BLACK STAR RIDERS – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013 Nuclear Blast CD/DVD set)
Epic Review Time again! This time it’s a CD/DVD combo set, the debut album by Black Star Riders. You might know the guys from Black Star Riders by another name they sometimes use: Thin Lizzy. Scott Gorham put a Lizzy lineup back together in 1996, over the years utilizing Lizzy alumni such as himself, John Sykes, Darren Wharton, and Brian Downey. But when it came to creating new music, why did they change their name?
Let’s begin by reviewing the DVD, which answers this question and any others you may have about who Black Star Riders are.
Scott explains that he and Brian Downey really decided not to do a “Thin Lizzy” album because of their own discomfort with the idea. Without Phil, it didn’t seem right. The rest of the band were disappointed because they had written 17 new songs they were excited about. But they would not add a Lizzy album to the canon without Phil. Singer Ricky Warwick (The Almighty) says that once that decision was made to record with a new name, he found inspiration from a western movie featuring a gang called the “Black Star” gang. He liked the gang mentality. But Brian Downey dropped out early in the proceedings (although he did participate in writing some of the material.) New drummer Jimmy Degrasso (Megadeth) explains that Thin Lizzy’s special sound comes from a Blues/R&B swing, and of course the “dual guitar armies”. They aimed to keep these qualities with Black Star Riders. Guitarist Damon Johnson believes that Ricky Warwick’s lyrical prowess is exemplary, and carries the Lizzy spirit. I would have to agree.
Recruiting producer extraordinaire Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden), the album was done in 12 days. They did one song start to finish each day. It was recorded as live as possible, simply because they only had 12 days!
Unfortunately for me, there just isn’t enough behind the scenes footage on the DVD. There’s a little: brief glimpses of writing and recording sessions. The disc is made up mostly of interviews. Gorham, Warwick, Degrasso, Johnson, bassist Marco Mendoza and producer Shirley take turns in front of the camera. It is quite extensive; this is not a short DVD. (I don’t see a time listed anywhere but I’d guess it was an hour long.) Subjects covered include Phil Lynott, songwriting, pressure, inspiration, guitar solos, Ireland and more. Each individual song is discussed in detail.
Now that you’re familiar with Black Star Riders, we can discuss the album All Hell Breaks Loose. Which is a killer.
You could easily mistake the title track for an outtake from the Jailbreak album, or Johnny the Fox perhaps. Though there is only one Phil, Ricky Warwick’s voice occupies the same range. His lyrics are storytelling much like Phil’s were, and they both share similar interests in history and gang mentalities. This is as close as anyone has ever gotten to Thin Lizzy (and no wonder). I love when, just before the solo, Warwick cries, “Alright Scotty!” But Johnson joins Scott for the second part of the solo, recreating the classic Lizzy guitar sound. Then, the single “Bound For Glory” completely captures the goodtime vibe of “Boys Are Back In Town”. It’s a great choice for a single, and once again you could easily mistake it for an outtake from Jailbreak. Just like Phil would do, there’s even an Elvis reference in the lyrics. You truly get the feeling that All Hell Breaks Loose is as much a new album by these guys as it is a tribute to Lynott.
“Kingdom of the Lost” captures the Irish spirit of Lizzy. Traditional Irish instruments join the band, and it’s in the same vein as a Lizzy track like “Black Rose”. I should mention now that while each song feels like an homage to Phil, none sound like a re-write. They capture the spirit without being note-for-note ripoffs, and I think that is an extraordinarily difficult thing to accomplish.
“Bloodshot” gave me a different feeling, which is while the riff has Lizzy elements, it sounds more “southern rock” to me. Nothing wrong with that either. “Kissin’ the Ground” then has a more “hard rock” sound, almost like something Damon Johnson might have written with Alice Cooper (who he used to play with) in mind. But then the excellent chorus is one of the most Lizzy-like. Then “Hey Judas” (a play on the title “Hey Jude”) is pure Lizzy, 110%. There is no question that Scott Gorham has carried so much of the Thin Lizzy sound into the present. “Hey Judas” often finds itself as my favourite song (alternating with “Bound for Glory” and “Valley of the Stones”). Then onto “Hoodoo Voodoo”, where I think the album sags. I don’t think this is a standout. Since the aforementioned “Valley of the Stones” is next, the decline is only brief. This metallic stomp is like a highspeed Mad Max race through the desert, searching for the mystical valley of the stones itself. Fear not through, the guitar duels keep it within Lizzy Nation.
If things have been a bit heavy, then the gleeful “Someday Salvation” captures that “Dancing in the Moonlight” swing of early Lizzy. Then “Before the War” has an appropriate military beat. I’m sure this is an excellent song in concert; you can shout along. The last song on the regular edition of the CD is “Blues Ain’t So Bad”, a dusky slow rock song. But I think the better closer is the “bonus track” “Right to be Wrong”. That “better believe it!” shout-along hook is just great, and this upbeat song just smokes.
As you can no doubt see, I would have found it an impossible challenge to write this review without comparing to Thin Lizzy. But I don’t think that’s important; the band clearly intended to follow in those footsteps. If anybody has a right to, it’s Black Star Riders.