The Black Star Riders are to many an enigma. Emerging from the ashes of Thin Lizzy’s dying embers, their last album ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ there was a definite whiff of compromise between the Lizzy template and Ricky Warwick’s powerful influence. Certainly some hardcore Lizzy devotees found the whole thing distasteful, but it was, if nothing else, a bridge between the past and the present. The latest album, ‘The Killer Instinct’ sees Black Star Riders move on from that ‘bridging’ period; and while Scott Gorham’s guitar work still harkens back to Lizzy, Warwick can now be seen to be influencing the way forward.
Album opener and title track ‘The Killer Instinct’ has a Lizzy cover version feel, only salvaged by the lyrics, but ‘Bullet Blues’ sees the band adopt a contemporary hard rock sound.
Certainly evident is that Warwick and Damon Johnson are taking on the bulk of song writing chores. A defining moment on the album is the fourth track, ‘Soldierstown’, which sees Warwick’s personal observations of Belfast married with a Celtic vibe that simply portrays a vision of despair. But, there are flaws on this release. ‘Charlie I Gotta Go’ at times seems lazy, only redeemed by the pre-chorus and the solos.
However, following that is the six-minute ‘Blindsided’. Balladic, with bathos and pathos in equal measure. One word – beautiful. The flawed but enjoyable ‘Through the Motions’ opens with a riff that seems to be going…well through the motions, but the tune develops and grows, especially at the concluding bridges. And, in terms of bridges, ‘Turn in Your Arms’ muscular riffs and solos showcase the transition between an ex-Lizzy sound and hard rock as it sounds in the 21st Century.
Closer is a seven minute plus semi-epic in the shape of ‘You Little Liar’, which to be honest seems to be a song that will only evolve in the live environment. Stepping back to take an objective approach – as opposed to the subjective fan of Lizzy and The Almighty – what Black Star Riders have accomplished is a significant step towards their own identity. With the evident growing writing influence of Warwick and Johnson one can only hope that with this and subsequent releases they will have less need to cover Lizzy on stage and can be recognised for their achievement rather than rely on legacy.
The Killer Instinct is available now on Nuclear Blast.
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Review by Jonny]]>