Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Riot's Fire Down Under is 30

 Riot - Fire Down Under
Fire Down Under
Rating: ****

In the crazy world of rock n roll, many bands have succeeded and have become superstars. Then there are those bands that barely scratch any surface and are ignored. A New York-based hard rock band named Riot, would build up a cult following amongst hard rock and heavy metal fans. Formed in 1975, Riot had already released two albums before the end of the 1970's: Rock City and Narita. The band's third album, Fire Down Under, was released on February 9, 1981. Fire Down Under turned out to be Riot's biggest album and Riot could've made it big. However management, ever changing record labels, and other bad luck kept the band from really making it. Still, Fire Down Under is considered by hard rock fans as a classic album in the genre and an overlooked one.

Riot formed in 1975 in New York. The band had one problem from the beginning: line-up stability. A line-up could last as long as one album. It turned out that guitarist Mark Reale and singer Guy Speranza would be the only original members who made it up to Fire Down Under. By 1981, Riot was in their fourth line-up. The band consisted of Reale, Speranza, guitarist Rick Ventura (joined in 1979), and new members bassist Kip Leming and drummer Sandy Slevin. The band had already been dropped by Capitol Records and management tried getting them signed to another label quickly. Eventually, Elektra Records released Fire Down Under and it managed to enter the Billboard top 100.

Fire Down Under starts off running with "Swords & Tequila", which opens with a killer guitar jangle. Speranza's vocals are powerful and an energy for the entire album. The self titled track is the shortest song on the album but it might be the heaviest off album: the band experiments with speed metal. Reale's solo is incredibly fast. "Feel The Same" softens things down a bit nicely. Speranza's singing on this song is outstanding. He goes from soft in the first verse and then starts letting it all out by the next verse. "Outlaw" is probably one of Riot's best known songs (if there is such a thing). The song had the potential of being a hit single, as the songs lyrics deal with the topic of gambling. With lyrics like "Bet your life on a silver ball/Spin it 'round the wheel/Will it land on the black or the red?/The outlaw's got no deal", the song is also well written. With catchy guitar licks and memorable lyrics, "Outlaw" should have been a hit. "Don't Bring Me Down" is a really nice rocker. The guitar work on here is hard to describe but it's got this "round-and-round" sound that's just insane. "Don't Hold Back" is another fast paced rocker that delivers. "Alter of the King" sounds has a Thin Lizzy-like feel to it: it has this wonderful, melodic guitar instrumental in the beginning. A minute and half in, the song gets straight to the rocking. "No Lies" is another slower song but the chugging of Reale and Ventura's guitar give the song an edgy feel to it. "Run For Your Life" is another fast paced rocker, which could be in the vein of speed metal. The album ends with an amazing guitar solo from Reale "Flashbacks", which also includes samples of speeches of Riot being mentioned (hence the title of the song).

Fire Down Under was a strong album indeed. However, it proved to be the band's last with Guy Speranza. In 1982, he left the band. It's been rumored that Speranza had a hard time melding the rock n roll life with his religion or that his girlfriend talked him out of it. Speranza eventually quit the music business and became an exterminator in Florida. Speranza later became diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and later died on November 8, 2003. Riot replaced Speranza with Rhett Forrester. Forrester sang on the band's next two albums, Restless Breed and Born In America (released in 1982 and 1983). Riot then faded away when an LA band called Quiet Riot became huge with their album Metal Health in 1983. In 1984, the band either broke up or went on hiatus. In 1986, Mark Reale resurrected the band (with a different line-up, of course) with singer Tony Moore fronting the band. In 1988, Riot came back screaming with Thundersteel. The album was considered as a comeback for the band and introduced people to the band. The band followed that album up with The Privilege of Power in 1990. Moore left the band in 1992 and the band went line-up crazy again (although they did have a secure line-up from 1992 till 1999). Still, Riot have stayed together and kept releasing studio albums. Since 2009, the Thundersteel era line-up have been reunited. Riot currently consists of singer Tony Moore (1986-1992, 2009-present), guitarists Mark Reale (only original member) and Mike Flyntz (1988-present), bassist Don Van Starvern, and drummer Bobby Jarzombek. This line-up is currently working on a new album (the band's first since 2006's Army Of One) that should be out sometime this year. 

In the end, Fire Down Under is a solid hard-rock album. For me, it ranks at #169 in my list of 200 favorite albums. That sounds about right given that I heard the album for the first time about a year or two ago. Overall, Fire Down Under is a classic album. Radio DJ and That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk lists Fire Down Under as one of his favorite albums. If you haven't listened to this album yet, what are you waiting for? Buy it!

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