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Steel of the Century

Riddle of Steel has its back against the record machine.

"The much more elusive thing about being in a band is actually being able to write a really good song," Elstner says. "No songs, no bands. We don't sound like fuckin' Tom Petty, but I have so much respect for the guy, like, to [be able to] write such timeless fucking songs. The two-disc anthology is intimidating, it's like, 'My God, the guy has written so many hits.'

"It's easy to write a complex song, but it's really hard to write a simple, straightforward song that is just as fresh-sounding and exciting."

Much of 1985's tunes should be familiar, as the band has been gradually introducing them into sets over the past year. In their raw, purest form, Riddle's tunes are ear-blasting and face-melting without distorting to painful levels. That the band is such a formidable live presence should be no surprise, though; this year alone, the band has been on several tours around the U.S. and trekked to Europe, including a high-profile gig opening for Fishbone in France for "seven or eight hundred people" at a venue called La Nef.

Riddle of Steel: Like Corey Hart, this trio wears its sunglasses at night.
Matt Hughes
Riddle of Steel: Like Corey Hart, this trio wears its sunglasses at night.

"It's the kind of place where you pull up, before you can get out of the van, and go to the back to start loading out, there's a team of five dudes already moving your stuff for you," Smith recalls. "This was the whole rock & roll treatment — you have steak dinners backstage, you have your own dressing room."

But no matter what size venues it plays in the future — or how its music evolves — Riddle's sonic consistency will always make it stand out.

"I still think it's cool that there's an element that I can hear in the stuff that we've just done, that I can hear in their very first stuff," Smith says. "Something about the vocal melodies [Elstner] comes up with, [Vavak's] rhythmic bass-playing. It's a testament to a great band's sound that they can get away with recording with three different drummers — and you can still put on any of those records, and know that this is Riddle of Steel."

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