Black Star Riders – The Killer Instinct (Second Opinion)

album by:
Black Star Riders

Reviewed by:
On 7 February 2015
Last modified:7 February 2015


..."Recommended for fans of good ol' rock and roll composed without too many frills, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, and anyone who wants to hear some decent stringwork sans shred."

Black Star Riders The Killer Instinct

Internationally acclaimed music legends Black Star Riders‘s ten track “second album, The Killer Instinct, is released via Nuclear Blast. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Mastodon, Rush), The Killer Instinct is hard rock in the classic tradition.” In 2012, the band was formed, and contains three former members of Thin Lizzy: guitarist Scott Gorham, lead vocalist and guitarist Ricky Warwick, and guitarist Damon Johnson. “New bassist Robbie Crane has fitted in seamlessly as the perfect replacement for Marco Mendoza.” Rounding out the band’s lineup is drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (ex-Megadeth, Alice Cooper).

Nick Raskulinecz and the band have produced an album which strives to give a little more depth to the band’s core sound. Excellently engineered, mixed and mastered, The Killer Instinct is a fairly even-tempered, loud beast, with very nice depth and sound balance. With three guitarists (two credited as “lead” and “co-lead”) in the mix, you’d expect some paint-peeling crazy stuff to happen, correct? The sound is surprisingly simplistic. There are plenty of instrumental breaks, nice solos, and wonderful harmonic overlays, but the disc doesn’t come across the speakers as a “heavy metal triple axe attack”. Instead, it mostly presents itself as a relaxed pace, middle-of-the-road hard rock album, with leanings towards arena rock’s glory days. It’s not a brow-beater: it won’t pick you up by your beltline and throw you across the room, but it is superbly executed and remarkably nice to hear. Of course, the band’s playing is tight, the musicianship is superb, and the rhythm section is rock solid.

The songs are all vocal-heavy, with many lyric lines, and not a lot of vocal ‘dead space’. There are a lot of ideas, thoughts, and feelings being sung – it’s noticeable by the beginning of the third tune. Warwick’s vocals are balanced well with the rest of the mix – there are just plenty of words to absorb. Scattered guitar harmony lines are pervasive and enjoyable. “Finest Hour” is the first track on disc to really stand out. Melodic and readily “hummable”, this hearkens back to the days of arena rock, sprinkled with even a hint of American country twang. The band throws their live-show audience a bone with the “sha na na na na” pre-chorus; it guarantees instant participation. “Soldierstown” features a militaristic or even maritime?, folky, syncopated rhythm and melody. It begins with what sounds like Warwick broadcasting through a vintage radio. Gang vocals and background chants support the lead vocal line and add excitement. Vocal rhythm is intense and driving. The song’s layering and overall composition are smooth and very well thought out. “Through The Motions” is a bluesy rocker, granting lots of space to the full band to stretch out. While not as strictly melodic as the other two tunes highlighted, this one has a sweet secret weapon, a high-pass flange, in the chorus. The verses and the bridge are more sparse and restrained or controlled, but the chorus is very fine high-energy hard rock. Check out that killer false ending and explosive reprise after the emotional “pull out the arrows from your bleeding heart” by Warwick. The last song on the “reviewer edition”, “You Little Liar”, features a fuzzy, catchy, wonderful intro with what sounds like a snare drum triplet accent. The song does fade in intensity and excitement level, but that intro is pure hard rock enjoyment.

The artwork is decent, too: the album cover prominently features a 1940’s style, lingerie-clad pin-up girl perched atop a dropping, shark-toothed bomb. “Soldierstown” is supposedly about “terrorism”, so the war theme shown fits right in.

The Killer Instinct is a fairly basic, mid-tempo, guitar-driven hard rock album. It’s fairly unobtrusive (or ‘easy on the emotions’), and fairly ‘safe’. It does boast high quality guitar tone, naturally. The album is recommended for fans of good ol’ rock and roll composed without too many frills, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, and anyone who wants to hear some decent stringwork sans shred.

Track Listing with Run times:
Killer Instinct 3:32
Bullet Blues 4:54
Finest Hour 3:56
Soldierstown 4:49
Charlie I Gotta Go 4:13
Blindsided 5:59
Through The Motions 3:47
Sex, Guns & Gasoline 3:59
Turn In Your Arms 3:50
You Little Liar 7:08

Band Lineup:
Ricky Warwick – Vocals
Scott Gorham – Guitar
Damon Johnson – Guitar
Robbie Crane – Bass
Jimmy DeGrasso – Drums

Official Band Facebook Page
Official Band Website
Official Band Twitter

Note: Buying the album is better then reviewing a press copy, apparently: the version linked to the “buy” button above, contains the following bonus tracks!

The Reckoning Day
The Killer Instinct (Acoustic Version)
Blindsided (Acoustic Version)
Charlie I Gotta Go (Acoustic Version)
Finest Hour (Acoustic Version)

Make sure to check out the First Opinion review of this disc, by Karen S., as well!

..."Recommended for fans of good ol' rock and roll composed without too many frills, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, and anyone who wants to hear some decent stringwork sans shred."

About Iris North

My formal position is: editor and music reviewer. I joined the PlanetMosh army in 2012. I enjoy extreme metal, 'shred' guitar, hard rock, prog rock, punk, and... silly pop music!