By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
RIOT – THE PRIVILEGE OF POWER (1990)
After releasing the Born in America album in 1983, Riot was absent from the metal scene until the 1988 album Thundersteel. But the band turned right around after that with the release of The Privilege of Power in 1990.
I’ve had only a passing acquaintance with most of the band’s catalog. Besides this and the Thundersteel album, the only Riot releases I’ve heard have been 1997’s Inishmore and 1999’s Sons of Society. And if I’m being honest, Inishmore was the only one I well and truly liked start to finish.
I had never heard The Privilege of Power before listening to it for this article. According to the Wikipedia listing, the album’s material is considered a bit more experimental than their past material and a bit of a concept album. Adding a horn section to a couple of songs doesn’t seem overly experimental to me but I guess I’ll let that slide. But as for the notion of this album being a concept album, I’m a bit mystified as to how. Riot does use a variety of audio clips to set the stage for most of the songs, but I’m not quite sure how that by itself makes it a concept release.
Side One features five songs bookended by tracks that showcase Riot’s ability to craft explosively fast metallic fury. On the opening track “On Your Knees”, the long audio clip intro was kind of wearying but once the music bursts out of your speakers, you are in for one hell of a ride musically. I loved the way this track got me pumped up big time. Sadly, I was brought back down to Earth a little bit because I wasn’t all that taken with singer Tony Moore’s vocals on this track.
For me, it seemed the soaring vocals were kind of lost in the mix at times and I found it a bit distracting.
But things quickly turned around with the next track “Metal Soldiers”. The pacing is a bit slower but still uptempo. The sound delivers quite a musical thump than an all-out blitkrieg. In all you get kind of an anthemic vibe from the track. And Tony Moore’s vocals are far more definitive here.
“Runaway” impressed me. The song starts off much, much slower. The guitar line accompanying the song through the first verse is incredible and it recurs throughout the song. After that first verse, the song moves towards a more uptempo peace with an impressive vocal turn.
Guitarist Mark Reale, who also produced and co-wrote seven of the ten tracks on The Privilege of Power is a beast on this record. The song “Killer” features a sizzling edgy riff. If that wasn’t enough to make the song cool, the use of the horn section gives an added heft to the musical score and the guest vocal appearance from Joe Lynn Turner further enlivens the track.
As I said, the first side of the album is bookended by songs that are similar in structure. “Dance of Death” is lightning fast. Much like “On Your Knees”, the music is just amazing. But once again, Tony Moore’s vocals gets lost in the mix again. I like his vocals in general but it seems whenever he had to hit the upper stratosphere of his vocal range, the music buried what he was singing at times.
The second side of The Privilege of Power opens with the song “Storming The Gates of Hell” and if ever a song lived up to its title, it would be this one. The pacing is relentless as Riot attacks every note of the song like it was actually storming those gates. I have to say I was getting a little psyched up as I listened to the song.
While Riot was exactly trying to court the reiging musical sound in 1990, I thought the track “Maryanne” came closest to sounding like a power ballad that you’d hear from any band that had struck it big with a similar type song. There’s a great sounding hook to the music and I thought the song’s lyrical content was pretty darn good as well. While “Little Miss Death” employed a far quicker pace, much like “Maryanne”, the song was made that much better with a strong vocal turn.
The last two songs on the album are both over 7 minutes long but not a note is wasted nor feels drawn out in the least. “Black Leather and Glittering Steel” starts off with an attacking tempo at the start and continues that non-stop explosiveness until the very last note. If you can’t feel yourself getting amped up as the song hits your eardrums, you have to get yourself checked out.
The closing song is actually an instrumental cover song. When I first read the song on the album’s track listing, I wondered how it would be serving as part of this supposed conceptual piece that The Privilege of Power is reputed to be. Well, I’m still not sold on that aspect of the album but I know that I found that Riot’s cover of the Al Di Meola song “Racing With the Devil On A Spanish Highway (Revisited)” made me worry less about a concept album and just jam out to how monstrously good this song sounded. I’m not exactly the biggest instrumental fan in the world but when I find a piece that I actually like, it really has struck a chord with me. Such is the case with this song. I’m going to seek out the original version so I can compare the two versions.
So in the final analysis, I had a slight issue with how singer Tony Moore’s vocals came out on a couple of the songs. Other than that, I would say that with The Privilege of Power, I have now found a companion piece to their Inishmore album. Yes, in a totally cliched way of complimenting the album, this was an album that was a privilege to listen to at long last.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The Privilege of Power has been reissued twice. The first time came in 2003. The second reissue was as a vinyl combo with the Thundersteel album in 2013.
Drummer Bobby Jarzombek has played with a who’s who of metal bands including Fates Warning, Halford, Iced Earth and Sebastian Bach. He is currently part of country megastar George Strait’s Ace in the Hole backing band.
Guitarist Mark Reale passed away in 2011 due to complications from Crohn’s disease. The band has continued onward but they are currently known under the name Riot V.