Saturday, April 25, 2009

Put The Machine In Overdrive

RIOT – “Rock City” 1977 (Ariola / Firesign, US) – People do things for weird reasons, you ever notice that? I mean, granted, there is SOME logic present in the human brain responsible for it’s decisions. Like just the other day, my 7 year old daughter poured an entire bag of breakfast cereal into a sink full of water. I asked why. She said “Mommy had it in a bag that said ‘dry cereal’ and it needed to be wet.’” Ok, makes sense to me. But there are those times the thought process makes you scratch your head and even your’s truly (well, especially your’s truly) is susceptible to such questionable thinking. Take the reason I originally bought “Rock City,” the 1977 debut by NYC band RIOT for example. I remember clearly, to this day, standing in Record And Tape Collector in Towson MD, with $10 burning a hole in my pocket. It was during those glorious years of having enough cash to snag one LP a week and sometimes throwing it down on something I had no idea about…often for that most peculiar of reasons. So, there I was in the “Various R” section and suddenly found myself staring straight into the eyes of some guy with a rodent head, holding an axe while a huge explosion was going off somewhere behind him. Hmm..that at least warranted a look at the back, so I turned it over. Interesting: 5 long-haired guys, the right instruments present in the line-up (guitar-bass-drums)…. But, the songs looked short, 5 to a side, and those days being a worshipper of the early Priest, I tended to put my money on bands who had at least a couple 6-7 minute cuts on offer. I was about to slide the record back in the bin when I noticed the one guitarist’s name: L.A. Kouvaris. And, here’s where it comes to my weird reason. My mind suddenly snapped into word association and it was a simple one: L.A. Kouvaris – K.K. Downing – Judas Priest. Without a further thought I walked to the counter, plunked down my bucks and strode home, assured I had made the right move. Little did I realize that Mark Reale was actually the main lead player and that Kouvaris would leave the line-up before the next album was even completed (to go onto a band called Special Forces). But his dual-letter mojo had done it’s duty for me.

“Rock City” may not be the blistering metal assault of it’s later brethren like “Narita” or “Fire Down Under” but it’s one serious hard rawkin’ affair. Opening with the catchy “Desperation,” the short & to the point rocker sets the table for what would remain one of RIOT’s legendary tracks, “Warrior.” Sporting a driving, chugging fast-paced rhythm “Warrior” flat-out kicks ass, making a major statement about how a song can be both heavy and hook-laden at the same time. It’s also the first place Mark Reale makes a mark as a new guitarist to watch, ripping out a solo that reminds me of Ronnie Montrose at his Les Paul-totin’ best. Next would come the title track and it’s interesting in 2 ways. To begin with, it calls to mind some of the best of the early Bob Seger rockers, something I’ve always had a jones for. Secondly, it sets up the arrival of not only one of this band’s best songs ever but a stone-cold metal classic. “Overdrive” is simply a thundering beast. From the fantastic stop-start verse to the accelerating freight train of a chorus, this song not is not only the template for the volatile metal the band would continue to produce for years, it also is one of the crowning achievements of late vocalist, Guy Speranza. Guy would only appear on RIOT’s first 3 albums, but his legacy is strong & safe with performances like this. One of the rare hard rock singers who could operate with both a swagger in his giddyup and power to spare, his upper range intonations of the old woman-as-a-car metaphor here make it sound like a wholly new idea. “Overdrive” would also go on to become a huge part of the group’s live show, often extending into a scorching guitar battle between Reale & his 6-string sparring partner of the day, be it Kouvaris, Rick Ventura or Mike Flyntz.

Elsewhere on this record, RIOT continues to lay the foundation for what would be a run of devastating albums and the strong suit was the memorability of the songs. Listen to "Tokyo Rose,” “Gypsy Queen” and especially the closer, “This Is What I Get.” The Reale/Speranza partnership fully understood that while the blistering power of distorted, riffing axes is awesome as hell, when you put pop-level melodies on top of it, you can reach rarified air. Think Thin Lizzy, right?! So, if for some reason, you’ve been behind the door on this blazing bunch of New York rawkers, end that travesty today. Start with this bad boy, “Narita” & “Fire Down Under.” You’d be hard pressed to find a better trio. If you want to go further and explore Mark Reale’s later incarnations of the band, grab “Brethren Of The Long House,” “Innishmore” & “Nightbreaker” among others. LA, KK Or Any Double You Want

HURT – “Goodbye To The Machine” CD ’09 (Amusement, US) – HURT are from Virginia and, to be honest with all of you loyal readers, I had not heard one iota of them until about 3 or 4 weeks ago when The Ripple Effect site ( turned me onto their most recent disc, “Goodbye To The Machine.” The review was damn interesting and after reading it, I returned to the picture of the album cover. Dang if it didn’t remind me of Riot’s “Rock City.” I mean, ok, a kid instead of furry-headed rodent-dude but still…. The bottom line is that, at this point, you’re all thinking “there’s no connection, Ray, give it up!” I say, patience, dear motherfuckers, as I intend to educate and inform. Look here! Right off the bat, singer J. Loren was born in Baltimore, MD. That’s where I’m from! Maybe no connection, man, but that’s where I’m from, so that’s a sign I should be paying attention to this shit. Secondly, he was born there in 1981. Now, in case you’ve forgotten, 1981 was the year Riot released what may arguably be their best album (or would that be “Narita?”) “Fire Down Under.” Think we’re done? Not a chance. HURT guitarist Paul Spatola was born in Brooklyn, NY. Riot was from Brooklyn, NY. Finally (and maybe only because I’m giving myself a damn headache), both HURT and Riot (each of which have 4 letters in their names) were given a raft of holy shit by Capitol Records. So now we’ve established that Oliver Stone oughta be making a frickin’ film about this, let’s hear something about “Goodbye To The Machine,” eh?

I hate to use labels. Even the kind that come out of those damn Dymo label makers, remember those things. As a kid my mom always wanted me to use one to put labels on my stuff so it didn’t get lost but I always had trouble perforating the things right, getting the backing off, ad nauseum. But if you want labels, I’d have to call HURT alt. metal. Now you’re scared and running away, I know. That’s silly, come back. I’m serious. I know that the term alt. metal conjures up nightmares for the “underground” guy or gal, sending visions of hideous things like Slipknot, Breaking Benjamin and the like dancing around in your NWOBHM-fueled mind. But don’t judge so quickly. HURT takes the thick, polished riffing, mid-range vocals and panorama-wide production you may have come to fear and makes them…um…damn good! They do this in ways that are pretty impressive and have made a believer out of this old gnarled scribe. The first thing they do is write some seriously killer songs. Right from “Got Jealous” you know something different is afoot here. The hooks were in my head and my first thought was, “I’ve heard a million bands throw their only great song at the beginning, then peter out quick.” So when “Pandora” came up and was even better, I was quickly hushed. The second thing that makes these guys stand out way above the crowd is their actual skill. I mean, these cats can play and that dexterity allows them to extend the structure of some of these songs into surprising little cul de sacs that really refresh. Not in the sense of Radiohead, who for all the world confuse the shit out of me most of the time, but more like what Rush shoulda done during their “Signals” era if they hadn’t listened to Sting & his crew of wining pussies so much. And how ‘bout the neat little thing around the middle of the album, where the band go into a Zep-like acoustic set for “World Ain’t Right” (quite Acousti-tallica sounding) and “Sweet Delilah?” That’s nice stuff. The whole pot is sweetened even more by the production which, from my understanding is purposely strictly analog. It sure sounds it and it gives this record a very unique sound in the context of this miserably digital-ized world.

Does HURT sound like Riot? Surely not, man, but at the same time, don’t worry if your friends say they’ll beat you up if you listen to this instead of the new Satan’s Rotting Ball Hair disc on Southern Lord or whatever. This is a damn good album. God, this is a damn good album! In fact, it’s so good I’m going to stop writing this crap and go listen to it again.
1331 Reasons To Buy Now


The RIpple Effect said...

Damn, did I love Narita when it first came out. In general, I gotta agree, Riot don't get the love they deserve.

Glad you dug the Hurt album. Stunned me first time I heard it.

raysrealm said...

Definitely, RIOT was as good as anybody back then. The HURT really surprised me as well. Eerie when I saw the album cover, the first thing I thought was "Narita"