Tipton/Downing. Murray/Smith. Shermann/Denner. You with me here? Let me add to that list the fourth-best metal guitar duo of all time: Reale/Flyntz. But like RIOT in general, they have yet to receive the same level of recognition as the others (except in Japan!). Despite this, RIOT continues to release album after album of quality metal, remaining vibrant and inspired long into their twilight years, while so many others' prime moments forever rest in the '80s. According to this longtime RIOT fan, albums like Inishmore and Sons Of Society stand up strongly when placed next to past achievements like Fire Down Under, Born In America and Thundersteel. Their 12th studio full-length, Through The Storm, continues the high standard of all its predecessors.
Led by burning and passionate fretwork (leads and riffs), the album's other big individual strength is vocalist Mike DiMeo. Possessing a voice that is gritty and bluesy, as well as smooth and soaring, he has "classic" written all over his phrasing and melodic choices. For the uninitiated, RIOT are akin to old RAINBOW and the heaviest DEEP PURPLE, yet there's a traditional heavy metal thread pulsating strongly throughout. It all comes together with powerful perfection on album highlights like "Turn The Tables", "Through The Storm", and "Burn The Sun". Hovering between mid-paced tenacity and ball-breaking riffing, early climax "Chains (Revolving)" features all the hallmarks of great RIOT: catchiness, inventive licks, soulful singing, exciting rhythmic ideas. Though there's a burning liveliness to most of these tracks, they don't quite jump out of the speakers quite as authoritatively as anything on previous album Sons Of Society. Maybe that's because longtime drummer Bobby Jarzombek left the position for his full-time HALFORD gig. Another Bobby, of the Rondinelli sort (known for his work in RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH and BLUE ÖYSTER CULT), has taken over. His drumming is similar to Vinnie Appice's — all 10-ton anchor and only the slightest bit of finesse. Hardly an adequate replacement for Jarzombek, Rondinelli is good but doesn't do anything that some 200 other professional drummers wouldn't do. Jarzombek innovated and excited constantly. On the whole, however, most of this album remains a electric dynamo of high-class, '70s-rooted traditional metal. (Oh, and TNT/WESTWORLD vocalist Tony Harnell does some characteristically awesome vocal backups throughout the album, most notably on "Lost Inside This World". Total class.)
A few things hold the album back a little. The ballad, "Let It Show", isn't RIOT's strongest ballad, and even though they keep writing at least one ballad per album, they have never been great ballad writers and should probably let this inclination of theirs go unrecorded. The other offending tune is the cover of UFO's "Only You Can Rock Me". Wouldn't this be a better choice for a tired bar band to cover? It's definitely not something for gods to smack around. It's not even close to being one of UFO's best songs either, and now it ranks as one of the most unnecessary cover versions ever. And had "Essential Enemies" not been marred by the unncessary distorted vocals in the verse, it would stand as another highlight on an album of many highlights.
Through The Storm closes on an eclectic note, with two guitar-led instrumentals. The first, "Isle Of Shadows", sounds great but probably would've fit even better on Inishmore as an outro or something, given it's folk-ish slant. Then there's closer "Here Comes The Sun", Mark Reale's loving tribute to George Harrison. Made up of several guitar layers and violin (acoustic guitar filling in the vocal lines), the atmospheric treatment and beautiful melodic interchanges are a sublime way for Through The Storm to end, and more proof that Reale and RIOT deserve to be as big across the globe as he and his band are in Japan.