Review: Riot Act – Closer To The Flame
Global Rock Records (April 1st, 2022)
Reviewer: Chris O’Connor
I should say up front, I am a COLOSSAL fan of classic Riot. I was lucky enough to see them at the inaugural ‘Monsters Of Rock’ festival in 1980, then again at the ‘Heavy Metal Holocaust’ festival in Port Vale in 1981, and finally again when they supported Saxon on the ‘Denim & Leather’ tour, and on all three occasions, the New Yorkers were absolutely incendiary! Why they didn’t become huge is one of life’s great unfairness’s – mismanagement seems a big part of it, and the deaths of not one but two vocalists – first Guy Speranza, then Rhett Forrester, and eventually guitarist and founder Mark Reale – marked them as monumentally unlucky.
When they later morphed from classic Heavy Rock into Power Metal, I did lose interest, it simply wasn’t a wise move at all, the band losing any sense of identity. However, all is far from lost. Original guitarists Rick Ventura and Louie ‘L.A.’ Kouvaris have returned with this brilliant new band, hellbent on recapturing the sound and style of their vintage days, and they do it with stunning aplomb. Sadly, before the album could be released, and in one final act of universal cruelty, Lou Kouvaris contracted and tragically succumbed to Covid 19. However, Rick Ventura is forging onwards, and ‘Closer To The Flame’ is a towering statement of intent!
Riot Act is rounded out by powerhouse singer Don Chaffin, bass guitarist Paul Ranieri, and drummer Claudio Galinski, and this band carries the spirit and swagger of the original Riot, while imbuing it with fresh vigour and power. If you loved the timeless ‘Narita’ and ‘Rock City’ albums as much as I do, then this beast will fill you with joy, as it is a fantastic return to classic form. I have the deluxe copy, which not only features the brand album, but also a bonus disc, which features the band reworking twelve of their classic numbers all with huge passion, honestly, this is an absolute gem of a release!
The original Riot were a powerhouse of unruly energy, it never occurred to me that this could be recaptured with such glorious ease, but Rick Ventura has written a cache of songs so timeless and melodically fiery, that literally any of them could seamlessly slot into place amongst the most classic Riot albums, they are simply THAT good. Vocalist Don Chaffin has been a golden find, the voice of Red Lamb (featuring ex-Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz) and Road Crew (with Billy Sheehan and Rod Morgenstein), he has a stunningly powerful voice that reminds you of the late Guy Speranza – but without copying him, his performance throughout is exemplary.
As soon as the album kicks in with the title track, you are blissfully transported back to the early ‘80’s and the heady days of the golden UK Rock Festivals – it is unashamedly ‘old school’ but totally exhilarating with it, I defy you not to headbang and air guitar – because that’s the affect this rowdy musical jewel will have on you! Other highlights include the almost southern Rockin’ ‘Wanted’, the foot stamping ‘Straight For Your Heart’, the breathless ‘Right Between The Eyes’ and the timeless ‘Rock Love And Roll’.
Disc two finds the band revisiting their past, and reinterpreting some of their most classic numbers. For your aural delectation, you will find reworkings of such tunes as ‘Outlaw’, ‘Swords & Tequila’, ‘Road Racing’, ‘Tokyo Rose’, and (of course) ‘Rock City’. These are not mere cloned tracks though, they are given a fresh feel, while paying homage with joy and real power to the originals. I truly hope this is just the beginning for Riot Act, as they deserve to be discovered/rediscovered by a whole new generation of fans. Who Rick can find to replace Lou Kouvaris is of course a big thing, but I hope he does, and I hope the band go on to great things, because they are truly deserving of huge success! Simply marvellous!