Black Star Riders – ‘Heavy Fire’ (Nuclear Blast) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Monday, 06 February 2017 04:00

BSR Heavy FireLike many bands which have emerged from the cocoon of a previous, and extremely popular, brand, it has to be admitted that the Black Star Riders have struggled to step out of the shadow of the mighty Thin Lizzy. It has been an understandable conflict, as it could be argued that, when they first attempted to do so, they were really Lizzy V2.0. After all, it was three-quarters of the final incarnation of the band…

 

Debut album ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ had their legacy stamped all over it (at the time I described it, in these very pages, as “a longing look over the shoulder to the glory era of the band from which it was born”) – which is not to say that it wasn’t a great album, because by fuck it was, and remains so, and it still gets regular plays here at URHQ. Follow up ‘The Killer Instinct’ did see the band attempting to stamp their own identity on their sound, to varying effect: but, again, while they may have struggled for independence they nevertheless produced a cracking hard rock album and one which cemented their reputation as a damn fine hard rock band – a reputation hardened even more by their incendiary live shows and almost relentless touring. Which brings us neatly to album number three…

 

To be brutally honest, ‘Heavy Fire’ is as if the Riders have taken one step backwards, two sideways and then one forward again in some sort of rock ‘n’ roll sidewalk shimmy. There are moments – more than a few of them, it has to be said – where you can’t help thinking that you’re listening to Lizzy outtakes: the first section the opening title track, for example, is pure ‘Thunder And Lightning’-era stuff, while ‘Dancing With The Wrong Girl’ oozes that wry smiled Lynott cheekiness that Ricky Warwick manages to capture so well, and ‘Cold War Love’ is the sort of lament that Sir Philip of Clontarf Castle crafted so well.

 

But, again to be honest, these are relatively minor quibbles. And it has to be borne in mind that the majority of the songs on ‘Heavy Fire’ were written in the immediate wake of the death of Warwick’s father. It is often in such circumstances that artists become their most creative, and it is not hard to tell that this was the case, as the album also has an urgency about it which perhaps its two predecessors lacked: there’s more of an adrenaline rush this time around, again reflected by the fact that most of it was recorded live in the studio, with minimal use of overdubs.

 

 

As I said, the opening title track kicks in with a classic, unmissable Lizzy-esque vibe: built on Robbie Crane’s vibrant bass line and one of Scott Gorham’s immediately distinguishable guitar riffs, the opening line “Look over there on the cover of that magazine” is straight from the Lynott songbook. But, the song quickly develops its own identity, slipping off at a tangent like a Nascar sliding into a curve as it develops a darker, punchier mien: it’s almost as if it’s three songs in one, as Warwick’s penchant for reflecting the consequences of war twists the song into moments of light and density.

 

‘When The Night Comes In’ is Warwick at his most personal: reflective and yet joyous, and given a superb gospel feel with the female backing vocals, while retaining the punchy hard rockin’ drive to the main riff, it’s the one song which perhaps most epitomizes the circumstances of its birth. As referenced above, ‘Dancing With The Wrong Girl’ is another of those Lizzy-tinged songs, but one which also has its own identity: driven by Jimmy DeGrasso’s pounding percussion, it eases into its groove like a northside gangsta settling into the back seat of his bullet-proof Mercedes. Again, the influence Lynott had on Warwick is unmistakeable, but then it’s inevitable, isn’t it?

 

 

‘Who Rides The Tiger’ is a pumping rock song, pure and simple. It has a pummelling, energetic beat and an immediacy to its thumping vibe which gets your feet tapping, your head nodding and your fist pumping (concentrate Mark, you’re supposed to be typing not dancing) which no doubt will ignite the floors on their forthcoming tour. ‘Cold War Love’, again as already referenced, is the sort of vibrant lament that Lizzy did back in the day, with Warwick using Lynott’s trick of making the song seem to be about something completely different than it really is…

 

While the Lizzy references pepper the first half of the album, the second half is a totally different prospect. This is where the Riders most definitely stamp their own authority on proceedings. ‘Testify Or Say Goodbye’ was an obvious choice for one of the pre-release singles: Warwick’s lyricism mixes superbly with Damon Johnson’s ear for a melody, which in turn produces a beautiful winding riff which not only permeates the song but your sub conscience and gets you rising to the challenge of the title.

 

 

‘Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed’ is pure Ricky Warwick, at least in the lyrics department, with the added bonus of a powerful bass rumble from Robbie Crane, which adds a suitable air of menace that drives forward the song’s message, which is further accentuated by the stabbing, almost punky guitar parts. And the solo dual in the midsection is by far the best on the album. ‘True Blue Kid’ does see them slip back into Lizzy “tribute” mode, especially in the opening section, and Warwick’s declaration of “I’ve gotta get out of this place/I’ve gotta plan my prison break” is perhaps ironic but resonant.

 

Like ‘When The Night Comes In’, penultimate track ‘Ticket To Rise’ has a gospel quality to it, in the use of a trio of backing singers, but doesn’t lose its rock ‘n’ roll punchiness: the track also has a mournful undertone to it, but ultimately emerges defiant and joyous, and features one of the best outros you’ll hear this side of the Mississippi. Closer ‘Letting Go Of Me’ is a rambunctious rocker, pure and simple: there’s a middle finger defiance in Warwick’s snarling, fuck you “kiss tomorrow goodbye” which ironically evokes a feeling of not quite letting go of the past and moving forward but at the same time living in the moment… Which, at the end of the day, is perhaps what this album is all about: a band who know their place, are cognisant of their heritage, the legacy of greatness they are endeavouring to keep alive yet at the same time of the need to carve their own niche.

 

‘Heavy Fire’ is a another great hard rock album from a great hard rock band. Not a classic one (album that is), by any stretch of the imagination. But it is rammed with great songs written by a team of superlative songwriters who know their craft inside out, upside down and backwards, and performed by musicians of equal calibre. It is essential listening for any true lover of good old-fashioned heavy rock ‘n’ roll. Fuck it: buy it, put it on, turn it up to 100 and annoy your neighbours… that’s what I did!

 

‘Heavy Fire’ is out now.

 

Black Star Riders tour the UK and Ireland in March.

 

BSR 2017 tour poster

 

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