The Killer Instinct
Featuring former members of legendary rock group Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders produce a hard rock album that is derivative but essential listening for any fan of the genre
This second album from the Black Star Riders – who were, of course, founded by Newtownards-born singer and guitarist, Ricky Warwick – is the band's first release since putting the legendary Thin Lizzy moniker to bed once and for all. Lizzy was, of course, a band who many critics agreed had found themselves re-invigorated, re-invented even, by the recruitment of the aforementioned County Down frontman in what turned out to be the dying days of their storied career.
If the intention is to cast off the shadow of that brief flirtation, then Warwick's Black Star Riders have slightly missed the target. While The Killer Instinct is a fine hard rock album – and will probably prove to be one of the genre's best in 2015 – the phantom of Thin Lizzy as a collective, and of the late, great Phil Lynott in particular, looms large over these songs.
It is not only the fact that the BSR line-up also features the most recent incarnation of Thin Lizzy’s twin guitar attack, in the veteran Scott Gorham (the last remaining link to the band’s glory days of the late 1970s and early 80s) and Damon Johnson, but that Warwick's lyrical and stylistic approach are also heavily influenced by Lynott. In places, in fact, Warwick sounds uncannily like the iconic frontman.
The title track kicks things off with a riff that is reminiscient of ‘Emerald’ – a song that Lizzy themselves constantly regurgitated – and BSR sound at ease carrying on that tradition, even in their attempts to distance themselves from their unshakeable legacy. 'Bullet Blues’, however, has a harder, grittier and far more individual edge to it.
Warwick’s voice here is deep and gruff, and shows what a strong songwriting team he and Johnson have developed in a relatively short period of time. The second single, ‘Finest Hour’, does cast its eye back over its shoulder once again, but this time more in the direction of Warwick’s The Almighty, combining a punky edge with a classic blues-rock infused melody and a series of soaring solos.
‘Soldierstown’ – which features a co-writing credit for Warwick’s long-time friend, Sam Robinson, with whom the singer collaborated closely on his recent pair of solo albums – features the sort of rolling Celtic jig of a riff in which Thin Lizzy specialised, particularly during their Gary Moore incarnations (another guitar maestro from North of the border), but again is given a dirty make under by Warwick’s snarling, spitting, almost breathless vocal.
That breathlessness continues on ‘Charlie I Gotta Go’, with Warwick snatching the air at the end of each couplet (very much in the Lynott tradition), while the song is built on the sort of staccato riff that was another integral element of the Lizzy sound. ‘Blindsided’, meanwhile, is a beautiful, heartfelt ballad, featuring a poignant vocal from Warwick and two neatly understated solos from Johnson. This is a strong composition that should help rid the band of any unwanted 'formerly known as Thin Lizzy' monikers.
However, BSR then shoot themselves in the foot with the relatively pedestrian ‘Through The Motions’, which sounds like the band is going through just that, especially with its lackadaisical riff lifted straight from the Thin Lizzy Jailbreak era, saved only by some beautifully observed lyrics.
‘Sex, Guns & Gasoline’ is another confident mid-pacer, but that riff and that vocal style creep through again, as the former also does on ‘Turn In Your Arms’, which nevertheless is strident and swaggering, marked by a terrific guitar duel between the grizzled veteran and the relative new kid on the block. Finally, closer ‘You Little Liar’ has a suitably thumping groove to it, even if it is slightly too long, with its elongated closing guitar workout perhaps better suited to the live arena.
Despite walking in the shadows of the musical giant whose memory they are very much keeping alive, Black Star Riders have produced an excellent hard rock album, especially in its first two-thirds, filled with superbly written songs and stunning performances rounded off by a flawless production. It might be derivative, but The Killer Instinct should nevertheless be an essential purchase for any fan of quality classic rock.
The Killer Instinct is available to purchase via the Black Star Riders website now.