On January 25, 2012, Riot founder / guitarist / mastermind Mark Reale tragically lost his lifelong struggle with Crohn’s Disease. The band issued the following statement:
“To friends and fans of Mark Reale and Riot,
We are deeply saddened to confirm that Mark has lost his battle with a lifelong illness. Your thoughts and prayers are appreciated by Mark’s family, friends, and bandmates at this difficult time.”
Reale founded Riot in 1975, and the band debuted two years later with Rock City. In their thirty-five year career, Riot endured constant line-up changes and certainly saw some ups and downs, but they nevertheless managed a string of first-class metal records, including outright classics in 1981’s Fire Down Under and 1988’s Thundersteel. Riot’s latest record Immortal Soul saw the Thundersteel line-up reunite, and it showed the band back on top of their game as they neared their fourth decade. Throughout it all, Reale was the band’s sole constant member, its driving force and one of the most unsung guitarists and songwriters in metal.
RIP Mark Reale. Long live Riot.
I never had the pleasure of knowing Mark Reale in person, but his music has been a part of my life soundtrack for long enough that the news of his passing floored me. We’ve lost another champion, and the only way I can think to express my gratitude to this phenomenally under-rated guitarist and songwriter is to recount how I initially came to know of him.
When I was young I used to discover a lot of new metal via the various college radio shows in and around my home town. One of the programs I used to record was a little gem called Kick Out the Jams hosted by the esteemed Mitch Kapka every Saturday from 10am to 1pm. I bring this up because whenever I think about or hear Riot, I can’t help but recall my first exposure to the band, which occurred during one of the many long excursions my family used to take driving to Tennessee to visit my grandparents in the early 80s. Those long hauls were brutal (likely more so for my parents), but the stretched hours spent crammed in a back seat were a little more tolerable thanks to the piles of recorded shows I was able to pour through on my handy little Walkman. I can still remember the precise moment when “Outlaw” first entered my life; that shimmery, contagious guitar lick at its onset harmonized beautifully with the passing expanses of open road. And my Lord, the hook, the story and Mark Reale’s phenomenal guitar work at the heart of that conquering tune not only ignited the soundtrack to nearly every waking moment spent during that trip, but it also brought to life an enduring brotherhood with Fire Down Under that’s now bridged 25+ years. To this day, that record remains one of the first I reference when people ask me about my favorite roots hard rock/heavy metal recordings, and I simply will never grow tired of it.
Rest in peace, Mark Reale — you will be missed.