Mark Reale's Legacy Teaches Us To Never Give Up On Our Dreams
Pain…the pain affects your lower abdomen. When you sit, you do so very gingerly and even walking is uncomfortable. The ceaselessness pain is so intense it assaults your stomach to the point where your ribs start to separate and nausea forces you to succumb to even more painful, but ironically relieving, evacuation from both ends. Imagine experiencing this in varying degrees for a period of forty plus years while also creating honest, brilliant and universally underrated music for thirty six of those years. Through fourteen albums with Riot and three albums with Westworld, this was the life of Mark Reale. The endless struggle he had with such underwhelming media/fan reaction to his brilliant music only paralleled his near lifelong struggle with Crohn’s disease. Ironically, his epitaph was the eerily prophetic “Immortal Soul.” It was his finest moment and just as he reached that pinnacle of his career it was over. Now the world is left with a largely unappreciated legacy, one which I hold to be even more relevant than the tragic loss of Dimebag Darrell. As long as I am alive, the mastery of Reale will always be remembered.
It is most unfortunate that I present this piece posthumously, as I would have preferred to have prepared it as a thirty six year celebration with the hope of many more. However, after witnessing the near universal shunning of the importance of the career of Mark Reale after his death, I decided the story of his struggles for respect needed to be told. Mark Reale was the founder, main songwriter and guitarist for Riot. The band, much like its founder, was the embodiment of resiliency and struggle facing a myriad of lineup changes, horrible bad luck and multiple deaths since its inception in 1975. In 1977, Riot released its first album entitled “Rock City.” The album featured original vocalist Guy Speranza and contained the track that would forever bind the band with its fan base: “Warrior.” The song was the origin of the Riot battle cry of “Shine On,” and lyrically prophesied both the band and its leader’s career:
“Shield at his side, cloak across his breast
His love and his life, they put him to the test
Shine on, shine on, in all of your glory
Shield all you fears, release all your fury
Shine, shine on, through the darkness and the pain.”
Speranza would go on to sing on the band’s next two releases “Narita” and the highly acclaimed “Fire Down Under.” Speranza would later depart partly on religious convictions, but also to start a career as an exterminator. Over the course of twenty years, exposures to chemicals lead to his death in 2003 from pancreatic cancer.
From 1981-1984, Riot was fronted by the flamboyant Rhett Forrester, with his stellar but tad gruffer vocal style (much in the vein of Helix vocalist Brian Vollmer). The band would release “Restless Breed” (1982) and “Born In America” (1983). The albums continued the trademark hard rockin’ style of early Riot. After five releases, lack of success and breakdowns with manager Steve Loeb, Reale disbanded Riot in 1984 and relocated to Texas to start the band Narita with Ex-S.A. Slayer members Steve Cooper and Don Van Stavern (who would later join Riot). Reale would cite the mishandling of the band by management and was quoted as saying: “we had all these problems and were going up and down and the people handling my career were really screwing it up.” (Source: Mark Reale Interview, Metal Rules 2009).
Forrester would go on to a solo career and various other projects, including Jack Star’s 1984 release “Out of the Darkness.” On January 22, 1994, at the age of 37, Forrester was shot dead by a carjacker after refusing to relinquish his vehicle. The case remains unsolved to this day.
Subsequent to the one and only demo for Narita, Reale was persuaded to reform Riot with a new lineup and headed out to Los Angeles. At first, he attempted to hook back up with Forrester, but it was not to be. Jag Panzer vocalist Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin tried out, but was dismissed after his second gig. It was at this point that Reale assembled what would become “phase one” of the greatest Riot lineup of all featuring vocalist Tony Moore, drummers Mark Edwards and Bobby Jarzombek along with bassist Van Stavern. In 1988, Reale unleashed his new lineup with the band’s amazing “Thundersteel.” With the metal scene mired in the midst of a “hair metal revolution,” Reale established Riot as a premier power metal act. Through songs like “Sign of the Crimson Storm,” “Johnny’s Back,” “Bloodstreets” and the title track, the band achieved its highest notoriety and cult following. The lineup (absent Edwards) would also release the equally great “Privilege of Power” in 1990. What Reale didn’t know at the time was just how revered this incarnation of the band would be eventually become, the same one he would eventually die with after the creating the band’s best album more than twenty years later.
After Tony Moore left due to his own disputes with management, Mark Reale hired Mike DiMeo and guitarist Mike Flyntz for what was supposed to be a solo album. What resulted was another Riot album in 1992 in the form of “Nightbreaker,” which marked the most stable time in the history of the band. “Nightbreaker” was a mix of Riot’s hard rockin’ origins (“Outlaw” was re-recorded) with a tad heavier touch (“Destiny,” “Nightbreaker”). That would bleed over for “The Brethren of the Long House” (1995), “Inishmore” (1998), the speedier “Sons of Society” (1999) and “Through the Storm” (2002). Prior to the release of “Army of One” in 2006, vocalist DiMeo announced his departure, though he provided vocals for the release. Holy Mother/Burning Starr vocalist Mike Tirelli took over in 2005 as the band toured the U.S. and Japan.
Meanwhile in 1999, Reale founded the equally unnoticed hard rock group Westworld with Ex-TNT vocalist Tony Harnell. In between the Riot releases from 1999 to 2002, Reale composed three studio releases with Westworld: “Westworld” (1999), “Skin” (2000) and “Cyberdreams” (2002). The band played as an acoustic duo at the 2001 performance at the Ultrasound festival at the Hilton in Burbank, CA. The travel budget was so low that only Harnell and Reale were able to attend. Reale even had to borrow the acoustic guitar from Harnell. With attendance at a svelte two dozen people, the band played a thrilling performance of Westworld material and covers, including Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Sea.” With Reale, it seemed everything was a struggle, but through it all, he never stopped and never gave up on making music up to his dying breath.
Back in Riot, the announcement came in 2008 that the revered lineup from the “Thundersteel”/”Privilege of Power” days would reunite for a tour and new album. It was at this point that delay after delay of the new release would occur. The band played the festival circuit in 2009 and sat down for an interview with Metal Rules in Sweden at the Sweden Rock Festival. Tony Moore spoke about the chemistry of the lineup and that even at that point they had “more than enough material written for the new album.” However, fate wasn’t with the band, as right at the end of that year Moore announced that the was no longer in the band stating in a news article: “I'm extremely sad to report that those will probably be the last shows I ever do with Riot. We have differences about how to proceed with the future of the band that we can't reconcile, so a majority of the other members have decided to look for a new singer. It wasn't my decision, and there's really no good reason for us to part ways.”
With the future of Riot again in peril, the band went dormant for nearly a year until the fall of 2010 when it was announced that Moore rejoined and the new album was coming along. In the fall of 2011, the “Immortal Soul” album was released (See my review here). What resulted was the continuing chapter of the best, but briefest lineup in Riot’s history. If there was ever an album made that personified a career of fighting, scratching and “crawling,” “Immortal Soul” was it. Shortly after its release, the band quickly secured a spot on HammerFall’s European tour in October/November 2011. Fate struck again, as just before the tour, singer Tony Moore required emergency tooth surgery and the band was forced to cancel. Vicious Rumors was named as replacement.
Riot managed to schedule a short string of U.S. shows in the beginning of 2012, including performances on the 70,000 Tons of Steel cruise festival. However, knowledgeable Riot fans learned to brace themselves for the inevitable bad news that would follow any good. This time the fates went straight for the jugular....Mark’s ongoing symptoms of Crohn’s disease caused him to suffer a subarachnoid hemorrhage on January 11, 2012. Reale’s family gave the blessing to the remaining members who wanted to proceed with the dates in Mark’s honor. The band played BB Kings in New York on January 18, 2012, but as bad luck would have it, the members showed up the next day at Jaxx in Virginia to find that the venue had cancelled the show due to lack of permits. In true Riot style, the band openly invited the fans with tickets (and any others) to meet them for a party at a local establishment.
It was at the performance at the 70,000 Tons of Steel cruise that Riot performed the first of its final two shows to date. On January 25, 2012, just prior to the second of its performances, the band learned that founder Mark Reale was dead. The final show went on and the band played a fitting tribute to the man who founded, fought and died at the altar of metal. Talk of the continuation of Riot surfaced a month after his death, and though three of the remaining four were on board, the status of Tony Moore’s participation was in doubt.
Mark Reale left a legacy that deserves the same respect as other legends who fell before him. He is an inspiration to other musicians who struggle for success in the cruel world of the music business. Reale taught us that no matter how low we get in life and no matter what struggles we face, we must always scrape ourselves off the pavement, fight for our dreams and shine on. Brother, you will always be remembered. I hope you, Rhett and Guy have formed the ultimate band in the stars. Shine on, Mark.
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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