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Riot V

Naast de klassieker ‘Fire Down Under’ uit 1981 is het uit 1988 stammende Riot album ‘Thundersteel’ ook altijd één van mijn favoriete platen geweest van deze Amerikaanse power metal formatie. Het song materiaal dat op nieuwe album ‘Armor Of Light’ te vinden is, deed me erg denken aan ‘Thundersteel’ en ik was dan ook aangenaam en vooral positief verrast door hetgeen ik hoorde. De frisheid en de energie spatte er van af en dat had ik vooraf toch zeker niet meer verwacht. Er werd contact gezocht met bassist Don van Stavern, die vol passie de gebeurtenissen van de laatste jaren met betrekking tot Riot toelichtte.

Door: Sjak | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

Hi Don, let’s go back a couple of years in time to your previous album ‘Unleash The Fire’. What did that album mean for the band both from a commercial as well as an artistic perspective?
Since it was the first album without Mark made it a real important record for us and we put a lot of heart and soul into that one. Even though Mark did appear on ‘Immortal Soul’ in a limited way because of his health issues already started to get to him, ‘Unleash The Fire’ was indeed the first one after his untimely passing. After we gained the strength to continue, we had to decide how to move forward without the founding member and basically ‘Unleash The Fire’ had to become a dedication to Mark. If you listen to the music on it, you can hear that we kind of channeled a lot of the style throughout the entire career of Mark. The album was a form of thank you to our mentor and a good example of how the band was going to move forward without Mark. It was a tough record and we had to await the fans’ reaction on the continuation of the band, but everybody was very positive about the actual end result. Also from a commercial perspective it was quite a success as SPV was able to sell a lot of it. That was what let us to keep going as the fifth chapter of Riot.

You already mention the fifth chapter and as a result you decided to add the V to the band name. Weren’t you afraid that this would cause a bit of confusion in the metal community?
Well, maybe it does a little bit, but it was a conscious choice of us to do so. We didn’t have to do it as there were no legal issues whatsoever as we own the band name, but even though Mike and I had been in the band longer than anybody I felt that this was the fifth chapter of the band. Let’s convey to the people that we not only trying to live on the legacy of the old Riot, but that we are a band for the future. Chapter one was the period with Guy Speranza, chapter two was with Rhett Forrester, chapter three featured Tony Moore, chapter four were the Mike DiMeo years and now chapter five features Todd Michael Hall as the Riot vocalist. Therefore I thought it would be cool to add the V to the logo to clarify that this is the fifth chapter of the band. It’s a name change but in a way it isn’t as it just means that a new chapter in the book is written. It don’t think it causes any confusion as the people know that it’s still the same band and as always we still stand for great power metal music.

Now four years later you come up with the successor to ‘Unleash The Fire’, but what has the band been up to in the period between these two albums?
There was a lot of business to be taken care of and we had a lot of things going on with individual members at the time too. We were getting out of our contract and we had to find good representation for the music that we were writing. I wanted to get Riot back into that metal mainstream that we had been in, so we needed to make a conscious effort to write music that can compete with today’s standards and we needed a record label that was able to support us with that. I took over the management duties of the band, because I felt that being in the band for so long I knew exactly how we need to be treated. So I searched for proper representation and it took us a while to realize a good deal. Since Nuclear Blast is one of the biggest labels around I reached out to them and coincidentally ran into Markus at Bang Your Head and he told me that he was a big fan of the band. So we started to talk about a possible deal which took a bit of time to actually materialize. So in those four years there was a lot of preparation going on and we probably wasted one or two years with personal stuff that was going on in our lives, but we had to get something out pretty quick if we wanted to keep the legacy going and to keep the fans’ interest. By the time we got everything together we had written about twenty-five songs and recorded about fifteen of them. So there were a lot of songs and that’s why it took a while as it was very important to pick the best ones for a record that’s coming out on a new label and basically a record that we were standing on our own two feet finally.

When did you start with the actual song writing for this new album and what was the game plan that you had for it?
We started after we did our last tour for ‘Unleash The Fire’. We first had to get some legal and personal stuff done and once we got that out of the way, we started writing for the new record. I myself am always writing music however and I had already many song ideas available. About six months after the tour we really started the writing process for ‘Armor Of Light’ and exchanging the ideas that we had. We knew that we needed a record that would appeal to the older Riot fans as well as the new fans that we’re trying to acquire. Even though it’s an older band with a lot of history we wanted to make a fresh record. I wrote songs in the style that I’m known for which is reminiscent to the ‘Thundersteel’ style, while Mike channeled his gears in the DiMeo years, which is a little bit more in the Deep Purple vein. We had that conscious effort going to combine our best songs and we had a lot to choose from. We picked the tunes that we felt that everybody would like and which would appeal to the Riot fans. We wanted to deliver a very aggressive record, but melodic at the same time.

In my opinion this time the production by Chris Collier is way better than on the previous album, so how did you get him involved and what do you think about the album sound-wise yourself?
Actually, in the four years that we were off we were negotiating with several labels before we ended up with Nuclear Blast. When we were talking to their team, Chris had produced quite a lot of bands for them and we spoke with him about the possibility to let him take care of the production of our new album. We listened to some of his productions and he had just done the new Flotsam And Jetsam record and the new Prong to name a few, so we thought that this might be good for Riot, to come up with a fresh, new sound. As we were on a new, big label, we thought it would be great if we could provide the album with a more modern sound. We let Chris mix a couple of songs and we like the aggressive sound that he provided the songs with. So he was able to capture the melodic sound of the band but with a little more power behind it. The production is edgier than we’re used to, but I’m very happy with how it came out.

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A lyric video was created for the track ‘Victory’. Why did you choose to release a lyric video first and why did you choose for this particular song?
The label picked their top three songs, which were ‘Victory’, ‘Messiah’ and ‘Heart Of A Lion’. We wanted to put something very powerful out which would hit you right to the head and we thought that ‘Victory’ was the best candidate for that. The guitars and the soaring vocals of Todd Michael Hall really make a statement that Riot is back with a very fresh and edgy in-your-face sound. So Nuclear Blast were the ones that picked the tune and I agreed with their reasoning behind it. We chose to do a lyric video first just for the fact that it will show people a song before the record is out. We will release a video for the song ‘Heart Of A Lion’ soon, as it’s already shot. After that a third one for ‘Messiah’ will come out after the release of the album and this is basically a live video showing the band on stage.

What do you think about the importance of videos nowadays as besides YouTube there aren’t too many possibilities for broadcasting anymore?
Yeah, it’s a different world now. In America MTV has become more of a reality channel now, but even if they broadcast music they don’t show any metal videos. So the only possibilities are now indeed YouTube and maybe some occasional metal shows on the internet. It’s a good marketing tool that you need to have for promotional purposes. Heavy metal has always been an underground thing, but you always have that core that still want to see some underground videos and that’s basically what they are now. They’re not as slick, not as produced as they used to be, but they’re still important.

As a bonus song you included a re-recorded version of the classic track ‘Thundersteel’. Why did you decide to do this and what do you think about the actual end result compared to the original?
It’s always tough when you do such a classic song, but Markus mentioned that it was the thirtieth anniversary of the album and he thought that it would be really cool to show that the Riot V line-up were able to do a great version of this classic tune. The idea for doing this came very late in the game and since I was the song writer we agreed to go for it and we recorded it after every other track of the album was completed. We changed a couple of things compared to the original version and we recorded it in just one week. When I listen to it now, it just sounds incredible and I’m very happy with how it came out.

You told me that you had way more material than the twelve that ended up on the album, so what is going to happen with these?
We will use a couple of them as bonus tracks on the digipack version and on the vinyl version. There’s a song called ‘Unbelief’ and it’s a bit slower than the majority of our material and it has a bit of an Egyptian feel to it. It’s reminds me a bit of early Fates Warning in their ‘Awaken The Guardian’ days. We thought it was cool enough to pull it out and use it as one of the bonus songs. The other bonus was the track ‘Thundersteel’, so those two are basically the bonus tracks, but maybe some of the “left-overs” will be re-released by the end of the year in an EP-format. The songs will eventually see the light of day, that’s for sure.

The album artwork was done by Marius Gandzel. How did you get him involved and what was the assignment that you gave to him?
Bart Gabriel turned me on to Todd when he was singing in Jack Starr’s Burning Starr and he got me in touch with Marius as well. I was really looking for an artist that would capture the Riot mascot in an aggressive cover. We made the Riot mascot a bit more vicious and aggressive in line with the music. I explained the concept of ‘Armor Of Light’ to Marius and he came up with this great artwork.

The album was released on April 27th, but what are you own personal expectation from this album? When will it be a success for you?
When it goes double platinum and when we’re on tour with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest…haha. On a more serious note now, as a band we’ve had our ups and downs and if we can just keep moving forward and get better tours I will be very happy. Hopefully the new record is able to sell enough to get us back to that next level. So far so good, we’re at Nuclear Blast, we play at Wacken so we’re climbing up again.

What are your plans after the release of the album? Do you already have any concrete shows or tours booked for 2018?
We will be playing a couple of festivals in Europe (Headbanger’s Ball, Wacken and Leyendes Del Rock) and we will announce the dates for more shows soon. As we’re on three consecutive festivals in weekends, we rather not fly back and forth but remain in Europe and fill the spaces between the festivals with club shows. Probably it’s going to become a five-week tour throughout Europe. Next to this in October we will finally release a Riot live-DVD with the complete ‘Thundersteel’ set, so that’s going to be really cool as well.

Riot V is already around for decades, so how long do you intend to keep this train rolling, as the new album proves that you’re still all fired up?
I’m hanging in there, you know. We’re all getting older and I never thought at this point in the game that I might still be doing a band like Riot as I’m in my mid-fifties now. Being in the band energizes me and I have passion for both heavy metal music and Riot. We seem to be able to attract a younger crowd as well nowadays, so as long as we can keep moving forward and as long as our music is appreciated by the fans we’ll be around. As Mark always used to say: “The band’s longevity is through creating good music”.

Okay Don, I would like to thank you for your willingness to answer my questions. Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you want to express to our readers?
We covered pretty much I think, but I would like to let everybody know that Riot music is coming from the heart and it’s the people make the band what it is. Therefore I would like to thank everybody for their support and we will keep on making music as long as the fans want us to continue!

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