In the alarmingly growing world of franchise bands carrying on after the passing of their leading figureheads, Riot V is closer to the Black Star Riders side of the spectrum than it is to say Lynyrd Skynyrd. Sure, adding the Roman numeral was a rather flimsy way to avoid a total name change but it still acknowledges the end of an era and a new beginning. It’s also reassuring to see Riot V put out some damn good material in the process.
Like 2014’s Unleash the Fire before it, Armor of Light offers plenty of that post-Thundersteel power metal that Riot fans have come to know and love. The drums are near constant double kicks, the guitars offer a mix of sweeping solos and fast chord progressions, the bass has a subtle but audible place in the mix, and the vocals deliver a slew of catchy hooks in a high-pitched tenor without going full-on Tony Moore. The drum sound is rather clicky at times, but the musicians’ tight chemistry keeps things from feeling too stilted.
Such a description may make the album seem like a retread of its predecessor, but a slower, more melodic execution helps set it apart. Tracks like “Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Reign” and “Raining Fire” may offer gritty updates to the old speed metal formula, but the band’s hard rock side is emphasized more than it had been in over a decade. “Set the World Alight” and “Caught in the Witch’s Eye” offer strong mid-tempo grooves with the latter even sporting a horn section that is sure to remind listeners of The Privilege of Power.
With that said, Armor of Light does prove to be a rather derivative listen. It’s only inevitable as Riot V now exists as a tribute to original guitarist Mark Reale’s memory, but there are moments that draw from outside sources. The verses of the opening “Victory” have obvious parallels to a certain Iron Maiden staple, while the “Kill the King” homages on “Burn the Daylight” and “San Antonio” see the band’s long dormant Ritchie Blackmore influences come to light. But it’s hard to be that mad when the choruses are this catchy and the performances this enthusiastic.
Whether Armor of Light is Riot V’s second album or Riot’s sixteenth, it proves to be an enjoyable listen. It leans more toward the hard rock flavor of The Privilege of Power or the underrated Sons of Society than Thundersteel intensity, but Riot fans should enjoy this regardless of their era preferences. There aren’t as many key players from the classic eras left these days, but Riot V’s clear enthusiasm puts them leagues above most of their peers.
“Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Reign”
“Burn the Daylight”
“Set the World Alight”
“Caught in the Witch’s Eye”