Guitarist Damon Johnson was recently quoted as saying that Black Star Riders, the offshoot of the band Thin Lizzy, would likely be doing much, much less in the guise of their predecessor. It is an interesting and honestly refreshing direction for both the band and a listener. In a landscape where bands fight to the legal death for the rights to rehash old glories under old names, Black Star Riders have the confidence to look to the future without the crutch of the registered trademarks. However, they did not always have the material to lean on.
They do now thanks to the new album, Heavy Fire. The overall sound is still hard rock, and at times still stridently affirming the Thin Lizzy lineage, but — and this is a positive — the band is also willing to embrace the cheesier aspects that make hard rock fun, rather than merely an audio assault. The backup singers on “Ticket To Rise” and “When The Night Comes In” lend a level of barroom debauchery, and even an air of levity, to the songs. Producer Nick Raskulinecz allows the crunchy parts to be genuinely big. Even the graphics, with the old-tyme weightlifter doing a clean-and-jerk with a barbell made of fire (Get it? Heavy? Fire?) and the photos of the band wearing old west outlaw gear out of some steampunk version of Young Guns scream, “This is rock and roll, and it’s supposed to be fun.”
The band and specifically Johnson and vocalist Ricky Warwick have lightened up on the lyrical “tuff talk” considerably, a cliche that made the entertaining The Killer Instinct limited in usage. When rock was the lingua franca of youth culture, walking around with your arrogance out and swinging from your zipper had its own logic but also made for lots of tedious songs meant to make skinny, suburban white kids feel like ballers. You could say the hard rock/metal sound still intends to intimidate but doesn’t succeed now that it is a subgenre of Dad Rock. Heavy Fire knows where the target age is and, rather than presume they are reaching a younger, disenfranchised audience, Black Star Riders simply want you to turn it up and feel awesome.
It’s not a perfect album, but even in moments of imperfection, there are worthwhile moments. The song “Cold War Love” has terrible lyrics that repeat and repeat and repeat. This is sometimes known as a “drunk band song” in that when the players have had too much of a nip, they can lean on an easy-to-remember tune like “Cold War Love” until the buzz subsides. That said, the tune still has unshakable hooks that will linger in your brain long after you’ve complained about the lyrical inertia.
Through ten songs, concluding with the ripping “Letting Go Of Me,” Heavy Fire finds Black Star Riders feeling the confidence of a group ready to separate themselves from nostalgia’s grip, and not afraid to reject the comfort food of the oldies circuit. Even if this isn’t necessarily your musical cup of tea, you have to respect the integrity behind it. And if this is your preferred mug of brew, you might just catch yourself smiling through it.