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"Shine, shine on, through the wind and the rain." - 85%

Xyston, July 6th, 2012

New York City’s Riot are undoubtedly one of the most underrated heavy metal bands, an especially unfortunate and incomprehensible fact when one carefully considers how early they emerged and how much excellent material they’ve released over decades. From their awe-inspiring masterpiece “Fire Down Under”, to their ingenious venture into an intensely power metal oriented sound on “Thundersteel”, Riot have succeeded many times at crafting powerful, memorable, consistent heavy metal. With “Rock City”, the band’s 1977 debut album, it’s clear that from the very beginning there was no lack of innovation or quality in their output; you can rest assured you’ll find tight songwriting, grand melodies, and a crisp, humbly technical performance.

Anyone interested in tracking down the earliest progenitors of heavy metal should be obligated to give “Rock City” a good listen, and it’s quite clear from the first few tracks that this was certainly not just another average, boring hard rock band from America. “Desperation” starts the album, with a pulsating rhythm combined with catchy melodies, nicely showcasing the band’s musicianship, particularly in the riff work. However, it’s the following track, “Warrior”, that truly exemplifies Riot’s innovative talent, as it’s easily one of the earliest examples of speed metal, and additionally, a proto-power metal gem. This song is complete with racing guitars, soaring vocals, an epic chorus, and classic, badass metal drumming – THIS was 1977? No fuckin’ way.

Moving on from the full-on metal onslaught that is “Warrior”, the title track presents a much more upbeat, rocky sounding Riot, but that makes sense since after all, it’s a song called “Rock City”. It’s unlikely Riot really were conscious of being a heavy metal band at the time, given the strong hard rock vibe on some songs here and the fact that the metal movement as a whole wouldn’t be born for a few more years. If there were few bands in Europe at this time writing music that was distinctly metal, or at least in a metal direction, you can sure as Hell bet that Riot were one of the very few doing this in North America. However, there’s certainly nothing wrong with the natural hard rock feel to some songs here. That’s actually precisely why this album tends to be so enjoyable, which is a trait that would still be found on the subsequent albums “Narita” and “Fire Down Under”. Songs like “Angel” and “Heart of Fire” perfectly capture how Riot was starting to apply metal aesthetics (particularly in terms of tempo and rhythm) to a sound rooted in classic hard rock.

There are no soft moments or ballads to be found on “Rock City”. While we are treated to a more emotional, Thin Lizzy-ish piece with “Gypsy Queen”, overall the album is very energetic and the songs flow into each other nicely, following similar structures (minus “Warrior) and all having their fair share of catchy melodies channeled through a solid, thick guitar tone. Frontman Guy Speranza and guitarist Mark Reale (R.I.P. 2012) stand out in particular on this album; the former displays an absolutely badass mixture of swagger and technical proficiency, while the latter is simply the brains behind the operation. Mark is an excellent, dynamic player, and some of his most fiery leads can be found on “Overdrive”. The album concludes with “This Is What I Get” a pretty straightforward rocker that wraps things up nicely.

If you’re a fan of traditional heavy metal, hopefully you’re already familiar with Riot. But if you’re not, you’ve been missing out. While “Rock City” isn’t their best, it is still a great, innovative album. In 1977, few bands surpassed this level of heaviness, and songs like “Warrior” clearly demonstrate Riot’s early importance to the development of heavy metal. This is a great album to start with for anyone interested in discovering Riot, but for those tempted to hear what this formula sounds like perfected, then “Fire Down Under” would be the answer.