When Damon Johnson and Ricky Warwick were writing their previous album, All Hell Breaks Loose, they were unsure whether it was going to be a Thin Lizzy album or something else, something that rose from the ashes of Lizzy. This time around, and with a couple of years of playing as Black Star Riders under their belt, there’s no such confusion. They will always retain something of Thin Lizzy in their sound, but there are expectations that go with that name and the freedom from that pressure shows in the obvious enjoyment with which they perform on The Killer Instinct.
With the decision made to become Black Star Riders in 2012, and with the addition of former Megadeth and Alice Cooper drummer Jimmy de Grasso, All Hell Breaks Loose became a debut album rather than the next in a huge catalogue. Fast forward to the present and there have been more changes. Bass player Marco Mendoza makes way for new member Robbie Crane. The backbone remains though, in songwriting partners Johnson and Warwick, and original Lizzy member Scott Gorham. This cohesion, two years of touring as Black Star Riders and learning how to leave Lizzy behind has created a band that really know who they are.
Slickly produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains) at his studio Rock Falcon in Nashville in only twenty one days, the album flies along at lighting pace, sounding quite upbeat considering some of the themes covered in the songs. Opening track The Killer Instinct speaks of hunger and loneliness, Bullet Blues of immorality and scandal. Perhaps the track that best showcases the power of their lyrics is Soldierstown. It speaks of war and terrorism in Warwick’s native Northern Ireland, and of the times when families would be forced to sacrifice one child to the terrorists who came knocking at their door, in order to save their other children. With haunting Celtic riffs and punctuated by a Gaelic chant, (Tar a thighearna Tar a thi – Come O Thou Lord, Come O Thou Being) it’s probably the most reminiscent of Thin Lizzy in it’s sound, but also sounds as relevant and contemporary as anything else on the album.
That’s not to say that this is a depressing, negative album. It’s just a grown up album, from songwriters with a lifetime of experience to draw from and plenty to say. Finest Hour is Warwick’s love letter to a teenage girlfriend, memories of times they spent together going to gigs and wistful wonderings about where she is now and what might have been. The “shananana” chorus guarantees that when the band go out on tour with Europe next month the fans will be singing along with gusto. Blindsided slows things down and is a beautiful, thoughtful ballad with guitar work that conjures up every bit as much emotion as the heartbroken sounding lyric. The album closes with You Little Liar, which rolls along quite nicely before building to an unexpected and frankly astonishing guitar solo from Johnson. This album may be only ten tracks, but between the songwriting, the performance and the production they’ve put together something really wonderful.
All Hell Breaks Loose may have been Black Star Riders debut, but it’s on The Killer Instinct that the band really do break loose. Freed from expectations, from the shadow of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders let rip with something that’s among the best rock albums you’ll hear this year.
Charlie I Gotta Go
Through the Motions
Sex, Guns and Gasoline
Turn in Your Arms
You Little Liar