Review Summary: The sound of refinement
A difficult birth, it's been. The relationship between Riot and Capitol Records has never been perfect, but this time it reached its breaking point: Capitol refused to publish Fire Down Under because it was "too heavy" (remember, we are speaking of year 1981). The situation quickly degenerated, and the anger of Riot's fan base led to Capitol ceding the rights to Elektra, the label that ended up publishing the record.
Fire Down Under presents itself as the fusion between Rock City and Narita: it wants to be loud, but it's also polished and catchy, making therefore a solid yet fresh record. The band's line-up had to change, drums and bass needed new players. Thankfully, Sandy Slavin (drums) and Kip Leming (bass) proved to be good choices, and combined with the tested Reale-Ventura aggressive guitar couple they managed to create some really engaging musical rides. Basically, everything Riot attempted to make earlier is present here in a refined shape.
Nothing has been forgotten, the classic energetic and motivational opener is still present, this time taking the name of "Swords And Tequila" and featuring an iconic chorus and tasty guitar work: the same combo that makes rock anthems like "Outlaw" irresistible to hear. The overall monotony (the problem that afflicted Narita) is gone thanks to a larger variety of styles. The band returns to walk through the road created with "Warrior", continuing to push for the title of power metal precursors with the fast title track and the epic "Altar Of The King", introduced by a long calm section where the record's powerful musical ride rests. This intro is not the only slower moment, there is in fact a really particular song, that goes by the name of "Feel The Same", which carry a doomy, yet gritty, mood accentuated by a well placed guitar solo. Similar, but sustained by a catchy drumming pattern, is the track "No Lies" which shows how catchy Speranza's singing can be. In contrast, the high speed and intensity found in Narita is still present in songs like the engaging "Run For Your Life" and mentioned title track.
The remaining tracks are the last signal of refinement over Narita: the more carefree numbers that plagued Riot's sophomore studio effort are now gone. While a few songs still feel inferior to the rest, there are no real skip-inducing moments. The reason of this better feeling is found in the "fusion between Rock City and Narita" sentence: Fire Down Under in fact combines the more precise rhythms of Rock City with the more "metal" sides of Narita, such as powerful riffage, driving solos, and a varied rhythm section. Furthermore, the variety is enhanced by the way the tracks are placed, continuously alternating styles, having a mammoth like "Feel The Same" preceded by the strong title track and followed by the cheerful "Outlaw".
Crowning the record is "Flashback", a live recording that we can see as a memorial to the Speranza era. Sadly, this is in fact the last Riot album featuring Guy Speranza on vocals, who will leave the band after the publishing of the record. Anyway, this didn't stop Riot from publishing their fourth studio effort "Restless Breed" the next year, with Rhett Forrester taking Speranza's place.