I was never much of a Riot fan. The New York-based band passed me by during its heyday in the early 1980s, and then I found other bands when Riot attempted a comeback with 1988's Thundersteel and 1990's The Privilege of Power. Those two albums, originally released by CBS Records, have been reissued as part of IronBird Records' "IronBird Doubles" series (which also includes lost records by Britny Fox, Europe and Dangerous Toys).
These two Riot albums arrived after guitarist Mark Reale resurrected the band in 1986 with vocalist Tony Moore, bassist Don Van Stavern and drummer Bobby Jarzombek (although Mark Edwards appears on a few of Thundersteel's tracks). On that album, you can hear the band adapting its NWOBHM influences to more radio-friendly hair metal with songs like "Sign of the Crimson Storm," "Johnny's Back" and the power ballad "Bloodstreets." It was (and remains) an average album for its time.
Then came The Privilege of Power, an experimental and complex concept album that, inexplicably, saw Riot collaborating with jazz-fusion giants Randy and Michael Brecker, plus the Tower of Power horn section. The brass shows up bright and early on the opener "On Your Knees," creating an unexpected funk-metal dichotomy that doesn't sound nearly as radical today as it no doubt did in 1990. The highlight of this unlikely partnership is "Killer," which features Joe Lynn Turner on vocals and sounds like Chicago might have in the late-1980s had it been a heavy-metal band. As if Riot hadn't already alienated its hardcore fan base enough, there's also a cover of Al DiMeola's "Racing With the Devil on a Spanish Highway."
All of this could have distracted critics and fans enough to overlook prime cuts like "Metal Soldiers," "Dance of Death" and the Boston-like "Maryanne" – or perhaps it was the cliché song titles that doomed this album, or the obnoxious sound bites between songs. Regardless, it's easy to understand why The Privilege of Power got overlooked.
Informative liner notes from Classic Rock magazine's Malcolm Dome provide additional context for these two albums, which make for a novel listening experience two decades on…
P.S. Thundersteel and The Privilege of Power did not break Riot; the band is still active today, with its most recent album being 2006's Army of One.
2) Fight or Fall
3) Sign of the Crimson Storm
4) Flight of the Warrior
5) On Wings of Eagles
6) Johnny's Back
8) Run For Your Life
9) Buried Alive (Tall Tale Heart)
The Privilege of Power
1) On Your Knees
2) Metal Soldiers
5) Dance of Death
6) Storming the Gates of Hell
8) Little Miss Death
9) Black Leather and Glittering Steel
10) Racing With the Devil on a Spanish Highway (Revisited)