||CLASSIC RIOT ALBUMS 'FIRE DOWN UNDER' AND 'RESTLESS BREED' STILL SHINE ON TO THIS DAY AS REISSUES
American Metal band Riot have been around in one form or another for over forty years and these days are seen as a veteran medium level Metal band with pockets of support in places like Japan. Some may think of them as only deserving a footnote in the history of Heavy Metal but those of us with longer memories look back fondly on a time when they looked like they really were going to be the next big thing.
Formed in New York in 1975 by guitarist Mark Reale and singer Guy Speranza they had some initial success and recorded their debut album, 'Rock City', in 1978. Interest formed in the UK thanks to them being championed by notable New Wave Of British Heavy Metal DJ Neal Kay. Encouraged by the international recognition, they recorded a follow up, 'Narita', and were subsequently signed to Capitol Records. The band toured extensively with Sammy Hagar including in the UK. Their success over here resulted in an appearance at the legendary inaugural Monsters Of Rock show at Donington headlined by Rainbow.
Capitol records picked up an option for album number three and this is where it gets really interesting. 'Rock City' and 'Narita' had been very good in places, but taking their style of mashing together NWOBHM levels of energy and crisp US style hard rock they added some real song writing talent to it and came up with 'Fire Down Under'. Regarded with the same level of awe and respect by many as the classic Montrose debut this album has over time become an undiscovered gem, buried in the Heavy Metal vaults and only revered by those that were there and were bowled over by its sheer power and quality. Now we no longer have to blow the dust off our old vinyl copies and we have a remastered reissue on both vinyl and CD with bonus tracks no less.
Speaking to Powerline webzine in 2011 Mark Reale said: "'Fire Down Under' — because it basically put us on the map — was so influential on a lot of musicians, and 'Swords And Tequila' was such a big song which is still played on radio and we continue to play it live.
"We actually didn't know that 'Fire Down Under' would become so iconic and influential at the time. We just gathered some great ideas and put them together like we did with 'Rock City' and 'Narita'. We added a new rhythm section in Kip Lemming and Sandy Slavin and the record ended up coming out heavy for that time period standards.
"The production of that record was very good for that time as well. It was one of those magical moments where everything was clicking musically. The songs, the sound it definitely put us on the map.
"I think Riot was one of the handful of bands that were the USA's answer to the NWOBHM at that time period."
'Fire Down Under' is full of instantly recognisable riffs matched to huge melodies. Songs like 'Swords And Tequila' and 'Outlaw' are full on originals in style, bridging the gap between the NWOBHM bands in the UK like Saxon and the more polished US Metal of the time from bands like Y&T. Both of these tracks still feature heavily in the current line-up's live shows.
They are a Noo Yawk band born and bred and singer Guy Speranza sounds like it with a vocal performance just oozing swagger and confidence. He easily soars over the twin riffing and soloing from guitarists Mark Reale and Rick Ventura in 'Don't Hold Back' and 'Feel The Same' where it's his voice that carries the song along. The rest of the band show how much power they have in the fast and furious title track and the guitar soloing is of the highest quality in 'Altar Of The King'.
There is nothing but quality tune after quality tune then until we get to the album's Achilles' heel. The original final song 'Flashbacks' isn't really a song at all. It's really a guitar solo with overdubs of radio interviews and live MC intros, eventually the full band backing a recording of an audience chanting their name. Meant as a tribute to their fans it really let the other nine excellent songs down and at the time just baffled their fans for the most part.
In this version it bridges the gap between the album proper and the two bonus tracks. 'Misty Morning Rain' is a competent mid paced melodic rock tune while 'You're All I Needed Tonight' matches a staccato set of riffing to a singalong chorus. Neither are awe inspiring although they are pretty well put together for what really must be demos from the time.
It is a real treat to get this expanded version of this classic album to enjoy thirty-five years on. The remastering really shows up the limits of the technology of the time as much as enhancing it but the band and the songs show that they really have stood the test of time.
It was a minor success for them, breaking into the US charts and further touring in the UK with Saxon and an appearance at Motörhead's Heavy Metal Holocaust festival in Port Vale after the album's release cemented their position as a band to watch for UK Metalheads. However, before the band were able to capitalize on it properly, their charismatic vocalist decided that he no longer wanted to be part of the music industry (reportedly for religious reasons) and he left the band. Despite being offered the Anthrax vocalist job by Riot fan Scott Ian in 1982 Speranza remained in retirement from music until his unfortunate death from pancreatic cancer in 2003.
This left Riot in need of a new singer so in came Rhett Forrester, who appeared on the subsequent 'Restless Breed' album and a six track live EP, simply titled 'Live', which quickly followed. This was a less full on Metal Riot, focusing more on the melodic hard rock side of the band and 'Restless Breed' has been overshadowed by its illustrious predecessor. Metal Blade have done a nice job on this reissue too, packaging both that album and the EP on one disc and listening to these songs again there really is a lot to enjoy.
Their new frontman was a hard living rock and roller with more of a raw, bluesy tone to his vocals. Opening track 'Hard Lovin' Man' has a typically incisive Reale riff but the opening lyrics: "Are you ready to rock, are you ready to roll, you wanna rip it up baby come on lose control, I'm a hard lovin' man" may have been authentic Rhett but was difficult for a listener to see past the cliches and appreciate.
Elsewhere things do come across more maturely with the Bad Company overtones of the title track standing out and some quality songs about life on the wrong side of the tracks like the frantic riffing of 'CIA' and 'Loanshark' and the unfortunately prophetically titled 'Violent Crimes' (Forrester was shot and killed during an attempted carjacking in 1994).
The more restrained 'Over To You' lets the new guy show he really has a nice set of pipes with a style all his own and 'Showdown' is a standard Metal band go bluesy kind of song but is sung so well it works a treat.
The six tracks which form the 'Live' EP (not to be confused with the 1989 release of the same name of a Japanese show when Speranza was still in the band) comprise of five songs from 'Restless Breed' plus 'Swords And Tequila' which showcases the difference between the two vocalists here quite succinctly.
'Restless Breed' is a very good album with much to commend it. Listening back to it I find I like it much more than I remembered doing when it came out and in its own right it is a fine addition to Riot's legacy. The main problem with it is that it came right after 'Fire Down Under' and nothing else.
The new singer's somewhat erratic behaviour on tour, record company changes and other factors combined so that they were dropped from their label before their next album, 'Born In America', which would be the last one to feature Forrester up front. In the years that followed it was guitarist Mark Reale who kept the band's flag flying before his unfortunate death from complications related to Crohn's Disease in 2012 (completing a trio of unfortunate tragedies related to the band after Speranza and Forrester).
The music goes on though under the banner of Riot V and the current line-up have an impressive back catalogue of material to draw on. These two releases just show the strength of material available and 'Fire Down Under' in particular will bring a wistful what may have been tear to the eye of many. Essential listening even all these years on.
Both albums are available as digipack CDs with posters and in a variety of vinyl formats.
'Fire Down Under'
'Restless Breed' and 'Riot Live'