Sunday, 16 June 2013

Black Star Riders' 'All Hell Breaks Loose' - Album Review

I am sure that by now, everyone who cares knows about the history of Black Star Riders and their connection with legendary rock band Thin Lizzy. Four out of five of the band's lineup were part of the final touring version of Thin Lizzy throughout the latter part of 2011 and 2012 and those four guys plus drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Y&T; Alice Cooper; Megadeth) equals Black Star Riders. To be honest, I am sure that people are sick of reading about all this and just want to know one thing, and that is: 'What is their debut album like?' Well, the answer is: the album rocks! As someone who has been a long-time fan of Thin Lizzy, and has seen all three versions of their current line-up (once with Vivian Campbell, once with Richard Fortus, and twice with Damon Johnson) plus a show from the John Sykes-fronted version that pre-dated the Ricky Warwick-era in 2007 - it is safe to say that I had high hopes for Black Star Riders' debut. Having high hopes can sometimes be a bad thing, as expectations can easily be shattered, but they have managed to produce the solid, enjoyable rock album that I expected they would. From the raw production quality thanks to producer Kevin Shirley's style to the twin-lead guitar attack that characterised Thin Lizzy's sound, this is an album for rock fans. When flicking through the booklet, I was surprised to see that the majority of the material was written by frontman Warwick and guitarist Johnson. It is fitting though, two great musicians who seem to have remained largely under the radar now have their moment to shine. The sole 'classic' Thin Lizzy member to remain in the band, guitarist Scott Gorham, co-wrote about half of the album with the two younger members and there are also a couple of writing credits a piece for bassist Marco Mendoza, Thin Lizzy keyboardist Darren Wharton who was involved in the early writing process when the original plan was to write a new Thin Lizzy album, and one for journeyman songwriter Marti Frederiksen. I do not usually talk about writing credits in my reviews, but I found the breakdown of them interesting here and worth a mention.

Things get of to a strong start with the album's title track. From the outset, it is clear to see what a great singer Warwick is. He has a soulful voice that obviously evokes the spirit of the late Phil Lynott but is very much his own - anyone who has ever heard his previous band The Almighty can attest to this. The guitars are big, the chorus is catchy and there is a great guitar solo from Gorham hailed by Warwick shouting 'Alright Scotty!' which evokes Def Leppard's Armageddon It slighty. Next up is Bound for Glory which was released a couple of months back as a taster for the album. While it does bring to mind Whitesnake's Guilty of Love at times, it still rocks hard. The lyrics have a great 'yarn'-feel to them and Warwick again shines in his delivery. I can see why they released this track early, because it is easily the most instant of all their songs. The guitar leads are big and the chorus sticks in your head from the off. The folk-rock of Kingdom of the Lost is next with uilleann pipes and Irish percussion creating a great atmosphere before the rock gets going. While the lyrics in the chorus are slightly silly, the song is great fun and the lead guitar melodies are infectious. The next highlight is Kissin' the Ground. From the booming drum intro, to the groove-based verse riff, and finally the melodic chorus - this is a real rock song. Up next is single Hey Judas. After a nice acoustic intro, a monster riff evolves from the melody and becomes one of the highlights of the album. The riff is pure Thin Lizzy, making good use of harmonies and the acoustic guitar adds another layer and contrast throughout. This song will put a big smile on your face!

Hoodoo Voodoo follows, and as the title suggests, there is a blues influence on this tune. Again, the riff that leads this song is killer. The entire song has a great groove built from a great underlying bassline from Mendoza that is added to by the harmonising guitar style that Gorham has become famous for. Valley of the Stones is up next and it seems to have a big John Sykes influence despite the fact he has been nowhere near this album - it just seems like he would write, and Warwick even sounds a little like him here! Either way, it rocks and it probably the heaviest track on the album. Once again, the bass work is powerful and the guitar solo is memorable. A couple of more average tracks follow, but even one of them - Before the War - has one of the album's best riffs hiding away after the second chorus! Things all come to a head with final song Blues Ain't so Bad. This is the closest thing on the album to resemble a ballad and has verses dominanted from a snaking bassline. It is a hard song to describe and is so unlike everything on the rest of the album but it makes a great closing track. Overall, this album is mostly a triumph that seems to mark a transition: Thin Lizzy into Black Star Riders. While there are lots of hallmarks from Thin Lizzy's sound, that was inevitable due to who makes up the band. However, this is certainly not a clone of Thin Lizzy as it is definately it's own thing and has it's own sound. Initial chart positions and sales figures have been great, and I'm glad because this band deserve to have a big future ahead of them that builds on the legacy of Thin Lizzy and also creates a new one for a new generation of rock fans under the name of Black Star Riders.

The album was released on 27th May 2013 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Hey Judas.

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