Fire Down Under (Elektra 81, Metal Blade '99) Rating: A
It's a shame that such a scorcher of a hard rock album has such a dreadful album cover. Still, having a ridiculous band mascot was the least of Riot's problems, as they were seriously screwed over by their record labels (particularly Capitol) and were also undercut by management and personnel changes. As a result, Riot are at best remembered today as an underrated cult band, but Fire Down Under, the band's third and best album, deserves to be remembered (and rediscovered) as an early '80s hard rock classic. The idiots at Capitol who refused to release this album because it was "uncommercial" lacked anything resembling a clue (Elektra finally took it over but also failed to promote it properly), as this album is comprised of tight, energetic, aggressive, and most of all memorable songs that could've possibly garnered radio airplay if given a proper chance. In particular, band mainstay Mark Rheale was a great guitarist and Guy Speranza a first rate vocalist, and the band matched their superior musicianship to strong if at times slightly generic songwriting. The album starts with a dynamic 1-2 punch with the terrific "Swords & Tequila," probably their best known and best track, and the explosive title track, an early speed metal number. The funky strutter "Feels The Same" briefly slows the pace with a slightly lesser but still mighty fine number, while "Outlaw," with its Thin Lizzy-like lyrics and guitar harmonies, plus some hot soloing from Rheale, is another obvious standout. Then again, this is an album that's full of standout tracks, also including "Don't Hold Back," with its Maiden-like gallop and more Rheale guitar magic, "Altar Of The King," which is more classically European rather than bluesy and nods to Rainbow with its pretty and explosive passages, "No Lies," with its great drums, bright anthemic riffs, and more great grooves and blistering solos (you can't convince me that this song didn't have hit single potential), and "Run For Your Life," another fast-paced blazer. Only "Flashbacks," an obvious space filler, fails to entertain ("Don't Bring Me Down" is another comparatively lesser track that's still good), as the fierce, relentlessly intense Fire Down Under was a consistently hard-hitting, mostly killer, hardly any filler 10-track release (15 on the recommended 1999 Metal Blade re-release, though the bonus tracks don't really add any value). Unfortunately, Speranza left the band after this album (to pursue a career as an exterminator!), replaced by the Dave Mustaine look alike Rhett Forrester and Tony Moore, among others (perhaps not too surprisingly given the band's luck, both Speranza and Forrester met untimely early deaths, the former from cancer likely due to his occupation, the latter murdered during a carjacking). The band's later albums also have their supporters but are in more of a power metal direction; start with Fire Down Under first.

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