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While 1982’s Restless Breed was a great introduction to Riot’s second vocalist Rhett Forrester and their best effort up to that point. It wasn’t half as amazing as 83’s Born in America which would unfortunately be the last studio release with the brilliant Rhett Forrester R.I.P (Possibly the most underrated heavy metal vocalist in history).
Often when fans are discussing early pre-Thundersteel era Riot the two Rhett Forrester albums get completely overlooked in favour for the three with Guy Speranza. This is absurd, Narita and Fire Down Under are enjoyable albums but I can’t conceive in anyway possible way how they rank alongside the incredible 1983 release. Born in America generally has taken a heavier, catchier approach without losing emotional depth. Basically the next logical progression for Riot, Fire Down Under and Restless Breed have some great songs but far too many tedious 70’s rock moments that bring the material down.
Rhett Forrester-Riot can’t really be described as the same they were with Speranza. Songs like Narita , Swords and Tequila are as the best examples in old Riot that can be found here, but that still lacks accuracy. Think perhaps a more Screaming for Vengeance / Defenders of the Faith riff sense and tone but the rest of the music having a much more American sound. Completely forget Speranza’s vocal style that’s not what you’re going to find here. Rhett sounds more like a combination of a throaty blues singer, 70’s hard rocker and blood-curdling, screaming demon. There’s no better way to describe him and his West Virginian accent just adds to the substance of his already amazing and unique vocal colour.
The album is very consistent and has no weak tracks as such. With exceptions of perhaps Promised Land written by Rick Ventura, but anyone who owns Restless Breed will know he writes the slower more “bluesy” numbers. It’s really not a bad song just the weakest link found here. With this kind of album it’s really hard to pick favourites every song holds its own quality and defining characteristics. You Burn in Me is probably the most noticeable song at first listen, with its melodic guitar lines and that chorus; so catchy and memorable:
“And you burn in me, just like fire on the raging sea”
Born in America is the mid-paced anthem-chorus-heavy song of the album preaching America being the “land of the free”. Wings of Fire showcases the band displaying their amazing song writing range. While Heavy Metal Machine shows a fast neck-twisting-head-banging classic. I especially love the last chorus and the way Rhett sings “got to keep it clean” followed by the scream and then back to the lower “heavy metal machine” (3:09 – 3:18) man this guy has range. Speaking of Rhett’s vocal range Gunfighter probably my current favourite of the album, Rhett sings this one with just the right emotion for the lyrical content. The: “I’m going to send you straight to hell” line sounds like he’s almost spitting fire.
Without all the emphasis on Rhett Forrester main song writter and guitar Mark Reale (who formed the band back in ’77) has also shown a huge improvement in both categories. Writing 6 out of the 10 songs on the album and those 6 being the best songs (not counting the Cliff Richard Devil Woman cover) must say something. Speaking of the Cliff Richard song though, generally I’m not a huge fan of cover songs instead siding with the original. It’s very rare a cover is better than the original. Yet Riot seem to somehow do it again they truly make the jazzed up version of Devil Woman their own.
Another great point that needs to be made, this album screams early 80’s traditional metal nostalgia. I’ve often noticed when bands make the hard – heavy progression Riot make with Born in America that often they lose the nostalgic values of their earlier releases. This is certainly not the case here. Born in America contains so many of those moments where it’s utter nostalgic bliss on your ears. If you want heavy metal at it’s best, this is as heavy metal as 1983 can offer.
This is the last offering by pioneering New York based heavy metal act Riot, and it is purely a product of its time. 1983 saw an increased interest in both cock rock outfits such as Dokken over in LA, and slightly more early rock inspired outfits such as the Scorpions. Much of the songs reflect this trend in the music scene, particularly in the lead guitar department which is loaded with catchy harmonized parts in many of the slower rock songs, in addition to more overt shredding during the solos.
Rhett Forester’s singing on here is not quite as over-the-top as it was on “Restless Breed”, although album opener “Born in America”, “Vigilante Killer” and “Heavy Metal Machine” have some hit or miss attempts at emulating Ian Gillian. When he sings clean he sounds better and actually quite a bit similar to Tony Moore, who helped turned Riot’s late 80s/early 90s stuff into the revolutionary fits of artistic genius that they ultimately became.
The guitar has morphed a bit on here in the lead department, resulting in something that is a bit more hook oriented than even their late 70s material. “You burn in me” has a highly hook oriented harmonized intro that reminds a bit of the stuff found on the Scorpions’ album “Black Out”, which came out the year before. The guitar soloing on such songs as “Heavy Metal Machine” and “Vigilante” see a large amount of fret board tapping and a slight tinge towards a George Lynch sound.
The best songs on here are the ones that are the most removed from the cock rock sound that has snuck its way into this portion of Riot’s history. “Wings of Fire” has a haunting acoustic intro with some synthesizer sound in the background, followed by an up tempo set of killer riffing and drum madness. This song is essentially the musical ancestor of Thundersteel’s classic track “Bloodstreets”. “Where Soldiers Rule” has a solid horse galloping flow and the best vocal performance out of Forester. This one is probably the closest to the older Riot that originally pioneered this sound, although the atmosphere is quite a bit heavier and the guitar sound is reminiscent of Accept.
For the potential buyer, this is the weakest album that I have heard put out by the band and the reason is that they don’t sound like themselves. When one thinks of a band name like Riot, one does not picture a band prancing around with more lipstick on than their girlfriends, one thinks of a traditional heavy metal band that rocks hard and moves fast. This album has almost no speed to it at all, although in terms of technical prowess this album is the most guitar-oriented of the older stuff. It comes recommended at a reduced price of $9 or less, it isn’t bad, but it’s not them either.