Classic Album Review: RIOT ‘Fire Down Under’

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REVIEW – New York City, 1975. One of the best hard rock/metal bands was born. RIOT rose from the ashes of Kon-Tiki, the former band of guitarist and founder of RIOT, Mark Reale. A short two years later, RIOT would release their first full-length LP, ‘Rock City’. A promising start for a young band, including landing a tour with former MONTROSE vocalist Sammy Hagar, who was getting his solo career started. A second album, ‘Narita’, was released, however, bad management and several lineup changes prevented the band from achieving the successes they deserved, and the band was on the verge of breaking up in 1979.

Everything changed in 1980 when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal started gaining momentum, and RIOT was cited by many of those bands as an influence. Their original label, CAPITOL RECORDS, were pleased with the radio play the band’s records were getting, and they wanted more. RIOT went back into the studio to record their third album in 5 years, ‘Fire Down Under’. The only members from the original lineup at this point were guitarist Reale, and vocalist Guy Speranza.

It’s hard to determine if RIOT knew this was their make-or-break moment, or if they merely treated this album like their previous two, and just wrote a bunch of music for a new record. Upon completion, CAPITOL RECORDS had deemed the album, “commercially unacceptable”, and refused to release it. RIOT wanted out of their contract with CAPITOL RECORDS, but again CAPITOL RECORDS refused. After many attempts by management, ELEKTRA RECORDS finally reached a deal with CAPITOL RECORDS to buy out RIOT‘s contract. When the album was finally unleashed in February of 1981, it unexpectedly landed in the Top 100 of the Billboard 200 Album charts.

‘Fire Down Under’ starts with their most famous tune, “Swords and Tequila”, a fast-paced rocker which makes it hard to not bang one’s head and play some air guitar/drums. The album’s title track, an even faster-paced track, follows. Second guitarist, Rick Ventura shows of his songwriting chops with a couple of great tracks, “Feel The Same” and “No Lies”. More classic tracks, “Outlaw”, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, “Altar of the King” help shape this album into the classic that it is.

RIOT‘s mascot, Johnny, similar to Iron Maiden’s Eddie, and MEGADETH‘s Vic, is an odd combination of the body of a Sumo wrestler, with the head of a baby seal. The explanation was polar opposites, much like Led Zeppelin, or Iron Butterfly. The Sumo wrestler represented everything aggressive in the world, and the baby seal represented everything helpless and defenseless. The mascot was an abstract representation of the world’s behavior.

If you’ve never heard this album before, do yourself a favor and seek it out. Don’t listen to it on YouTube, buy the CD (avoid the awful remixed release by High Vaultage records from 1997 and look for the Metal Blade release from 1999 or the Varese Sarabande reissue from 2014), or at the very least, buy a download from Amazon or iTunes. This is a great example of one of those rare, truly flawless albums that come along once in a while where there’s no bad tracks, and no filler. You’ll see why all your favorite metal bands from the 80’s and 90’s cite this album and RIOT as one of their favorites.