize enough to the fans, we were as disappointed as they were. Actually we are looking into re-booking a European tour at the top of next year so it’s just kind of just postponed.
Besides Tony Moore, which Riot vocalist did you feel most comfortable with? Was there one who did Riot’s music the most justice?
Reale: I think the vocalists have a lot to do with the way I’m writing at the time. Guy had a unique mid-range voice and it was great on the first three records and of course the music changed up a bit when Rhett and his gravelly bluesy styled vocals joined because of the difference of singing style. Mike DiMeo’s voice had a more bluesy Coverdale feel and fit the gothic “rainbowish” type tunes best and Tony’s voice leads us to write this way, very melodic and aggressive. Tony has one of the best voices and range out in rock today. But other then Tony I would probably say Guy because he was there in the beginning and helped create the Riot legacy and appeared on such iconic records like Rock City, Narita and, of course, Fire Down Under — which is still one of Riot’s most popular offering to this date.
Audio Fidelity released a high-quality vinyl release of Fire Down Under? It makes a great album that much better. Do you still look back at that album with amazement? That is possibly one of the best heavy albums of all time.
Reale: Fire Down Under — because it basically put us on the map — was so influential on a lot of musicians, and “Swords and Tequila” was such a big song which is still played on radio and we continue to play it live. We actually didn’t know that Fire Down Under would become so iconic and influential at the time. We just gathered some great ideas and put them together like we did with Rock City and Narita. We added a new rhythm section in Kip Lemming and Sandy Slavin and the record ended up coming out heavy for that time period standards. The production of that record was very good for that time as well. It was one of those magical moments were everything was clicking musically. The songs, the sound it definitely put us on the map, just as the Thundersteel response was later on in our career.
[pullquote_left]I think Riot was one of the handful of bands that were the USA’s answer to the NWOBHM at that time period. [/pullquote_left]
Is there any Riot album that you feel came up short?
Reale: Writing-wise… not really. Production-wise … maybe a couple. When I leave the studio I feel very satisfied after the whole composing, rehearsing and recording process. I don’t think any particular record fell short. Maybe some didn’t sell as well as others but we put the same passion and hard work into every Riot record no matter what lineup it is. Sometimes having to follow up to Riot masterpieces like Fire Down Under and Thundersteel you gotta be on point and strike back with some songs as good or better or people might not receive it as well. Were doing something right to be able to be recording and touring still for over three decades. As long as the people want to hear new Riot music we will be happy to deliver as long as we are able.
How much do you feel the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement helped the band … a New York band?
Reale: A lot of bands were up-and-coming at the time. I think Riot was one of the handful of bands that were the USA’s answer to the NWOBHM at that time period. We basically helped create the US version. I think we helped pave the way and acceptance for this type of music. There are lots of bands big time or local still playing Riot songs especially “Swords and Tequila” and “Thundersteel.” Obviously bands like Metallica, Megadeth and HammerFall have shown representation throughout the years and we are truly grateful and honored, especially when you name your band Thundersteel. We were a little before the wave hit but it definitely helped theThundersteel era since it was our heaviest record at that point.
The Donington show (1982) is legendary? Do you think that was one of Riot’s best gigs?
Reale: It was definitely an honor to be asked to be a part of history, being one of the very first metal festivals! Along with hard rockin’ bands like Rainbow, Scorpions, Priest, April Wine and thousands strong, we were paving the way for bigger things to come in the metal community. We found that Europe really embraced the band and our sound and also keep in mind we were the only American band on this bill. The soundtrack is legendary as well and our song “Road Racin'” appearing on it was an honor. The festival is still going strong under a different name now. I thought it would be a great idea to do it again with the same bands.
What is former Riot guitarist Rick Ventura up to these days?
Reale: I actually haven’t spoken with him in awhile. He still lives in NY and plays guitar in projects, I believe. I have talked with a few of the past members and at one point we kicked around the idea of a reunion of the Fire Down Under lineup, but with the death of the great Guy Speranza it wouldn’t be possible and seem right. He had such a unique and identifiable voice.
How true are the past rumors about the emergence Quiet Riot (in 1983) confusing the consumers and therefore complicating the future of Riot?
Reale: That really had nothing to do with it. We were more heavy hitters and they were more radio-oriented. A few managerial decisions early on held us back from being the band we could have been. We could have been more visible and in the ranks of the top metal bands of our generation, if we had the chance to work with the companies that were interested at the time. Being able to compose and perform all these years is simply awesome and a lot of bands can’t say that. I’m very fortunate and have little regrets. Riot has always had that stigma about not breaking out, hopefully with this CD and our great new management we will finally make a bigger break.
[pullquote_right]The title Immortal Soul is kind of a testament to the Riot legacy; we never die no matter what the circumstances are. [/pullquote_right]
Sometimes a title of an album is window dressing, but the title Immortal Soul is almost a testament to the soul of the band itself. A lot has changed since, say, Thundersteel was released. But Riot has endured through so many changes in the music industry, many trends, many lineups, and has overcome tragedies (i.e., the deaths of important members Guy Speranza and Rhett Forrester). What is the secret to the band’s endurance?
Reale: The title Immortal Soul is kind of a testament to the Riot legacy; we never die no matter what the circumstances are. This band has bounced back from internal problems with management, member changes, labels and also, like you mentioned, the passing of band members … you name it, but Riot and its music lives on. We are kind of immortal souls. That’s why Tony thought that would be a great title for the CD and the Les Paul coming back from the dead on the CD cover. We felt like that kind of summed it up. We have been around for so long and as long as we are able to keep coming back with great music that people enjoy we’ll be here for years to come
“Wings Are For Angels” was released earlier this year as part of a Japanese tsunami relief album. How did that come about and what has been the feedback on that. Did the album successfully make money for the relief effort?
Reale: After negotiating the Japanese record deal with Marquee/ Avalon they approached us with the offer. We have a great love affair with the Japanese people and their country and have represented their culture on a few records, not to mention our mascot (The sumo fighter with a seal head) The Mighty Tior or as many people refer to him as Johnny! So it was a no brainer and no hesitation on our decision to help and give back to these amazing and caring people. It’s been well received and I’m sure the people are very grateful to all the bands that participated.
How will drummer Bobby Jarzombek’s other projects schedule around Riot? Will Riot be his key concentration?
Reale: Bobby definitely juggles a few great bands. He tries to make time for each group although with Riot he is a full fledged member and not just a hired gun. He plays with Halford, Sebastian Bach, Fates Warning and recently the Arch/ Matheos Project so he keeps himself really busy musically. We try to tailor obligations around everyone’s busy schedule. Usually we have enough advanced notice to make arrangements for band commitments. He’s definitely got a full plate, but we respect him and are grateful that he is a part of this line up because he is very instrumental in this Riot power metal sound.
Riot thrives onstage … What will the tour to support this album be like?
Reale: The cool thing about Riot is that we have never relied on a giant stage production or gimmicks. We’ve always been about the music and performance. Joe Perry said it best when he stated, “Let the music do the talking.” You will see five awesome musicians doing what they love which is playing from the heart and that are passionate about the live delivery. I can tell you it will be loud and fast with lotsa Marshalls. These guys are top-notch players and am very confident every time I hit the stage with them. You will leave satisfied. We will play a few songs from each album, even some very early stuff that we haven’t played in awhile.
What new song do you feel will win fans over as a classic live?
Reale: Obviously the opening track “Riot.” Its kind of an anthem and the chorus is a good sing along. It gives the fans a chance to shout Riot which is a cool thing (laughs). “Wings Are For Angels” is a good burner live and we have already played it on the reunion tour because it was the first song we wrote after reuniting. “Still Your Man –”Johnny’s Back” part 2! – will go over well. We will play the most popular songs that fans want to hear live as well. We keep an ear out to see what songs are getting played, charted and requested.