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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.