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Mess with the Bull, Get the Little Bighorns - 70%

Tanuki, January 31st, 2019

I happen to carry a keen interest in America's native people. Admittedly it weighs heavier on the side of eating peyote cookies and living one thousand lifetimes as a wolf, rather than the intricacies of their history and cruel subjugation at the hands of the greedy and inhumane. In any case, it's all a verdant cornucopia from which metal can draw inspiration, and in 1995 one of the genre's wisest forefathers did exactly that. Opting not to follow in the adrift, shambling footsteps of Nightbreaker, Riot narrowed their focus to one idea and resultantly penned their only true concept album The Brethren of the Long House.

This traditional/power manifesto is best viewed under a macrocosmic lens. Its overall focus, pacing, and energy makes The Brethren of the Long House satisfying from start to finish, encouraging repeated listens with increasing returns each time. It cycles through its ballads, rockers, and barnstormers like a professional blackjack dealer shuffling through decks of cards. In practiced sequence, it presents its ideas with a whorling hypnotism as each track seamlessly blends into the other. You're looking at an extremely rare example of an hour-long 90's metal album that doesn't feel like a bloated, blundering mass of poorly defined lumps, entrapping you not because of comfort, but because you have no choice in the matter. Like the metal equivalent of a beanbag chair.

And all this, without sounding particularly like a Riot album. With notable exceptions in the form of 'Ghost Dance' and 'Wounded Heart', this album eschews the bluesy eccentricity of its past and opts for a more straightforward approach. 'Glory Calling' is a prime example of this, sounding almost like early U.D.O. in terms of point-A to point-B melodic speed metal pragmatism. Mind you, Mike DiMeo's silken bellows are about as far away from Dirkschneider's snarl as one can get, so this album naturally sounds cleaner and more accessible than, say, Timebomb. Thus we're dealing with clean-cut heavy metal that makes shifty, coy glances in the direction of power metal without ever asking it out. Its herbivorous nature may alienate certain listeners, with 'Holy Land' being the worst culprit; its stubborn tempo and predictable chord progression make it the only track I routinely skip.

However, The Brethren of the Long House - and Mike DiMeo, to be honest - are at their best during the slower and tamer moments. 'Santa Maria', a gentle piece punctuated with poignant acoustics, somber trumpets, and piano flourishes, is one of the most moving ballads Riot has ever written. Except 'Bloodstreets', obviously. Not only that, but the aforementioned blues-inspired 'Ghost Dance' puts DiMeo's lower registers to excellent use. While I believe Nightbreaker may have been written with Tony Moore's stratospheric head voice in mind, the slower, introspective melodies of Brethren of the Long House were designed from the ground up for DiMeo.

So this album accomplishes everything it sets out to do in a calm, focused, practical manner... But it's far from Riot's best. For starters, the production sounds like everything was recorded on a dreamcatcher. And to reiterate what I said in the very beginning, The Brethren of the Long House is best as a macrocosm; an album released smack-dab in the middle of the 90's with great pacing and flow. When inspecting each track individually, you'll find the slower ballads and the bookended 'Elk Hunt' covers from The Last of the Mohicans are among the most memorable statements this particular Riot album makes. Not much of a Riot, if you ask me.

The Brethren of Destined Remembrance. - 95%

hells_unicorn, February 11th, 2007

After the highly entertaining and musically diverse post-80s album Nightbreaker was released, Mark Reale and his newly formed two guitar incarnation of Riot recorded this, the best and most underrated CD to come out during the Mike DiMeo era of the band (which just recently ended with DiMeo’s defection to better known and successful German Power Metal outfit Masterplan). “Brethren of the Long House” is significant both as a piece of entertainment and as a work of art, loaded with speed metal classics, mid tempo riff monsters, a rather interesting vocal arrangement of Shenandoah, and a lyrical retrospective about the history of the struggles between displaced European settlers and the Natives of what is now known as America.

The production of this release is pretty solid and is a slight step up from that of its predecessor. The drums in particular are thunderous and triumphant, and the double bass pedal parts are crisp and clean. The guitars have the right balance of high and low end mixed together, creating a sound not all too dissimilar from the guitar sound found on Maiden’s Powerslave. The keyboards, when applied, are done so tastefully and don’t drown out the other instruments. The vocal tracks are clearly defined and don’t flood the entire arrangement when multiple voices are layered in during the choruses.

The music on here is a more polished and speed metal version of “Nightbreaker”, drawing from the same combination of speed metal tracks and melodic mid-tempo rockers. The first full length track “Glory Calling” is a great speed metal anthem cut from the same grain as “Nightbreaker” and classic Riot song “Warrior”. “Rolling Thunder”, the title track, and “Ghost Dance” follow suit with the same melodic approach, but not quite as fast and furious as the opening song. Other mid-tempo tracks such as “Blood of the English”, “Holy Land” and “Wounded Heart” rely on simple riffs and a solid bottom end to get a similar melodic message across. The Gary Moore cover “Out in the Fields” is also nicely done and fans of Helloween, Iron Savior and Gamma Ray in particular will like this as it bears a strong resemblance to several of the most accessible songs put out by those bands.

The brightest highlight of this album, however, is the riveting arrangement of the “Last of the Mohicans” that both opens and closes this album. The opener sets the tone for the rest of the album, while the closer showcases the amazing technical abilities of every member of the band; even the bass has an amazing solo on this one. The progression of the reprise is similar to a Baroque style Passacaglia (theme and variation) in that the bottom end is mostly constant while the guitars driven the radical thematic changes at the top end.

The album’s lyrical presentation is fairly objective, despite the tendency of some bands to simply bash their own country simply to alleviate their own personal sense of guilt. We don’t get any preachy lines about how wrong things were and how we should all feel ashamed, we are simply provided with an account of history. The subject matter is relevant to me (as was the subject of Inishmore for similar reasons) as I have ancestry going back to the plains peoples of the Lakota tribe, whom were enslaved by the Union government in the 19th century. However, one should also not discount the atrocities that Natives visited upon each other in their various skirmishes, nor the genocidal tendencies of the South American Indian nations (particularly the Aztecs). I am not one to glorify the primitive aspects of the past, nor do I wish to hunt tatanka in the fields as my ancestors did, and thankfully those whom will listen to this album will be spared the patronizing sympathy and historical revisionism that have become so prevalent into today’s society.

To any and all whom wish to hear a piece of Speed/Power Metal genius, this is a band who did it remarkably well in a time when everybody was drooling over bands like Green Day and No Doubt. If you like Power Metal, Traditional Metal, or anything that is riff driven and melodic, this is an album to have. Let the story it contains within greet you with the same message that the closing track leaves you with.

“Greetings from the People of the Standing Stone.”