Thunder and Steel Down Under: A Tribute to Riot
Let’s start with the obvious: Mark Reale was a musical genius. The legendary guitarist / songwriter led Riot through many different incarnations spanning more than three decades, pioneering his way through bluesy hard rock, a distinctly U.S. slant on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, American power metal, and classy melodic metal/rock along the way. His melodies and playing style were so distinctive that whenever you heard Reale’s Les Paul, you just knew it was he. The man had a gift for making that guitar sing in a way that touched your very soul. Tragically, Mark Reale died in 2012, far too young, from complications of Crohn’s disease, a chronic illness that he had bravely fought and endured for many years. Today, his bandmates shine on and carry the torch in his name, burning brightly under the aegis of Riot V. Still, it seemed that something more should be done to honor and recognize Mark Reale and the long shadow he casts over our beloved music.
Enter Bart Gabriel. The influential promoter/producer/record company executive lined up 14 American and European bands (ranging from the famous to the obscure) to pay tribute to Mark Reale on ‘Thunder and Steel Down Under: A Tribute to Riot,’ produced by Gabriel and released on his Skol Records imprint. The roster of contributing artists is a nice mix of established masters (Axel Rudi Pell, Attacker, October 31, Crystal Viper) and up’n’coming stars (Night Demon, Alpha Tiger, Rocka Rollas, Stallion, Walpyrgus). Each covers a Riot song of its choice, ranging from the hits (“Swords and Tequila,” “Thundersteel,” “Outlaw”) to the obscure (“Loanshark,” “Running from the Law”). While nearly every band stays faithful to the original, the personality of the artists shines through. So you hear the punk-infused energy of Night Demon on “Road Racin’,” the polished Euro precision of Alpha Tiger on “Flight of the Warrior,” the chaotic roughness of October 31 on “Loanshark,” the sinister darkness of Savage Master on “Swords and Tequila,” and the melodic brilliance of Rocka Rollas on “Riot.” The icing on the cake is Crystal Viper’s album-closing rendition of “Thundersteel,” done as a duet between Marta Gabriel and Riot V singer Todd Michael Hall. There are no duff tracks, no skipworthy going-through-the-motions versions for a quick payday. Every act appears to be performing from the heart, paying tribute to a man that influenced them, and the sincerity shines through. An especially nice touch is the heartwarming liner notes from each band, explaining what Reale and Riot meant to them and why they picked the tune they did. If ever a tribute album was done for the right reasons, by everyone involved in the project, it was this one.
I guess if I wanted to nitpick this thing, I could. I wish the sadly overlooked Mike DiMeo era were better represented, as the only DiMeo track featured here is a reworked instrumental version of “Soldier” by Ferdy Doernberg. I wish there were fewer previously released songs. And I wish the levels had been evened out from track to track so I wouldn’t have to keep adjusting volume up or down. But these are minor quibbles. ‘Thunder and Steel Down Under’ is a terrific tribute to Mark Reale and a mandatory purchase for fans of Riot, fans of heavy metal, and fans of quality music in general. The man may be gone, but his music will live on in our hearts forever. Shine on, friends …
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~