JANUARY 27th 2017

Review by Lana Muirhead

I do not generally consider myself removed from the music scene: in fact for the most part I believe myself to be plugged right in.  Yet somehow, the throw-back band called Black Star Riders managed to escape my heavily tuned radar.

For those of you who are similarly in the void, the band consists of former Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham, former frontman of The Almighty, Ricky Warwick, guitarist Damon Johnson (who worked with Alice Cooper, among others), bassist Robbie Crane, and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso.  As legend has it, Warwick and Johnson came up with some tunes ,which they expected to be the skeleton of a 34-year-late Thin Lizzy follow-up; however it became something all its own now called Black Star Riders.

I had the occasion to listen to their forthcoming third full-length album, Heavy Fire, and was excited about the lifeblood coursing through its beats.  The release starts off heavy and in-your-face with the title track, “Heavy Fire”.  Everything about it made me sit up and widen my earholes to let more in: the scourging rhythm section, the classic heavy guitar riffs, and the overall rather dark matter spewing from Warwick’s typically borderline heavenly vocals. I thought to myself: “if this sets the tone for the record, it’s gonna be solid.” This was not the case.

Almost every song on the album had a different tone and several, like “Dancing With The Wrong Girl”, “Testify Or Say Goodbye”, and “True Blue Kid”, were surprisingly pop-y and uplifting. Think Kiss’ “Rock And Roll All Nite” meets the studded leathers of Judas Priest.

I really got what I wanted in “Who Rides The Tiger” which dealt not only in harsher vocals, epic shredding, and full-bodied drumming, but real social issues like gun control in America. Although I do not read super-deeply into some lyrics, I appreciated the commentary, while at the same time could pull out my air guitar and beat on my steering wheel drum kit without being bludgeoned with the issue (*ahem* of America being an armed bully *ahem*). “Cold War Love” was one of the more ballad-type numbers with a great staccato/chug to the opening guitar riffs. Warwick crooned over lost love with simply silky bedroom tongue dripping with raspy rock tune coating.

Bass and guitars were consistently well executed throughout the album and really showed a range of possibilities for a band deeply routed in the rock of the 70s and 80s.  The drumming was excellent and on second listen I noted so many intricate nuances that escaped me on the first round, I wondered if I had been listening at all.  Shame on me because DeGrasso slipped it to me without me even knowing that I had been asking for and wanting it.  Warwick displayed his range as a rock singer by transitioning between a hardened rock commander to a slippery silver tongued devil as the tunes wove their way to the close. Closer track was “Letting Go Of Me”, a fairly typical kind of rock song. I had been edging toward expecting something a little more of a punch to the nuts to finish the record, and this was more of a toddler fist-pump.  Do not misunderstand: it was beautifully executed by all parties, it just left me wanting something more akin to a TKO.  

Overall the album was a great effort as a standalone. I had not listened to anything by Black Star Riders prior to giving Heavy Fire a go, and I purposely stayed away from listening to any of their other releases as to avoid this being a comparison piece.  I was really glad I chose to do so because not only does each individual song stand on its own, but the album itself does as well, and it should not be lumped with previous recordings.

There are more underlying discussions in the lyrics which I did not voice here, but I encourage you to read up on BSR if you’re interested in knowing more: they have a lot to say beyond “all you need is Jesus and a .44” – even though that is one of the better lines in today’s classic rock efforts. Suffice it to say that if you won’t take their silver, you’ll sure as shit eat their lead. Then ask for seconds.