Black Star Riders
Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Reviewed By Andrew McKaysmith
Let's acknowledge the elephant in room first: guitarist Scott Gorham is the only member of Black Star Riders that could claim to carry any genuine DNA from Thin Lizzy. You know, the band that recorded "The Boys Are Back in Town", "Jailbreak", and "Dancing in the Moonlight". These songs, and indeed Lizzy as a band, will almost always be associated with the long since departed Phil Lynott, whose onstage charisma, epodic lyrics, and slinky bass lines place him somewhere on the dais of the 'greatest ever' rock n roll front men and performers. The reason all this is important to mention when reviewing Heavy Fire is that with the inclusion of Gorham, three of the five members of BSR are also members of the 2017 version of Lizzy.
Vocalist Ricky Warwick, formerly of Scottish hard rock monotones The Almighty, is another one of those members pulling double duty. At first I had to check that it was the same Ricky Warwick as his voice has changed considerably since this scribe last heard him on the dreadfully awful, Soul Destruction ('93). His voice has changed so much that he effectively apes Phil Lynott on Heavy Fire and I'm going to leave the listener to determine if that's a strength or a weakness, and by extension I'm going to lob this grenade: BSR ape Lizzy so closely in almost all key areas, I have no hesitation in suggesting that if the great Phil Lynott were alive and still playing in the band it probably would sound a lot like the tracks contained on Heavy Fire.
It speaks volumes for Lizzy's place in current day rock n roll that regardless who stands in front of that famous scripted logo on stage, demand for a performance from a band that carries the name is so great it has left enough space for an entirely new band to be formed releasing songs that sound like modern day Lizzy.
Drummer Jimmy DeGrasso is best known for joining Megadeth in time for their atrocious late '90s nadir, Risk, and its tepid follow up, The World Need a Hero. On Heavy Fire DeGrasso approaches the drum stool as he always has done - entirely competent and without too many frills. Damon Johnson, who has performed and recorded with Alice Cooper and Faith Hill is in the same basket. Bassist Robbie Crane seems to have found a home after less than notable stints with Vince Neil, Tuff and one of the many versions of Ratt. Cranes bass lines are probably a highlight, they move and groove and provide the bedrock for both Gorham and Johnson's twin lead guitar noodling.
I don't want you think for a moment that I don't like Heavy Fire, after a listen with headphones for the purposes of a thorough review I actually had it playing again through my Monster Superstar speakers while I was tending to my daughters who were playing in a wading pool, on the kind of day Australia provides so many of - too hot and not a breeze to speak of. If a band's music can blend in the background and provide raucous yet amiable entertainment in that scenario they get the thumbs up from me.
Most readers will be aware of the fate that befell Dime in Pantera. Dime was lighting in a jar, a free spirit who demonstrated that it was always best to follow the calling of your soul. If you believe that Dime is irreplaceable, then I suggest how you view Heavy Fire and indeed BSR will depend entirely on your feelings toward Phil Lynott.