Hot off the Press

Black Star Riders | The Killer Instinct

by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Senior Columnist —

blackstarriders_killerinstinctHave you ever wondered how Thin Lizzy would have sounded if it was transferred into the 21st century? And, of course, we are not talking the star-studded touring assembly under the Lynott’s band moniker that’s perhaps one of the most blatant examples of the so-called “nostalgia act.” It’s not what we have in mind here, but Black Star Riders was put together on the ashes of it. Not too keen on using the original Lizzy moniker while releasing new studio material, Scott Gorham and the pack chose to avoid any associations with Thin Lizzy as far as the name is concerned … and yet, one could jokingly assume, the spirit of Phil Lynott must have spent quite a lot of time with the quintet in the studio prompting them ideas! Both albums released by Black Star Riders so far – 2013’s All Hell Breaks Loose and this year’s The Killer Instinct – are all about the sound and style that made Lizzy stand out among the vast wave of ‘70s era hard rock bands. And even though the uniqueness of Lynott seemed to be indisputable, surprisingly it’s the band’s singer – and a longtime Lizzy fan – Ricky Warwick that brings the deceased singer to mind every time he articulates his lines in a deep, husky voice with a strong Irish accent. The resemblance is striking at times – minus Afro, of course …

The Killer Instict starts with the title track which – from the twin guitar sound and a distinctive bass line to Warwick’s mentioned vocal style and articulation – sounds as the ‘70s era Thin Lizzy incarnated. And even though there are some touches of contemporary production in Black Star Riders’ music that a trained ear could have perhaps picked up here and there, an impression of “The Killer Instinct” being the updated and re-recorded version of “The Boys Are Back In Town” is somewhat inescapable. On the other hand, it’s something one could have actually expected all along the way from the outfit that was founded on the ashes of Thin Lizzy and is run by Scott Gorham. The impression is no different with the second track “Bullet Blues,” which – accordingly to the title – is a heavily ‘70s influenced Hard Rock piece with distinct bluesy echoes and trademark guitar harmonies. Surprisingly, “Finest Hour” that comes next shows slightly different dimension to Black Star Riders as the band finally shakes off their ‘70s Lizzy aura in favor of more contemporary, radio-friendly melodic rock. Not the most convincing endeavor of theirs, perhaps, but less generic than its predecessors.

Influenced with the traditional Irish music and guitar-laden, “Soldierstown” is again classic Thin Lizzy revisited with a bit of a modern twist, slightly tinted also with the style utilized by… Lizzy’s former shredder Gary Moore in the mid-‘80s. Still a well-crafted track on its own, it’s one of the entire album’s highlights with its feisty background chants and the brilliant work of the rhythm section. Next goes a groovy, feisty piece “Charlie I Gotta Go” followed by wistful, melodic tones of “Blindsided.” Differently from their ballad-esque predecessor, “Through The Motions” and “Sex, Guns And Gasoline” combine the classic and the modern into a pulsating, raw hard rock mixture, both embroidered with tasteful guitar licks and a blazing solo. And perhaps it’s the actual song formula the band should focus on – while their Lynott-era Lizzy-influenced tracks are undoubtedly convincing and well-crafted, there’s more to the latter blues-infused part of the album than just re-visiting what’s been recorded by Scott Gorham’s original band back in the ‘70s. The final tracks are Irish folk-tinted “Turn In Your Arms” and “You Little Liar” laden with Lynott-esque throaty howl, their roots again obvious, but their quality indisputably high music-wise.

As it was said before, The Killer Instinct is a second album recorded since the modern-day touring version of Thin Lizzy morphed into Black Star Riders. And on the one hand, what one could have expected from the group – comprised of seasoned and talented musicians – is to pursue more of their own style instead of relying on the established Lizzy-esque aesthetics of twin guitar harmonies, references to Irish folk music and a low, husky vocal style. On the other, there is something really true about the proverbial apple not falling far from the tree … and in this particular case, it’s hard to dismiss the quality of the final effect anyway. All comparisons aside, The Killer Instinct is a fine Hard Rock album with multitude of varied influences, comprised of well-crafted and high-class material – and, after all, something the mighty Lynott and Moore wouldn’t have founded themselves ashamed of.

Genre: Hard Rock, Classic Rock

Ricky Warwick – vocals, guitar
Scott Gorham – lead guitar
Damon Johnson – lead guitar
Robbie Crane – bass guitar
Jimmy DeGrasso – drums

Track List:
1. Killer Instinct
2. Bullet Blues
3. Finest Hour
4. Soldierstown
5. Charlie I Gotta Go
6. Blindsided
7. Through The Motions
8. Sex, Guns & Gasoline
9. Turn In Your Arms
10. You Little Liar

Label: Nuclear Blast


Hardrock Haven rating: 8/10