Hair Metal Bands Such as Riot Kept Rock Alive in the 80s
Jody Haskins for The Laguna Spectator
Hair metal bands ruled the rock and roll scene throughout the decade of the 80’s. One of the era’s great unknown hair metal bands is New York based Riot. Their fifth studio album Born in America is a heavy rockin’ hair metal classic that got lost in the landslide of commercially successful heavy metal and hair metal bands that were also released in 1983. Sadly this album was to be the last record with Rhett Forrester on vocals. guitarist Rick Ventura, bassist Kip Leming, and drummer Sandy Slavin. 
Def Leppard’s “Pyromania”, Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” and Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” dominated the charts and MTV in 1983. There was only so much radio and MTV airtime for bands available in 1983 and sadly there was not enough for this heavy metal classic by Riot.
So many great hair metal bands came out at this time, some got lost in the crowd. Just as Y & T’s Black Tiger was lost in the deluge of LP releases by many great hair metal bands the year before. Riot’s Born In America suffered the same fate. To give you a better idea of the stiff competition Riot faced, Here is a list of the top 10 heavy metal albums of 1983 in no particular order.
- Quiet Riot: Metal Health
- Ozzy Osbourne: Bark at the Moon
- Black Sabbath: Born Again
- Journey: Frontiers
- Dio: Holy Diver
- Def Leppard: Pyromania
- Motley Crue: Shout at the Devil
- Iron Maiden: Piece of Mind
- Metallica: Kill Them All
- Twisted Sister: You Can’t Stop Rock & Roll
The title track Born in America kicks off with a NASA rocket launch countdown followed by wailing guitars. This is a solid heavy metal rocker from start to finish. Try not to pay much attention to the lyrics and just bang your head.
Fantastic lyrics highlight “You Burn in Me” by the late, great Mark Reale. “You burn in me like fire on the raging sea, like a storm from inside, like thunder from a friendly sky.” A familiar dilemma for guys everywhere. You realize the girl you are after is hotter than Hell and your passion for her burns in your veins. Still there is the horrifying realization that if you get her, you will never escape her. Do you run or just let her burn in you? Running is easy while burning is hard and nothing worth having is ever easy, think about it.
Wings of Fire sounds like a Ronnie James Dio led Rainbow track complete with mystical lyrics and acoustic guitar. Just when you think you have a grip on this song, it changes gears on you. Lyrically ludicrous, it is still an original speed metal classic.
This was a common occurrence on heavy metal albums in the early eighties. The band steps out of their comfort zone to do a cover of a song that has already proved to be a hit for someone else in the past. In this case that song is Devil Woman, originally performed by Cliff Richard. If you follow my blog you know the cover song is my least favorite track. There are some exceptions such as Praying Mantis’ version of The Kinks “All of the Day and All of the Night”. I would like this song better if it didn’t have the synthesizer sounds in it.
The first thing that stands about “Vigilante Killer” besides the cool name is the excellent vocal performance by Rhett Forrester. The speed, clarity, control and power that Rhett displays here proves he was a legendary metal vocalists.
Holy smokes Heavy Metal Machine indeed! Mark Reale is blistering hot on this track. Fast, groovy and dirty best describes the guitar sound on this song.
The opening guitar riff of “Running From The Law” sounds like Neal Schon from Journey’s “Escape” album. The concept is similar to Judas Priest “Breaking The Law”. Churning, crunchy guitars growl as a lumbering back beat is established in true militaristic fashion.
Gunfighter comes roaring out of the gate with a vicious two guitar attack and steady back beat. Imagine if Iron Maiden’s Dave Murray played with Bad Company. A hard fast rocker that brings the noise. No reason to get hung up on the cliched lyrics, they are part of the attraction on this track.
Where Soldiers Rule gallops off the vinyl with a speedy legato guitar style reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” and Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song”. Lyrically this song is a mess. It is a shame because the pieces to a classic heavy metal track are all over this song. It just needed about four re-writes and ten or eleven new takes and they would have had it. Not a bad song, just filler that sounds rushed.
Fate and Time stole two legendary rockers from us. Mark Reale died in 2012 after a life long struggle with Crohn’s Disease. He continued to play and record with Riot until the end of 2011 just like the rock and roll soldier that he was. Tragically Rhett Forrester was murdered by a carjacker in downtown Atlanta in 1994. That punk carjacker (who was never caught) robbed the metal world of a legendary metal singing talent.
Beautiful sounding heavy metal guitars and drums start Promised Land, the final track on Born in America. This is a Zeppelin like stomping good rocker. My only complaint and it is a big one is that the vocals are mixed too low on this track.
There were and continue to be many different incarnations of Riot and each one stands out in it’s own special way. Similar to Deep Purple, There is a many equally impressive lineups.
Most of the great hair metal bands have gone away. That is not the case with Riot. Even the Grim Reaper himself can’t kill Riot. There is currently a Mark V lineup with absolutely no original members. The band actually calls themselves Riot V and they are officially sanctioned by Mark Reale’s family. I hear they are pretty good and if I ever get the opportunity I will be going to their show. As far as Riot are concerned, I haven’t gotten past Mark II yet but I look forward to discovering each lineups albums in due time. I hope you come along on the ride with me.