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How to Start a Riot - 85%

Tanuki, November 13th, 2018

Ladies and gentlemen, I am hungry. My mouth's watering, my stomach's making noises like Chris Barnes trying to sing 'Back in Black', and it's all because my Riot appetizer has arrived: Platefuls of piping hot guitar leads, the sweet and spicy vocals of Guy Speranza, and riffs thick and greasy enough to close a gorilla's arteries. And yet, perversely, I feel the need to start things off with a less appetizing topic - metal mascots. Everyone has their favorite; I'd wager Eddie is the most popular, followed by Snaggletooth, Rattlehead, Doro's abs, Chaly... maybe Jorn's man-raven thing, if you're weird. Finally, somewhere toward the bottom of this list, we have Riot's very own "Johnny" the harbor seal.

Having a burly, half-naked seal man represent your band is a surefire way to get Japan interested, but no one else. Riot and the land of the rising sun have a mutual lack of respect for subtlety, and the band has been "big in Japan" ever since. Sweetening the deal further was 1977's Rock City being built around the immortal blues metal paradigm of Deep Purple In Rock, and even ventures into Rainbow Rising territory with mystical gallops like in 'Heart of Fire'. Considering the massive success of Deep Purple's Made in Japan and Rainbow's Live on Stage, 1976, Japan taking a shine to these brash New Yorkers was a foregone conclusion.

Whether it's the iconic 'Warrior' lighting up the sky with shredding solos and power metal vocals lightyears ahead of their time, or the steamy chorus of 'Overdrive' making us sweat in a sauna of blues licks and purring choirs, Rock City is a very, very unsubtle album that pulls no punches. 'Heart of Fire' is more blatantly whorish than most metal songs that were deliberately trying to provoke the PMRC; the steamy raunch imbued into this track makes it hard to believe Speranza left the music business for religious reasons. The same could be said of nearly every other aspect of this album; it's an uncompromising, unadulterated dynamo powered by nuclear musk.

I say 'nearly' because I can't in good conscience ignore the commercial courtesans 'Tokyo Rose' and 'This Is What I Get'. These comparitively sappy major-scale rockers are virtually interchangeable, and both remind me of the weaker moments from Saxon's 'fritzy' self-titled album like 'Big Teaser'. I pardoned the sacharrine songs on one debut album written in the genre's infancy, so I think I can extend the same mercy to the other. Especially since 'Tokyo Rose' actually manages to offer some catchy hooks in the midst of its Toys in the Attic coattail riding.

After handwaving these hiccups and the abominable 70's vocoder effects that may generously be cited as "products of their time", you're left with a rock-solid prologue to Riot's immortal legacy. Daring, bold, and remarkably similar to their later output, so much so that 'Warrior' doesn't stick out in live setlists to this very day, Rock City makes for an excellent first stepping stone that I could recommend to anyone capable of ignoring bad cover art. Honestly, I may use that sentence to end every Riot review from here on out. Except Sons of Society. That cover rules.