BLACK STAR RIDERS
'The Killer Instinct'
(Nuclear Blast Records)
Release Date: February 23rd 2015
Black Star Riders are back, and they are bad. The band soundly defeats the sophomore jinx by beating their impressive 2013 debut with their new album, 'The Killer Instinct'.
The blood of Thin Lizzy still runs through the veins of this outfit, but they are now very much their own band with their own sound that cozies up to the legacy quite nicely. This record sounds more sure of itself than its predecessor, and I think that's down to touring under their own name, growing together as writers and a band, and a big nod goes to producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has captured a much, much more organic sound than was found on their debut.
Scott Gorham should get a damned medal - he's kept his ship afloat through thick and thin, and he's worked and worked to the point in which he now has another very strong chapter to add to his incredible history as Phil Lynott's right hand man in the late, great Thin Lizzy.
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First, he had the nerve and prescience to see the brilliance in adding a frontman to the classic line-up, and he could not have picked a better man on the planet than Ricky Warwick. Nobody on the orb could have a tougher job than following Lynott as both a frontman and as a writer, and this is his finest hour. His lyrics and his strong Irish tenor have always been his own, but by the dint of heritage and history his talents dovetail perfectly with those of the fallen legend.
This is a band, and there's no ignoring the heroic work of co-guitarist and songwriter Damon Johnson - he as much, and perhaps more than anyone has created a situation in which this band could make the difficult transition from tribute to being one of the premier hard rock outfits on the planet. He's great at the patented Lizzy riffing, but he brings a lot of new flavor to such rockers as 'Bullet Blues', and the brilliant 'Finest Hour'.
Replacing the rhythm section in a legendary band is not a casual matter, and over the last few years BSR has faced that hurdle, first by replacing Brian Downey with Jimmy DeGrasso, and now replacing Lizzy/BSR stalwart Marco Mendoza with longtime LA go to guy Robbie Crane.
DeGrasso was so new on the last album that the paint was still wet, but when you hear him thunderously announce the intro to 'Soldierstown' you'll know that he was an inspired choice for the seat. Raskulinecz has done a great job of placing the drums and bass in the mix in such a way that that it will make much more sense to fans of the band's classic sound.
If I had a complaint with their debut it was that the production was done too quickly and with very little consideration for anything other than pumping out the product. This record sounds like the producer had something to prove, and he's proven it - this is a great sounding disc with a ton of beautiful bottom end over which to layer the great guitars, and Warwick's tales.
'Charlie I Gotta Go' is doing one thing for sure - it is making Phil Lynott smile, wherever he may be. This is one of the groovingest, sleek, and subtle tales that has been heard since the world lost on of its greatest rockers. Warwick does the near impossible and pays homage as he paints a picture that is also clearly his own. I can't credit the guy enough for being true to where the universe has chosen to place him - this is truly blessed rock 'n' roll.
Acoustic guitars are reasonably new to this history, and 'Blindsided' is a gorgeous piece of songwriting that also happens to feature some of the most lyrical guitars since we lost Mr Moore. It's here that the band is becoming their own entity, treading where they've not been together before as a unit. Warwick is a tough, gritty, and soulful soul who is not afraid to slow things down and show his vulnerability, something he shares with Lynott. His tales are touching, a rarity in these times.
'Through The Motions' is familiar, but it's not a cop. It's just the next song in a long line of songs that feature that certain something that Scott Gorham brings to everything he does. He's one of the most underrated guitar players in rock history - his sound is instantly recognizable, and his right hand is one of the most perfect in the game. And, he's never been afraid to share the stage with the best guitarists he could find for the job. This is the most coherent the guitars have sounded since the days of Robbo and Gary. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Reinventing hard rock is one of the toughest things to do in this musical universe, and Black Star Riders have done a fantastic job at creating new riffs, new twists, and different flavors than we have known in the past. 'Sex, Guns, & Gasoline' covers a lot of ground that has been trod on previously without ever sounding like something you've heard before. It's a classic piece of dual guitar fury that simply sounds like the next, newest great riff.
Then those old harmony guitars sound out, and what people have always missed in the descriptions of the Thin Lizzy history and sound is that there has always been damned near as much American Indian in the melodies and beats - maybe it's the nature of the odds being against an entire people, but when you crank up 'Turn In Your Arms' it will become crystal clear, and you'll say, "I'll be damned, he's right."
'You Little Liar' wraps up the set, and it's one that I can't wait to hear the band bust out on stage. Crane's bass tone is fat and fabulous, and it pints straight to the fact that this bunch is 100% committed to making the right changes, and putting in the work.
There's not a second of laying back on this album, and there's no filler to be found. It's time to stop comparing this band to their past, and admit that they are simply one of the best hard rock bands currently residing and working on this planet. I'd be upset if I didn't mention that Ricky Warwick might not have just graduated to being my favorite frontman in hard rock.
This is the first great album I've heard in 2015. I hope I hear a bunch more, but it's gonna be a tough one to beat.
Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson were in London last month and MetalTalk's Mark Taylor met up with them at the new premises of Gibson Guitar Studios to talk about the release and to get track by track information from the pair. Watch the interview right here.