Riot V – Mean Streets Review

My Riot fandom is pretty well documented, but the question remains: What’s it gonna take to make you Riot?

Release date: May 10, 2024. Label: Atomic Fire
If it takes an absolutely kick-ass album cover – courtesy of Gyula Havancsák, his first for this band – then you’re in luck, my friends. The Mighty Tior, his lovely lady behind him, and his biker gang buddies all around, with swords and what I presume is tequila, literally setting tires alight as they tear through the Mean Streets (but respectfully obeying the law and staying on their side of the double yellow line). That’s a hell of a fun cover, yes? So is that what it’s gonna take?

And if it takes an absolutely kick-ass album… well, then you’re also in luck, just as you’ve been in luck many many times before over the course of this band’s lengthy run. Mean Streets is the third album under the Riot V banner, adopted after the death of mainman Mark Reale in 2012. The last album with Reale (2011’s stellar Immortal Soul) saw a reunion of the classic Thundersteel lineup, shifting Riot back to that late-80s album’s speedy and majestic power / trad sound, away from the grittier more trad/hard rock Mike DeMeo-fronted “Riot IV” era. Though only two-fifths of that reunited lineup stayed after Reale’s death, the overall approach remains very much the same through Unleash The Fire, Armor Of Light, and now it’s very much the same for Mean Streets. This is fiery, riffy, melodic, swords-and-tequila-and-fists-in-the-air heavy metal, and is that what it’s gonna take?

From the opening arpeggios of “Hail To The Warrior,” Mean Streets is a monstrously fun ride, propelled by the hard-charging rhythm section of drummer Frank Gilchriest and bassist Don van Stavern, and lifted into the stratosphere by the positively pyrotechnic performances of guitarists Mike Flyntz and Nick Lee. Each of these songs is a masterclass in interwoven instrumental work, from the nonstop riffing and searing solos to Gilchriest’s relentless kick drums. Atop it all sit the impeccably clean tones of Todd Michael Hall, powerful and soaring, somehow sounding effortless even as he reaches beyond the skies. From that opening, Mean Streets‘ first five tunes are all damned perfect examples of classic power / trad, from ‘Warriors” through the eminently hooky crunch of “Feel The Fire” and the hypermelodic “Before This Time.”

From there, the baseline is established, and the second half follows suit. The whole of Mean Streets is forged of a uniform quality and consistent approach, and in that uniformity lies both the album’s biggest strength and perhaps its only minor flaw – taken on a more superficial listening level, across 52 minutes, some of the later tracks begin to blur together, so a little more compositional variety in the back stretch may have helped the initial punch, although I can say from direct experience that, with repeated listens, each of those begins to separate itself from the pack through various means, from the “no surrender” lyricisms of “Lean Into It” to the rollicking introductory drive of “Mortal Eyes” and the twisting riffs of “No More.” Still, take what little criticism lies in these immediately preceding sentences with an undersized grain of salt: Mean Streets may feel a bit longer than its 52 minutes, but there’s really no clear-cut fat to trim, no easy choice to make as to what should or could have been left out, so … well, more Riot is better, right? (Right.)

Way back in January, all those many moons ago, we each detailed the albums we were most looking forward to in the year to come, and one of my selections was Mean Streets. Though it was delayed at least twice (from February to April and then to May), I’m more than happy to report that Mean Streets does not disappoint in the slightest. With or without the V, Riot’s been on the upswing for over a decade now, and even the tragic and untimely loss of their leader hasn’t really slowed them down. From Unleash The Fire onward, I’ve enjoyed each album bearing the Riot V banner a little more than the one before, and that makes Mean Streets my favorite Riot V so far, and easily one that should appeal to any and all fans of melodic heavy metal.

Hail to these warriors, indeed, because this is exactly what it should take to make anyone Riot…

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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