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Do you have one ace left up your sleeve? - 90%

Tanuki, March 14th, 2019

I'll always remember Riot. I remember the first time the power metal prophecies of 1977's Rock City blew my mind, and when I first marathoned their entire 90's and 00's catalog, astounded at how well they fared through the dark ages of traditional metal. And I think it's safe to say we all remember our first time with Thundersteel. I have so many memories of the showmanship and the magic of Riot; I'm forever grateful to the band and its humble founder Mark Reale. The world lost a bit of its magic on January 25, 2012, when Mark Reale passed away mere weeks after leaving us with one last gift; the magnificent swan song Immortal Soul.

After Riot's longest-serving vocalist Mike DiMeo left the band, Mark Reale made some calls to see who's still around. And he assembled the league of metal superheroes responsible for one of greatest USPM records in history. Mark Reale and Mike Flyntz were now joined by drummer extraordinaire Bobby Jarzombek, who pulverizes polyrhythms and graces slower tracks like 'Insanity' with a Genesis flood of high-concept fills and creative beats. We've got Don Van Stavern, the bassist, songwriter, and fellow mastermind behind Thundersteel and Privilege of Power... who I think is underutilized in this album, frankly, but I'll get to that later. And last but not least, Tony Moore. Oh my god, Tony Moore.

Moore commanded the mind-boggling falsetto in my favorite Riot albums, and although his range has obviously taken a few knocks since then, his performance throughout Immortal Soul is nothing short of heroic. Soaring harmonies and textured falsetto are catapulted into outer space, particularly throughout the speed metal monsters 'Wings Are for Angels' and 'Riot'. 'Riot' boasts jaw-dropping vocals that couldn't be replicated by most singers half Moore's age, and the bittersweet majesty he ascribes to 'Still Your Man' makes it the worthy sequel to 'Johnny's Back' it was intended to be.

Much like the vocals, every other aspect of Immortal Soul is right on the junction of free-spirited and foamy-mouthed insanity. Most leads and solos you're hearing are actually the handiwork of Mike Flyntz, who delivers everything from potent hooks during chilling power-prog epics like the title track and 'Whiskey Man', to volcanic, burst-fire solos that sound like a cross between Akira Takasaki and Wolf Hoffman's shredcraft. 'Sins of the Father' is the best demonstration of this, beginning as a rapid fusillade of beautifully harmonized shredding but eventually slowing to a more manageable pace, allowing listeners to appreciate every explored backing chord.

Though Immortal Soul boasts superbly varied songwriting - as one should expect from an album attempting to echo Thundersteel - I was a bit disappointed by Van Stavern's lack of screentime. There are no bass intros quite like the iconic 'Johnny's Back', and even tracks like the ominous, Arabian-sounding power ballad 'Crawling' deny any rumbling bass undertones to add to the malaise. On the bright side, the production is nice and beefy, allowing for a good equilibrium of old school treble and some modern bottom end. Considering this was predestined to be a cult classic based on its risk-taking and unorthodox approach to power metal, I consider Immortal Soul a great achievement and one of the shiniest trophies Riot could ever place on their mantel.

The Epic of Gilgamesh tells the tale of a mighty king who sought out the secret to immortality. On his quest, he battled monsters, matched wits with gods, and traveled to the ends of the Earth in search of it. Although he returned home a mortal man, he realized that his magnificent accomplishments will live on forever, long after he's gone. At last he's at peace, as he knows this is the closest thing to immortality anyone can hope for. I'll always remember Riot.