BLACK STAR RIDERS – Heavy Fire

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Out of the ashes of the Thin Lizzy tribute act that guitarist Scott Gorham and guitarist and lead singer John Sykes once started came Black Star Riders. When the band went into the studio back in 2012 to record their debut album, they were still called Thin Lizzy, something that in all honesty left a somewhat bitter after taste in the mouth. To release an album of newly written material under the Thin Lizzy moniker without the late Philip Lynott wouldn’t have been the right choice – in fact, there was a big risk that no matter how good and Lizzy sounding said album would have been, it would still have left the Thin Lizzy name bedraggled and it would probably have discouraged many Lizzy fans from even giving that record a fair chance. Thankfully Scott & co. realized that as well and changed the name of the band. But the Lizzy comparisons remained and not only because of Gorham’s past but because most of the songs were written with Lizzy in mind and therefore had a huge Thin Lizzy vibe to them and lead singer / rhythm guitarist Ricky Warwick (ex- The Almighty) seemed to try hard to sing in a Lynott kind of way. Well, that mattered little because I thought – and still think – that All Hell Breaks Loose (2013) is a brilliant album. When it was time to release the follow-up, The Killer Instinct (2015), the band had moved away some from the most obvious Lizzy-like moments even though there was lots of it still present. I loved that album too and to be frank, I thought it was even slightly better than the debut. With album number three, I found it interesting to see if the band had dropped the Lizzy vibes furthermore – and of course, if they had managed to once again release another killer album.

Judging by the opening title track alone, I would say yes to that question. It’s a monster song, heavy with a big groove and a huge classic hard rock sound. With only a smaller dose of Lizzy – mostly Gorham’s guitar – in the sound, the song is a big leap towards  finding their own sound – the album couldn’t have started better. “When The Night Comes In”  is a glistening 70’s laden melodic hard rocker with a chorus so catchy it leaves me hamstrung. It also mixes an obvious Thin Lizzy feel with a solemn gospel-like female backing vocal and a groove to die for – what a winner! “Dancing With The Wrong Girl” however, has shitloads of Thin Lizzy in it. The pop feel is huge here and the hit potential is everywhere. For some reason I am thinking of “Dancing In The Moonlight” (Bad Reputation, 1977) when I hear it even though they’re not that similar at all – it’s more the whole feel of the song. The band gets more ballsy and rowdy with the dust-kicking, in-your-face “Who Rides The Tiger”. It comes with a ferocious double axe attack signed Gorham and Damon Johnson (ex- Brother Cane) and even though I don’t find this Thin Lizzy-ish much, the lick trading here gives a nod to days of old. A great melody on top of it makes the song sit tight on the brain.

Every Black Star Riders album have contained at least one Celtic laden rocker and this album is no exception. This one is called “Cold War Love”, a rocker that moves in ballad territory. The vocal arrangement brings Philip Lynott to mind somewhat, but the song itself doesn’t rely on Gorham’s Lizzy past, this tune stand on its own. The celtic arrangement mixes fine with the dark, saturnine and captivating ambience – clearly one of my favorite songs on the album. “Testify Or Say Goodbye” is clearly raised with a 70’s hard rock mind with some amazing twin guitars that holds an absternious Lizzy influence, but also a radio friendly chorus, very memorable. Very memorable is also the description for “Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed”. The tune’s catchiness is effusive and to not surrender to it is impossible. Also bassist Robbie Crane  (ex- Vince Neil, Ratt, Lynch Mob, Adler’s Appetite) brings along some really swinging bass lines that builds a big groove together with Jimmy DeGrasso’s (ex- Y&T, Alice Cooper, White Lion, Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies) vibrant drums.

“True Blue Kid” comes in a more mid-tempoed pace but the groove is still pretty intense which makes it a foot-stomper impossible to refuse. The frugal Lizzy swagger comes in through Warwick’s vocal melody but it hardly screams Thin Lizzy which some of their earlier stuff did. “Ticket To Rise” knocks me down for the count right away with its catchy melodies, striking chorus and deadly, swing complete with a female back-up choir – pure brilliance. “Letting Go Of Me” is a fast paced melodic hard rocker with a really strong pop influenced refrain that holds lots of hooks but is kicking ass all the same – way to go! The limited deluxe edition contains one bonus track – “Fade”. “Fade” is a big ballad, 70’s style, kind of like a power ballad with a big blues feel. Even though the chorus chants some “na na na na” towards the end, the tune isn’t cheesy one bit, quite the contrary the song is very dynamic and rootsy. It’s a brilliant tune, way too good to only hold a bonus track position. It sure makes the deluxe edition worth the extra green.

All killers, no fillers is a good way to describe this album and yes, my friends, the Black Star Riders has done it again. It’s a brilliant record that, even though Thin Lizzy is mentioned both here and there, shows a band that is looking – and finding – their own sound. The Lizzy influence is there but it is not even remotely as obvious and up-front as it used to be. The sound is fat, ballsy, hard rocking and dynamic but at the same time melodic, memorable and in some songs pop laden. I know that looking back on my earlier reviews and looking at the 9/10 ratings both their albums got and at the same time pointing out that their albums gets better with each release might look somewhat confusing but that is what I think they are worth. When it comes to the new album, I have to say that I find it their best album to date – and a 9/10 as well. Black Star Riders keep kicking my ass hard – and then some!

9/10

Other Black Star Riders reviews:

All Hell Breaks Loose
The Killer Instinct

Tracklist:

1. Heavy Fire
2. When The Night Comes In
3. Dancing With The Wrong Girl
4. Who Rides The Tiger
5. Cold War Love
6. Testify Or Say Goodbye
7. Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed
8. True Blue Kid
9. Ticket To Rise
10. Letting Go Of Me
11. Fade (Deluxe edition bonus track)

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