Black Star Riders released one of my favourite albums of 2013 when they dropped their debut record, All Hell Breaks Loose. While it wasn’t flawless, it succeeded in both carrying the Thin Lizzy spirit and not falling in to the tribute band/copyist trap. For its time it was a unique release and a breath of fresh air.
The first thing that one can take in from Killer Instinct, in comparison with its predecessor, is how much heavier it is. Many of the more overt and obvious nods to Irish folk music have been shed from the songs, leaving the listener with a heavier, meaner, groovier kind of album. Thematically, the songs tread a lot of the same ground, but with Ricky Warwick‘s classy, poetic musings, it’s far from a rehash of last album’s tunes.
On the sonic front, Killer Instinct employs a harsher, more vicious guitar tone which really benefits the heavier songs. The production pushes the lower end, brought to you by Jimmy Degrasso and former RATT bass guitarist Robbie Crane, more to the forefront for a thicker, fuller sound. It’s a production approach that is a definite step forward from the thinner tones and textures of All Hell Breaks Loose.
While Ricky Warwick certainly remains one of the band’s strong points, as a singer he has the unfortunate habit of getting a little bit too schmaltzy at time. He’s prone to falling in to this weird throat-y yarl voice that can be a bit off-putting, and the fact that this usually surfaces during the album’s more low-key tracks (see: “Blindsided”) makes it even more noticeable. The man can be a very powerful, provocative singer, but that throat voice can be nearly as detestable as countrified yodeling. Fortunately, it’s not a tone that he falls into very often.
Of course, we cannot forget that in any good hard rock record the real star are the riffs, and these are among the finest that Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson have laid down in their careers. These songs have so much groove and hook that one can’t help but toe-tap and head-bob. Songs like “Sex, Guns and Gasoline” and “Bullet Blues” are perfect Friday night fire starters that deserve to be on deck for anybody’s first party of the spring. The spirit of Phil Lynott definitely remains alive in these songs, and that alone is deserving of praise.
Killer Instinct lives up to and even surpasses the already high bar that these guys have set for themselves. A fantastic document from a band that’s living up to their inherited legacy and forging a new future. An early contender for hard rock album of the year!