With their fourth album, the Black Star Riders should be out of the Thin Lizzy shadow once and for all. With each album, the band has found their own identity more and more, leaving the most obvious Thin Lizzy pastiches behind them. That said, the fact that the band embraced Scott Gorham’s Lizzy-past real hard musically and the fact that Ricky Warwick at many times tried his best to imitate Philip Lynott, Black Star Riders’ music never suffered because of it. Quite the contrary, their past three album are all brilliant efforts, full of melodic Classic Rock with hooks and memorable melodies enough to sell. The band’s biggest problem, however, have been the band-members walking in and out of the band even as far back as when they took on the Thin Lizzy moniker. For the last two albums, it felt like the had found a permanent line-up but for the writing and recording of this record both drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Y&T, Ratt, White Lion, Alice Cooper, Megadeth) and guitarist Damon Johnson (Brother Cane) has left the band.
Not to cast a shadow over DeGrasso – the guy’s a great drummer – but in a band like this, his absence isn’t crucial for the band. A cloud of worries, though, for Johnson who’s been a pivotal part for this band from go. Not only a damn good player, Johnson was also a main-man when it came to the song writing – he had a hand in every song except one so far, so of course, him leaving the band could very well affect the band negatively. As a replacement, Scott Gorham (guitars), Ricky Warwick (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Robbie Crane (bass) chose drummer Chad Szeliga (Breaking Benjamin, Black Label Society) and guitarist Christian Martucci (Stone Sour), both with backgrounds in modern Metal / Hard Rock opposed to the Classic Hard Rock base of the rest. I wasn’t really overly worried that their new record would turn out bad but with the new members, were the guys maybe looking into a new audience, changing their style some to be more contemporary?
It took me only one listen to the latest single and opening track “Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down” for those worries to take a hike. For us who loves the brand of this band and the way they sound, this tune sounds exactly the way we want it to. Sure, Thin Lizzy is definitely present here but in a more Melodic Rock kind of way. Chunky guitar-riffs brings the song in and even though its a straightforward, driven track it also holds more pop-vibes than what we’re used to. And a saxophone – which, I might add, is a good thing. It’s catchy all the way through with a direct refrain – a clear winner. The title-track and leading single follows. It holds a Celtic feel that bring “Emerald” to mind but also BSR stuff like “Soldierstown”. On a big, fat groove, a sing-along chorus melody complete with loud “hey” chants, this ballsy rocker goes for the win, complete with an out-of-this-world catchy chorus that knocked me for six. Brilliant.
Second single “Ain’t The End Of The World” brings on twin guitars straight from Whitesnake’s “Guilty Of Love” – which in turn was Lizzy-influenced, so there you go. It’s an upbeat and guitar-driven Classic Rock tune with strong pop-laden melodies. To bring up the addictive swing, Szeliga and Crane grooves like there’s no tomorrow and for good sonic measures there’s an acoustic guitar in the background that brings up the dynamics to yet another level. Without being the least sugary, the chorus is enormously catchy – try not to sing along to this if you can. Bloody awesome! More rowdy and in-your-face, the bouncy stomper “Underneath The Afterglow” joins in. It holds a less direct, chorus friendly vibe – even though the chorus is really strong – and is more gritty in a with raunchy Classic Rock riffing. Good one. “Soldier In The Ghetto” is a groovy, 70’s Classic Rock belter with a funky twist, very meaty and chunky. No Lizzy vibes are present except for the magnificent dual guitar solo. Very good.
“Why Do You Love Your Guns?” is a laid-back, sullen and melancholic 70’s Classic Rock ballad, quite heavy and lyrically it brings up an important topic. It starts acoustically but crunchy guitars and a tight rhythm section soon joins in, still in a slower pace. A damn brilliant tune. “Standing In The Line Of Fire” is fast paced, rough and surely here to kick up some dust. Pounding drums and an aggressive outlook that actually sends a quick nod back to Warwick’s The Almighty days. They were never this good, though. It’s a distinct rocker with a tough punch and I can see this tune open future Black Star Riders gigs. I love it.
With “What Will It Take”, they go into the territory of 70’s pop-rock, based on acoustic guitars yet both upbeat and swinging with a dark twist to go with it. When the electric guitars joins in, the slight Americana vibe fades away and turns the song a bit more crunchy. There’s also some great vocals by Meat Loaf’s daughter Pearl Aday who brings on some lovely harmonies which lifts the song even further. Great stuff. The darker edged “In The Shadow Of The War Machine” is heavy, gritty and gutsy and it brings my thoughts towards the debut album. It’s punchy and aggressive with a chugging guitar riff but also contains lots of hooks and distinctive melodies that stick. Killer stuff. Closing track “Poisoned Heart”is a robust and gritty rocker on a stompy and thunderous, pulsating rhythm. It’s in-your-face and rough but also shows off a refrain that’s spot on – a perfect live track and a phenomenal song to round off this album with.
I’m actually a bit surprised just how awesome this album is. Surprised might be the wrong word but I thought that Johnson’s absence would have affected the song writing more – this album proves that the rest of the guys are more than qualified in that department on their own. Because this might just be their finest effort to date – which speaks volumes as their three previous albums are all brilliant too. With this album, BSR has shaken off the Lizzy-ties once and for all and they’re now sporting their own sound, something that they started doing with their previous album, Heavy Fire. There’s still Thin Lizzy connections, of course, that’s Scott Gorham’s legacy, but Warwick now sounds like Warwick and the Lynott impersonations are now in the past, not that I minded them at all. Black Star Riders are now a solid Classic Rock band in their own right that stands on their own two feet. The only thing that’s missing is the big break, something that should have come a long time ago. All killer, no filler!
More Black Star Riders reviews:
1. Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down
2. Another State Of Grace
3. Ain’t The End Of The World
4. Underneath The Afterglow
5. Soldier In The Ghetto
6. Why Do You Love Your Guns?
7. Standing In The Line Of Fire
8. What Will It Take?
9. In The Shadow Of The War Machine
10. Poisoned Heart