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Overlooked and underrated!! - 75%

Valleys_Of_Hades, December 2nd, 2005

Riot’s 1977 debut album was by far the hardest rocking thing in the states during its time. Honestly, these guys were like…the American version of Budgie or UFO. Yeah, I mean, while all the good stuff had been going on over in Europe for nearly a decade, America had been hit with the crap, or the hippy music as most may call it.
Obviously, one band was fed up with this bullshit. From the streets of New York came Riot, America’s hardest hitting group to ever grace the scene during the 70s and early 80s. Influenced by the likes of Budgie, UFO, Deep Purple and Judas Priest, Riot took the heaviness of those elements to a whole new level, while still maintaining an American hard rock sound in many ways.

Rock City wasn’t an album that was considered “radio friendly” back then. It still had this bluesy tone to it, yes, but with a hard and heavy metallic edge that was completely unheard of in the states at the time, with the exception of the European bands, of course. What you’ll find here is a great mix of early, pioneering Speed Metal from the 70s, hard rock, blues, and traces of NWOBHM influence sprinkled through out. Some people question as to whether this is a true Metal release or just a hard rock album that helped pioneer and entire genre of Metal. Well, in fact, it's both. A couple of the songs are without a doubt, pure Heavy Metal, while there are a few tracks here that are just on the sharper edge of hard rock. Some tunes, however...well, I'll let you decide that.

Although Riot would drastically expand musically and get heavier with later albums to come, Rock City is a complete mile stone for the American Metal scene. Pretty soon, you had other American Metal bands that followed, like Jag Panzer, Satan’s Host, Halloween, Omen, Savatage, Metal Church and the list can go on and on, BUT….Riot was pretty much the first American band to say “Fuck this corporate shit!”, relying solely on their foreign influences.

1. Desperation - Here we have one of the album’s “friendlier” tunes, though harder and heavier than anything else released at the time. The main riff is steady, thick and chugging, giving the song its heaviness, while the vocals deliver a friendlier, more “rockish” vibe to the song. Good start, but there’s plenty more to come…

2. Warrior - Okay, so let me get this straight…Speed Metal…back in 1977?! Yes! That’s exactly what this song is. I mean, the entire Metal scene all over the world owe a lot to Judas Priest and their albums Sad Wings of Destiny and Stained Class, but this album here, Rock City, clearly deserves the same amount of recognition just for this one fucking song! In 1971, Deep Purple had the phenomenal Speed Metal rocker, Highway Star, but this one slays it in every way possible! The earliest form of Speed Metal that the common Metalhead knows about is Judas Priest’s 1978 album Stained Class, most notably for the song Exciter. But this song here is from 1977, one year earlier, and from the States non-the-less. The riffs aren’t bluesy at all! This track is more or less Power Metal as well. Any of you heard Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction album from 1984? Just compare it to this song, and you’ll notice that there isn’t much of a difference. For fuck’s sake, the song is called Warrior! The lyrics are medieval based and are actually about a warrior! Hard to believe that this could come out of 1977 when Judas Priest was barely speeding things up with Let Us Prey, but hey, do you understand why Riot is so underrated now??

3. Rock City - Bad idea to put a song like this after a track like Warrior. Why? Well first off, it’s not a bad song, it’s actually a really fun listen. It’s more along the hard rock lines than Heavy Metal, but still enjoyable. Eh…Hard rock with a metallic edge, shall I say? Anyway, the chorus is a highlight, as well as the background piano work. Overall, this is a very rockish tune with a slight bluesy vibe to it. Come to think of it, I can notice much NWOBHM influences here as well.

4. Overdrive - The only other Speed Metal number on the album. Actually, this one can be taken a bit literally due to the fact that the lyrics are about driving fast. Does it make it any more metallic than the song Warrior? Not even! Although the deep bulldozer bass and heavy main riff give it it’s hard edge, the rockish vibe is still there a bit. I mean, this song is Metal, without a doubt! I can best compare something like this to early Saxon or Motörhead; two other bands whom were straight out Metal, yet possessed a rockish vibe to their music.

5. Angel - Basically what we have here is a hard rock song with a few Metal influences thrown in here and there. Much like the opening track, Desperation, and the title track, this is one of the album’s ‘friendlier” tunes, although it does retain its hard edge. Bit of a party tune? Perhapse, but it still rocks.

6. Tokyo Rose - This sounds like a complete American 70s hard rock song with the exception of the chorus that’s backed by some heavier riffs and thundering bass work. There are also some acoustics in the song as well. Good song, but it’s the worst on the album.

7. Heart Of Fire - Less radio friendly music wise, but the lyrics are your typical love and lust anthem. The riffs here sound quite metallic, foreshadowing what the works of later Riot would sound like. In fact, this is nothing short of a great, NWOBHM sounding tune, especially considering the fact that a lot of the more obscure NWOBHM bands wrote about love, sex and lust, just as Riot did with the majority of the tracks on their early releases.

8. Gypsy Queen - Another simple, yet solid hard rock song that is much less metallic than the last. That chorus though is catchy as all hell! Yes, it’s catchy, but after a track like the last one, something that rocks a little harder is now to be desired for the last track. Will we get it? Well, read along and find out…

9. This Is What I Get - Okay…so this is what I get? Not much better than the last song, if you ask me. In fact, the chorus is pretty pathetic and there’s some strange vocal affect done here. Kind of like some cheap studio echo. Yeah. that’s really what it is. So…this song isn’t any heavier than the last track, but I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again…for this to be coming from an American band back in 1977, it’s pretty fucking good.


Plenty of the early Riot albums are a bitch to find unless you live where I live, but then again, they’re also kind of hard to download as well. If you enjoy classic, obscure NWOBHM and/or hard rock, then you’re bound to love this album. If you’re looking for something with more edge to it, then I supposed that hunting down the album just for the songs Warrior and Overdrive is worth it. I mean, at least you’ll have a piece of important, metallic history in your music collection.