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BLACK STAR RIDERS



BLACK STAR RIDERS


"All Hell Breaks Loose"

By The Great Sun Jester


Leave your preconceptions at the door. If you are a confirmed Thin Lizzy devotee, sitting down to listen to All Hell Breaks Loose, the first album of original material from a band touring under the Lizzy name until recently, can be a disconcerting experience. Nominally, the required elements for a Lizzy album are here in bunches. The twin guitar attack, the rough and ready "street" attitude, and penchant for storytelling common to the greatest Lizzy albums pervade this release thematically and sonically. However, despite this, there is a case for accepting this album as exactly what it intends - the debut release from a respected, experienced group of musicians. There are problematic moments here, but there is ample evidence to suggest that this is a creative unit with a solid artistic future.

 The title cut opens the album with a rousing start. Ricky Warwick sings this with a quiet confidence and highlights his skills as traditional singer/front man by integrating his vocals with the music rather than trying to sing "over" the band. Scott Gorman and Damon Johnson prove a formidable guitar tandem on this song. A distinctly modern sound surrounds their playing that nevertheless effectively invokes the classic rock "sound" likely fans of this band would expect. While it's worth lamenting the band's unfortunate tendency to flirt with cliché entitling a song and album "All Hell Breaks Loose", Warwick's lyrical talent is evident and is suffused with plain-spoken storytelling and surprising vulnerability.

The following song, "Bound For Glory", is unfortunate. I want to like this song, but it never rises, even for a second, above a ham-fisted pastiche of the elements that made Lizzy so successful. Without question, this is the nadir of the album, but not because it is poorly played or written, but rather because it has no identity of its own. Ricky Warwick is a fine front man and while years of belting out Lynott's songs has intimately acquainted him with his phrasing, he sounds ill-suited to singing new material written in a similar vein.

 "Kingdom Of The Lost" flirts with the same problems. I am a little shocked that, considering Lynott's history with Irish-themed songs, that the band would attempt to approximate his chronicling of the Irish experience in any way. They try here, however, and it manages to stay afloat thanks to compelling musicianship, particularly the drumming. While obviously the product of an intelligent writer, the lyrical content again strikes me as imitative without leaving any kind of distinctive stamp on the listener's consciousness.

"Valley of Stones" leaves that distinctive stamp on the memory. The elements present throughout the album, namely the band's exceptional tightness and impressive chemistry, are at the forefront here. However, the song marks the first time when the listener will be convinced from the first to last second that this is a Black Star Riders song rather than a Thin Lizzy imitation. Warwick's range is wider than Lynott, but his phrasing takes this tune to places the late, lamented Lizzy bassist and front man would not have dared in his band's later days.

  The simmering final number, "Blues Ain't So Bad", is another instance of the band clutching onto something their own. Rather than offering up some turgid blues-by-numbers, the band stirs up enormous tension from its mid-tempo groove. The guitar playing and drumming do a superb job of releasing that tension, but the groove is everything here.

 There is enough going on here to convince me that it is a worthwhile project. However, my best unsolicited advice would be for the band to steer as far as possible away from anything that smacks of Thin Lizzy and, instead, build on the outstanding promise demonstrated most prominently in songs like "Valley of Stones" and "Blues Ain't So Bad". Recommended, but with some reservations.

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