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Johnny's Back, and He's Better than Ever! - 98%

Brainded Binky, October 29th, 2013

After their release of "Born in America" Riot had pretty much vanished off the face of the earth, and many were sure that the band had totally split up. Not so, for five years later, they would return with "Thundersteel", bringing with them a mighty sound that would inspire many power metal bands in the future. There are many reasons as to why many consider this album to be their best, and I can believe them. It is a force of epic power that continues to inspire even to this day and it is an example of how a band can rise from the ashes and create an album better than the ones it had created before.

There's no doubt that songs like "Flight of the Warrior" and "On Wings of Eagles" are majestic songs worthy of the mightiest warrior. Their riffs are fast and chugging and they have a powerful feel to them. In 1988, no one could have expected Mark Reale to come up with such riffs. Before "Thundersteel", Riot was simply a heavy metal band that wrote songs typical of its subgenre. Here, we have epic songs that came as more than a pleasant surprise when it was first released. "Sign of the Crimson Storm" is also a song worthy of mention. It isn't as fast as the others, but its hooks and tempo pack quite a punch and it's the song that makes everyone want to pump their fists in the air.

Rhett Forrester may have left the band for good, but Riot had found an excellent replacement. Tony Moore does an effective job in replicating Forrester's vocals while adding his own element to them, like when he hits the really high notes. "Run for your Life" sounds like a throwback to the days when Riot was a heavy metal band from the late '70s and early '80s and is just as tremendous as "Swords and Tequila". It is a hard and driving song that proved that Riot still had much of its old tricks when making big changes in their sound.

While other bands during the '80s were signing deals to major labels and abandoning their good sound for horrendous '80s pop, Riot decided to make its next album even better than the ones that preceded it. They added faster tempos and mighty-sounding riffs to their songs and creating sounds that not a lot of bands at the time even attempted. This album was truly ahead of its time when it was released and it's deserving of its title of one of the best power metal albums ever made.

Truly a classic - 93%

CrystalMountain, January 7th, 2009

I'm not familiar with all of Riot's immense catalog, but if their other albums are even half as good as Thundersteel then I guess I need to check them out because this album rocks. There's a certain feeling, an attitude that it gives off that alot of similar albums lack. The songs are mostly all fast and in your face, the production is good, maybe a bit raw but it fits the album nicely. The musicianship is great, the guitars are frantic but still have a nice touch of melody. The drums are also great, lots of fills and good cymbal work. The bass is inaudible though, as with so many metal albums from the 80s. Vocalist Tony Moore takes a little getting used to, he has a very over the top style, lots of high pitched squeals. But he sounds good when he needs to(especially on "Bloodstreets.")

The album starts off with a good 1-2 punch, "Thundersteel" and "Fight or Fall." Both are high energy, speed metal monsters. Most people seem to praise the title track, but I actually prefer "Fight or Fall" while not as fast, it is incredibly catchy. "Sign of the Crimson Storm" changes things up a bit, well alot really. It's much slower, almost sounds like late 70's hard rock like Deep Purple or something, catchy fucking chorus though. "Flight of the Warrior" picks up where the first 2 tracks left off, it's very fast speed metal, and probably my second favorite song on the album. The verses are great, the chorus is just plain infectious, and the banshee wail near the end is amazing. Skip to 3:52 to see what I mean, "the flight of the warri-aaaahhhhhhhh yeah!!" "Johnnys Back" is another rocker, not as fast as the other tracks, but not as Deep Purple-ish as Sign of the Crimson Storm. Good vocals, aggressive drumming, and another catchy ass chorus.

Then onto the pinnacle of the album, "Bloodstreets." It's a much softer song, even with a little acoustic part at the beginning, but once it gets going it picks up pace a bit. The chorus is absolutely god-like, one of the most catchy things I have ever heard, Tony Moore must have been channeling Bruce Dickinson to pull this off. He can be a little annoying at times but he is perfect on this track. The two solos are fucking epic, everything about the song is awesome. "Buried Alive" is an awesome closer, I'm a fan of Poe so I really enjoyed this one. Using quotes from "The Fall of the House of Usher" and lyrical themes obviously inspired by Poes many tales of being buried alive. The song has a nice slow chug to it, almost Sabbath type riffs, great closer.

Truly one of the great, classic albums of the 80s, and comparable to some of the big names like Priest, Maiden, etc. And even better than alot of the big name releases from the 80s. Can't recommend this one enough, it has a bit of everything, which makes it highly accessible. I have some good memories of driving to work on a sunny summer morning with "Flight of the Warrior" blasting. Anyways, get this album if you don't all ready have it, you won't regret it.

One of the Best Metal Albums Ever - 98%

lonerider, August 28th, 2007

This album has gotten quite a lot of raving reviews in the past months, so it seems as if some people have come to the same conclusion as I, namely that this is indeed one of the finest efforts metal has to offer. But before I discuss its musical content, I’d like to lose a few words about its artwork. In fact, Riot’s sixth studio album is bullet-proof evidence that looks can be deceiving, since on the outside it looks totally hideous. There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The front cover is adorned with a poorly done, if not downright laughable comic drawing that looks like it was rejected by the fine folks at Marvel Comics (who can blame them?!), while the back cover features an incredibly goofy band picture that epitomizes everything that was NOT cool about 80’s heavy metal. Oh, and did I mention it’s set against a pink (!) background? What were they thinking?! Well, at least the artwork is quite unique, you have to give them that!


Alas, on to the music. Once you’ve digested the initial shock that inevitably results from your first encounter with this somewhat idiosyncratic packaging, and you’ve given the record its first spin, you’ll realize very quickly that the music on Thundersteel is as every bit as brilliant as the artwork is horrible. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the finest moments of American power metal, hell, even of heavy metal in general. Yes, it’s that good. Everything a veritable classic needs is right here: raging speedsters (the title track with its all-out speed metal assault, Fight or Fall, Flight of the Warrior, On Wings of Eagles, Run for Your Life), stomping mid-tempo smashers (Sign of the Crimson Storm, what an anthem!), a little more light-hearted heavy rock tracks (Johnny’s Back), semi-ballads delivering a good portion of that typical 80’s cheese (Bloodstreets – hey, it may be cheesy, but it’s soooo much fun to sing along with) and bold epics (Buried Alive/Tell Tale Heart). Lack of variation certainly isn’t an issue here.


Neither is there any doubt regarding the musical prowess of the band. Everything is executed to perfection, with particularly band leader Mark Reale putting on quite a show and demonstrating he is one hell of a guitarist. His shredding yet delightfully melodic solos are a real(e) highlight. Singer Tony Moore has an awesome voice that fits the music perfectly. His vocals are pretty high for the most part, but he always remains firmly in control, never pushing it too far or even becoming annoying. It’s a shame really the guy only recorded two studio albums with the band, since he was arguably the best frontman Riot ever had.


As to the production, it’s actually very good considering the time this was released. It packs a pretty good punch, even with regard to the bass drums (a weak spot with many 80’s albums), and is very clear without sacrificing a certain raw edge.


Naming any personal favorites is almost futile as this recording contains absolutely no fillers and the songwriting maintains a consistently high level. All songs are so full of energy and memorable passages that you’ll find yourself pumping fists and screaming along in no time. The only song I didn’t enjoy right away was the closer Buried Alive, since it’s not as straightforward as the others and takes some time before it really gets going. However, after a little while it really got stuck in my head and I realized that this intricate epic is in fact the ideal way to finish off this masterpiece of an album.


In the end, all I can say is that if you should happen to stumble upon this gem, don’t get fooled by the silly cover, but do yourself a favor and pick it up. Classic heavy/power metal doesn’t get much better than this!


Choicest cuts: All of them, of course.

Polished and refined 80s speed assault - 98%

Empyreal, July 18th, 2007

Wow. I've had this review sitting and stewing for about 4 months now, and I guess the time has finally come to finish it.

In 1990, Judas Priest released their metal megalith titled Painkiller upon an unsuspecting world, and it blew everybody away. That is indeed a very good album and easily a classic. Yet this album, which is along the same lines, had been there two years before that well known album was put out, and it absolutely slays. Riot are one of, if not the, oldest American metal bands, formed in 1976. This was their 1988 output, and it's the first album I've heard from the band. With the classy, stylish soloing and speed metal riffage courtesy of Mark Reale, the mystical, nostalgic rhythm team of Don Van Stavem and Bobby Jarzombek, and the otherworldly shrieks of the absolutely godly Tony Moore, Riot end up with an aurally pleasing combination of 1 part 70s classic rock, 1 part mid-80s Savatage, 2 parts traditional Judas Priest sound, and a few bushels of complete fucking speed metal insanity! Thundersteel is one of a kind.

The songs here are all insanely creative, catchy, and really damn cool. The vocals are extremely addictive, and will stick in your head even after one or two listens. Tony Moore may be a Halford clone, and he may pale in comparison to Midnight of Crimson Glory, but he's no less than amazing, just a small step below Halford. That's saying something, too. I wonder why we never saw Moore in any other bands. He was a very promising talent. The guitar lines are absolutely spectacular; searing and crystal clear, and they really remind me of the equally cool ones put out by Criss Oliva around the same time period in Savatage's best albums. See "Fight or Fall" and "Run For Your Life" for the best Savatage comparisons, and tell me those couldnt've been on Hall of the Mountain King.

In "Sign of the Crimson Storm", they have some extremely strong semblances to Deep Purple and 70s Judas Priest with the riffs and vocal melodies. When they combine those influences with some breakneck heavy metal (the solo), it makes for an extremely enjoyable sound that I can't get enough of. Fucking great song. The title track rivals anything on Painkiller and it's a high-speed burst of metallic fun and fury that I can't get enough of. And the lyrics of "Johnny's Back" combined with the rebellious 80s metal style of the song make for one of my favorites, too. "I am your maaaaaaan!" "Bloodstreets" is a semi-ballad of sorts, but it still ends up rocking, and "Flight of the Warrior" and "On Wings of Eagles" make for a great duo of power metal virtuosity, with their most redeeming features being the high flying and glorious choruses they boost.

And no heavy/power metal release is truly complete without the obligatory epic, and Riot realized this, thus the existance of "Buried Alive (Tell Tale Heart)." It's a musical adaption of the classic Poe tale The Tell Tale Heart, and I'm just going to cut to the chase and say that Riot did a very acceptable job with the transition. It starts off with a spoken word intro that reminds me of an 80s horror film, and then eases it's way into a midpaced, darker number that was unlike anything else on this album. It takes a while to kick off, with some clear, searing guitar melodies and another spoken intro over some church bells before the pulsating, grooving riffage kicks in, but it's a damn good song once it gets going. The chorus is darker and more somber, not like the happy power metal jaunts of the rest of the album, and "Buried Alive" is generally the most involved and inaccessible song on the disc. Give it some time to grow on you. An epic and dark closing to a fine album.

The production here is obviously not as good as it could be today, but for 1988, this is a damn good recording job. Every instrument is audible and polished, not muddy or muted or raw in the least, and nothing takes precedence over the rest of the mix. There are really no complaints here at all, except that this should definetly be remastered with modern production. Holy fuck, that would kill.

This was my first taste of Riot, and I'll definetly be checking out the rest of their work in due time. Every fan of 80s power/speed metal should hear this album at least once in their life, because it's absolutely essential. If you're a fan of this kind of stuff, then Riot is your best bet. This might bear resemblances to Painkiller, but it's got a unique sound all it's own, and anyone dismissing Riot as a Priest clone might as well just keep their head up their ass, because they're missing some wonderful metal. Highly recommended.

Better than Painkiller! This is pure class - 97%

Xeogred, April 20th, 2007

"A streak of lightning is shooting through the air"

How's that for a title? Thought I'd throw that out right away since you really can't go through any of the previous reviews without seeing Judas Priest noted all over them. No, I don't hate Judas Priest, in fact they're among my top favorite bands. But since everyone seems to compare this album to Priest's "Painkiller", I guess I'll just be the first reviewer to simply say: "Thundersteel" defeats it. This unlike "Painkiller" comes out with absolutely nothing holding it back, nothing forcing it into play, no commercialized vibe to be found, this feels completely natural. Its pure class. And as the former reviews noted they must have taken tips from Judas Priest, well look at when Riot started, 1976. These guys are pretty dang old themselves, and I can honestly see more hints leading back to their own stuff such as "Fire Down Below" rather than other bands. But hey! Enough comparisons, this album just simply annihilates everything in sight!

When you look at Riot's genre's here at the archives, you'll see just about everything. "Thundersteel" is when they were pretty much purely speed metal, and probaby had an influence on a lot of power metal as well. The faster songs on here such as the opener and self-titled track "Thundersteel" are blazing fast, and the insane solo's just rip. As most can say, when it comes to technical virtuosity with the guitar work, this is hands down some of Mark Reale's best work. Throughout several songs especially such as "Fight of the Warrior" you'll get some awesome shredding in the background as well, and the leads and solo's themselves are innovative and completely original.

Vocalist Tony Moore is often regarded as one of Riot's finest, if not the best one they ever had. Although his singing style is pretty similar to a lot of other melodic vocalists out there, he has his own texture and vibe to his voice. He comes out so lively and gives so much energy into his singing its nearly incomparable, and there's just not a lot of vocalists who can soar with those high notes as clearly as he does. With the music itself, he fits absolutely perfectly. The lyrics are extremely easy to hear as well. As noted above Mark Reale's guitar work on here is hands down his best, technically, and its extremely unique. Every song has their own distinguished riffs and never tends to sound like something that's been done before. As for the bass, it never really tends to stand out as much as other things here, but its not bad at all. Bobby Jarzombek works the drums perfectly and builds upon the speedy sound that they were going with here. They're fast and as proud as ever. Everyone gives more than 100% here.

The production is probably in the higher B range, or maybe lower A quality. There's a few times where it may be a little hard to hear Tony, or something just doesn't seem right. I've heard a few albums from this time that are better production wise, but really its not that bad at all. No complaints here. Its consistent as well and the quality between songs doesn't jump around thankfully, and each instrument is pretty clear, especially Moore's vocals. It just -could- be perhaps a little better in the end.

There's no argueing there's quite a rock vibe to the music from time to time, something Riot has always been known for. In this case though, its like sped up rock with tracks like "Sign of the Crimson Storm", "On Wings of Eagles" and possibly "Run for your Life". I think the vibe comes off from Mark Reale's writing and guitar playing, but tracks like these are undeniably catchy and Tony Moore's singing is as proud as ever. The more aggressive tracks "Thundersteel", "Fight or Fall" (always been my personal favorite), "Flight of the Warrior" and maybe "Johny's Back" are far more speed metal than the rest, and these tracks are totally destructive in every way. "Bloodstreets" is a slow song that I actually really enjoy, regardless that I can't help but think of the Scorpions when I listen to it, its a sin perhaps. Tony Moore again gives off an incredibly emotional performance with that song and really takes the spot light. The final and longer track "Buried Alive" starts off with one of those generic TV intro's, and then gets into some incredible soft shredding and builds up to quite a monster. A very diverse song and even pretty dark at times. From the beginning and to the end, this album is an unstoppable force. Practically every single track is unforgettable in its own way, with each song being unique and dynamic and jam packed full of power and energy.

In the end, "Thundersteel" is often seen as a speed metal classic, and rightfully so. Its an extremely high calibur album with a natural and effortless feel to it. With no low points at all, you really can't go wrong with this legendary release. Riot's other releases jump around tending to fall into the hard rock genre from time to time, and their newer stuff is way more dynamic than this, but don't turn your back on trying this one out just yet. Its truly something else, and at times a little surprising something like this came from this band. But it did, and man does this album just trample over everything in its path! Recommended to just about any metal fan of any kind.

Evil ones beware!!! - 100%

hells_unicorn, January 20th, 2007

Riot has always been ahead of the curve, be it their powerful riff machine, or their unapologetic status as pioneers in the speed metal genre. I would like to take an opportunity to differ once again with the common viewpoint here, this is not “almost” Painkiller 2 years before; it is its doppelganger, at least in terms of kick ass aggressiveness and image. It is a more musical and complex answer to the thrash genre that it fathered; its spirit is that of a triumphant warrior cutting down its foes. While the heroic Painkiller soared through the sky putting fear into the hearts of his enemies, Thundersteel’s half-cyborg/half-tank body stood tall to face them on the ground.

In 1988 metal was mostly known by its image, and if you judge these guys by that alone, they look like the bastard sons of Motley Crue and Judas Priest. But when Tony Moore blasts his high banshee voice into the microphone, he sounds like a crazed Viking Berserker ready to behead an army of frightened Romans. Mark Reale, the only remaining originator of this outfit, wields his guitar like a battle axe and challenges the likes of K.K. Downing, Dave Murray and Ross the Boss. Bobby Jarzombek, who is well known for his work with Rob Halford’s solo project, as well as several other bands, gives the performance of his life on here. Don Van Stavern keeps the bottom end solid and has a wicked bass intro in “Johnny’s Back”.

There is never a dull moment on this album, from start to finish it grabs you by the throat and commands you to praise the Gods of Metal. Be it the fast as hell title track, which rivals anything Judas Priest has ever put out, or the more moderated Deep Purple riff monster “Sign of the Crimson Storm”, it screams metal. You’ve got an anthem of rebellion and non-conformity at warp speed like “Johnny’s Back” in the running, or the Manowar inspired heavy ballad “Bloodstreets”, which gives Heart of Steel a run for its money. “Fight or Fall” and “Flight of the Warrior” have memorable choruses and plenty of amazing lead work, all done by the original speed metal riff man Mark Reale, while “On Wings of Eagles” is a better produced version of something you might find on Kill Em’ All.

We’ve got two highlights on this album, both of which are a good bit different than the lion’s share of speed driven songs on here. “Run for your life” is an upper mid-tempo crusher with tons of great lead guitar work, but it’s true charm is the chorus, which reminds me a bit of the high/low vocal interchanges that you hear on Dio’s early material. “Buried Alive (The Tell Tale Heart)” is actually a bit reminiscent of Crimson Glory’s work on Transcendence, which came out the same year that this did. You’ve got a rather odd spoken intro with a clean and somber guitar line, followed by some brilliant twin guitar soloing (all done by one guy, just the same way Tony Iommi did it). After 3 minutes of mind-blowing, we get a slow and evil sounding groove that grows into a brilliant homage to the NWOBHM, names like Iron Maiden and Angel Witch come to mind.

In conclusion, this is a piece of metal history that demands to be listened to. If you are a power metal fan who lives for speed and melody, get your tight jeans wearing ass to the store right now. If you’re a holdover from the glory days of traditional metal and you don’t have it, get it now or risk having your credentials as a metal head questioned. If you love thrash with attitude, this gives the bands that carry that label a run for their money. Fans of Judas Priest, Manowar, Helloween, Running Wild, and Iron Maiden in particular will love this. There is a new power alive in the distance, carrying a fully charged plasma cannon, followed by an army of true metal warriors, and his name is “Thundersteel”.

Riot's 1988 Comeback CD Was A Killer - 90%

gunnarvl, April 19th, 2006

Back in 1988, in New York, I received an advanced cassette copy of what was the first Riot album since" Born In America". "Thundersteel" remained in my cassette deck till it literally wore out. This was Riot's first foray into the speed/power metal genre and their efforts were astounding.

Featuring a revamped lineup with the exception of mainstay Mark Reale, the new Riot took heavy metal to new technical heights. The title track is absolute 95 MPH speed with a terribly catchy riff. The solo is long and classically oriented with a familliar Accept "Fast As A Shark" like segment. Tony Moore's voice soars high and clear over everything. The bass work by Don Van Stavern is excellent as is the precision drumming by Bobby "The Zombie" Jarzombek. " Fight Or Fall" continues the frantic pace. "Fight or fall, in the name of the children, fight or fall in the name of us all" screams Moore, and he means it too! "Sign of the Crimson Storm" is a much slower Sabbath type offering that is excellent as well. "Flight of the Warrior" and "On Wings of Eagles" take us on the manic ride again at 85 MPH. How could a metalhead not love lyrics like "Heat seeker flash headed straight for your heart, one finds the mark and a fireball rocks the sky; men and machines sweet and deadly we are, we rule the wind on titanium wings"." Johnny's Back" is next up. It is very catchy and probably could have been a radio hit for Riot. "Tell the boys to step aside, tell the girls to form a line, the king is back to claim the land again". "Bloodstreets" is a fine ballad, slow and yet powerful at the same time, another "should have been" radio hit. "Run for Your Life" is really the only weak song on the album and it seems like the band needed to fill up four minutes of time on the record. "Thundersteel" concludes in creepy fashion with "Buried Alive (The Tell Tale Heart)", a story of a man who awakens in a coffin at his own funeral. You even hear the sounds of the wake going on outside the coffin! While not a great song, it is good and brings to a close a near-great effort by a very fine group of musicians.

This album was not given the promotion it required by CBS and while it charted in Billboard, it died a quick death. The band of course continued battling onward, fighting the good fight and never compromised. Thundersteel is a fine representation of Riot in 1988, or for that matter in 2006. Spend your money on this excellent piece of music."

Nice screaming speed metal - 92%

UltraBoris, August 13th, 2002

These guys have definitely heard of Judas Priest. Especially in the vocals department! Riot broke up in 1984, and were reformed in 1986 by sole remaining founding member Mark Reale, who recruited, among others, Harry Conklin. Harry left the band, and in came someone even more screaming and over-the-top: Tony Moore! The vocals here are very close to those of none other than Rob Halford, and when one throws in some blazing guitar work, and the drumming of none other than current Halford stickman Bobby Jarzombek, it's total fucking Judas Priest worship.

The first few songs on here are wicked fucking fast - almost Painkiller 2 years before the fact. They're catchy, and have nice lead and rhythm guitars, especially the main riffs on "Flight of the Warrior". It is on the fifth song where we slow down just a slight bit. "On Wings of Eagles" has almost a Deep Purple-on-crack sound to it (almost, but not quite that of Judas Priest, from "Screaming for Vengeance" era).

Side two begins features "Run for Your Life" (actually the second Riot song by that name, completely unrelated to the first, from the "Fire Down Under" album). This may be the best song on here - fast, furious, and a killer guitar solo. We close with the epic "The Telltale Heart", which is 9 minutes of fun. More midpaced than anything else, and the riffs have almost a thrash intensity to them.

Overall, quite a nice fucking album. I got this on tape once for 49 cents - fucken bargain, huh? Oh and don't let the band picture throw you off... yeah they got the silly big hair, but this album fucking shreds!!