Black Star Riders - ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ (Nuclear Blast) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Friday, 24 May 2013 03:20

Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks LooseUnless you’ve been living under a boulder the size of Nebraska, or a planet somewhere on the outer limits of the Überverse, you cannot fail to know that Black Star Riders are basically a rebranded Thin Lizzy (with the exception, of course, of founder member Brian Downey and latter day keyboardist Darren Wharton).


As a rock fan brought up on the island of Ireland, Lizzy were my boyhood heroes, the epitome of what the rock scene in this part of the world was all about and the influence for at least two generations of bands on both sides of the border. The argument has been rehearsed in many places, including this website, and by many people, as to whether, following the tragic death of the iconic Philip Lynott in January 1986, the latter incarnations of Lizzy were merely glorified tribute acts or a viable prospect in their own right: however, the arrival of Norn Irish-born Ricky Warwick had seemed to light a new spark, giving the band a new vibrancy and vitality – and, more importantly, renewed relevance in the modern rock world. It was a development which also lit the touch paper of creativity within the surviving members, with the announcement around this time last year that they were writing the first brand new Lizzy songs for the first time in nigh on three decades… then came the news that the material would not be released under the Lizzy name: at the tail end of last year’s “farewell” tour, it was announced that the band – well, Warwick, long-serving lead guitarist Scott Gorham, second guitarist Damon Johnson and bassist Marco Mendoza, with the recruitment of veteran sticksman Jimmy Degrasso to the stool vacated by Lizzy founder Downey would go by the name of Black Star Raiders. Various reasons have been proffered for the change in moniker, with the band sticking firmly to Gorham’s official line that it was out of respect for Lynott and his legacy, amidst the inevitable stories of behind-the-scenes fallouts with both Downey and Philomena Lynott, who, understandably, remains fiercely protective of both her son’s memory and the whole Lizzy history.


Whatever the ins and outs of the situation, what we are now presented with is a new album by an ostensibly new band, but one with a legacy that stretches back almost half a century. It is an album which is definitely difficult – if not downright impossible – to critique outside the wider landscape against which it was conceived and consider it as a stand-alone offering.


It’s a task that is made even more difficult from the opening bars of the title track, as Warwick sounds so freakishly like the late Lynott that it is disconcerting – and, if truth be told, slightly off-putting. The singer also does his best to emulate Lynott’s lyrical style, and it must be admitted that the results are a bit hit and miss – at times insightful and capturing the great man’s sense of mournfulness coupled with redemption, at others clichéd and almost cheesy.


‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ is straight from the ‘Emerald’ school of riffology, as Gorham delivers the first of many fiery solos, while lead single ‘Bound For Glory’ is basically a sequel to the classic ‘Cowboy Song’, right down to Warwick’s breathless intonation and the Celtic-tinged ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ draws deep from Lynott’s spiritual well, as well as Warwick’s own solo material, with its swirling Big Country-esque central theme and tale of the homesick Irish émigré (something about which Warwick knows a lot, living as he has done in Los Angeles for many years now). The absence of Darren Wharton’s keyboards also helps recall the classic two guitar sound of early Lizzy, and this is evidenced no more clearly than on ‘Bloodshot’, which would not have sounded out of place on ‘Nightlife’, ‘Jailbreak’ or ‘Fighting’.


‘Kissin’ The Ground’ is more modern in its approach, and as such is a decent mid-paced hard rocker, before ‘Hey Judas’ plunges back into the Lizzy back catalogue, with its acoustic intro, rollicking twin guitar riff, closely harmonised vocals, Warwick once again sounding like he’d discovered a whole box filled with unused Lynott lyrics and again there’s a blistering solo to keep the guitar fans happy. ‘Hoodoo Voodoo’ is perhaps the one song that sounds most like “traditional” Lizzy, paying homage to its roots with the opening "I’m just a low paid Paddy playing high class blues" but is more of a grinding, dark and dirty blooze number, drawing heavily on the sound of deep south (reflecting Damon Johnson’s background influence), while ‘Valley Of The Stones’, while referencing its background in elements of the bridging riffs, is another hard hitting twin guitar hard rocker. ‘Someday Salvation’ is another track which recalls the early days of Lizzy, with its confident, cocky swagger, while ‘Before The War’, like ‘Bound For Glory’ and ‘Bloodshot’ before it, echoes the Gary Moore era (in fact, if anything, it’s more redolent of Lynott’s later solo collaborations with the late Belfast guitar genius). However, after all this album closer ‘Blues Ain’t So Bad’ is actually a total anti-climax.


So, in the humble opinion of this lifelong Thin Lizzy fan, who is going to be asked many times over “is this album any good?” I’d have to say that it’s a decent rock album. And it would have made a pretty good Lizzy album, back in the day. But, that’s its problem: it is too much “of the day” – a longing look over the shoulder to the glory era of the band from which it was born, with too much emphasis on paying respect to what has gone before without paying the ultimate respect of looking and moving forward. It leaves me conflicted between my love for Lizzy, my desire to really like (if not love) this attempt to keep that legacy alive and bring it to new generations of fans, and yet my sometimes uncontrollable reaction of a wince and "why?"… It’s a conflict that ultimately gives me the feeling that ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ will divide opinion among diehard Lizzy fans worldwide.


To pick up your of 'All Hell Breaks Loose' [Special Edition CD +DVD] - CLICK HERE