Before I start let’s get rid of the elephant in the room. Yes, Black Star Riders feature an ex-member of Thin Lizzy in Scott Gorham who played with them from 1974 right through all the classic albums as well as Ricky Warwick who played in the reformed band until they decided to start writing their own new material in the guise of BSR!
Yes, there is a similarity in sound to Lizzy but that should be expected. Some might say that they cannot beat the old Lizzy albums, and to be honest I imagine the band themselves probably think that. How can you outdo some of the most loved classic rock albums ever made? Well, you make an album of 10 songs, about 40 minutes long that pay huge amount of homage to that era and bring it into the modern-day with songs that are relevant to the age we are now living in.
This time around, on this fourth album under that moniker they have two new members who have played in bands such as Stone Sour and Black Label Society. That is Christian Martucci and Chad Szeliga on guitars and drums respectively.
The songs are a mix of quite political and also personal relationships. Ricky has always written songs about war and hate, often looking at his own personal background in Northern Ireland and he does similar on this new record. Most of the tracks are rocking with two being more melodic or acoustic, one almost country (modern Americana) and the other making me think of John Mellencamp. So not all sounding like Lizzy!
The Songs Themselves:
“Another State Of Grace” is the first political track, looking back at Warwick‘s home country. With lyrics saying “they call them troubles, not quite a war, to admit it would make it harder to ignore” which to be honest hits the nail on the head. It has a very Celtic sound ala Gary Moore’s“Out In The Fields” crossed with some Big Country vibes.
“In The Shadow Of The War Machine” is almost self-explanatory. It compares the poverty in many places that seem to have plenty of money for war. Just ordinary things like starting school, paying bills etc but the whole time the world is reasoning for war. This is a pretty heavy song in the scheme of things with some fine soloing.
There is also an almost cynical riposte to those who question today’s music in “Underneath The Afterglow” with lyrics like “do you remember when everything was way better, what I remember they were nothing special”. This almost heads into Deep Purple and Uriah Heep territory due to the organ playing. In fact, there are keys on a couple of tracks (or at least prominent on them) including the rather funky “Soldier In The Ghetto” which again seems to look back at Northern Ireland where Ricky grew up.
The lyrics talk about “war in my neighborhood” and attacking those in authority who can lie asleep whilst “we say our prayers”, pointing out that disconnect and even going as far as saying that they actually “don’t care”. It does still sound like the band they grew from but with keys and a bit of funk.
There are a couple of songs about relationships including “Ain’t The End Of The World” but it is for “you and me” and “What Will It Take” where he duets with Pearl Aday (Meat Loaf’s daughter) who also appeared previously on “Testify Or Say Goodbye” on the last album. This song really made me think of early John Mellencamp even in his vocal performance as well as musically. It is a love song, the two people are trying to get the relationship right however after repeated listens I am unsure if they both actually want out or not.
Possibly the most controversial song on the album is a very heartfelt plea from Black Star Riders to do something about the gun culture in the US. Now of course that is a very contentious issue for many folks and some might feel what right has he or the band got to write about it. I think looking at the history of where Ricky, in particular, comes from where there were plenty of guns and also bombs, he sees this from an angle different to many. Having experienced/seen such a waste of life in his homeland he is saddened to see such a waste in the US. The song was written after watching the news on a school shooting and seeing no real changes being made. The track is almost a country song in style (certainly musically) and asks a simple question do folks prefer guns to children. The track is called “Why Do You Love Your Guns” and is quite different to anything Lizzy ever did.
On the whole, Black Star Riders have produced a fine hard rock album which has its roots showing but at the same time is diverse enough NOT just to be a clone of what came before. There is originality and the songs (or quite a few of them) compare now to the past and the now is not quite what it could be. It is relevant and up to date. Will it ever be seen in the same way as the classic Lizzy albums? Who knows? Only time will tell. However, let us just enjoy some excellent musicians making new music right now!
Released September 6 on Nuclear Blast Records