Black Star Riders are back in the saddle again.
On 23 February 2015, the band’s second album, The Killer Instinct, is released via Nuclear Blast. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Mastodon, Alice In Chains), The Killer Instinct is hard rock in the classic tradition. And as guitarist Scott Gorham says: “We’re so confident about this album. It’s a step up in the evolution of Black Star Riders.”
It was in 2012 that Black Star Riders was formed by four members of Thin Lizzy – Gorham, lead vocalist/guitarist Ricky Warwick, co-lead guitarist Damon Johnson and bassist Marco Mendoza – plus former Megadeth and Alice Cooper drummer Jimmy DeGrasso. The band’s debut album All Hell Breaks Loose was released in 2013, and drew widespread acclaim in Classic Rock, MOJO, Metal Hammer and Kerrang!
But now, with The Killer Instinct, Black Star Riders have taken it up another notch. “We’ve gone to the next level with this record,” Ricky Warwick says. “It’s the album that really defines Black Star Riders.” And Damon Johnson is equally emphatic. “This is the band I’ve dreamed about being in all my life,” he says. “A lean, mean, dirty rock’n’roll band. And I really feel that this is a great album – a huge step in the progression of this band.”
The Killer Instinct represents a coming of age for Black Star Riders. As Warwick explains, the band had a different mindset going into this album. “When we started writing for All Hell Breaks Loose, we still weren’t sure if it was going to be a Thin Lizzy album,” he says. “This time, we didn’t have that pressure. We knew we were making a Black Star Riders album, and on a creative level, that opened more doors for us.”
Thin Lizzy is in the DNA of Black Star Riders. That much is undeniable: and for Scott Gorham, especially so. When Thin Lizzy rose to fame in the 1970s, led by legendary frontman Phil Lynott, it was Gorham – alongside Brian Robertson and Gary Moore – who defined the band’s trademark twin-lead guitar sound on landmark albums such as Jailbreak, Bad Reputation, Black Rose and Live And Dangerous. And in Black Star Riders – in the partnership between Gorham and Damon Johnson – a part of that sound lives on. “That mystical, legendary twin-guitar thing,” as Johnson calls it.
But as Warwick says: “We know who we are. We want to move forward and find our own way, our own sound. It’s important to us to retain the spirit and the soul of Thin Lizzy. We’ll always have that because Scott’s in the band. But we’ve got a lot of shows under our belts as Black Star Riders, and that’s helped gel the band.”
Gorham puts it very simply: “Black Star Riders is its own thing. You just have to power ahead and write what you write and not have to think about history.”
Gorham credits Nick Raskulinecz as a key figure in the creation of this new album. “Nick had so many great ideas – he became the sixth member of the band.” In addition, he says that new bassist Robert Crane has fitted in seamlessly as the perfect replacement for Marco Mendoza. “Robert just nailed it straight off the bat.” And with this team in place, the goal for Black Star Riders was simple. “We wanted this to be a better record than the first one,” Gorham says. “And it is – there’s no doubt about that.”
The Killer Instinct was recorded at Rock Falcon, the studio in Nashville, Tennessee, owned by Nick Raskulinecz. The whole album was cut in 21 days, but after All Hell Breaks Loose was done in just 12 days, that extra time proved beneficial. “But with this album,” Gorham explains, “we could do a basic track, sit back, think about it, work on additional parts, and then lay ’em in there.”
The results speak for themselves. “This album,” Gorham says, “has more depth.” Damon Johnson concurs. “We had more time, had a blast making it, and you can hear it. It’s not just the groove in the music – it’s the groove in the writing, in playing together as a band.”
Johnson and Warwick are the primary songwriters in Black Star Riders and have been since day one. “When it comes to writing, Ricky and I do the heavy lifting,” he says. “But Scott is the foundation of this band. This thing doesn’t happen without Scott Gorham.”
Johnson cites the song Soldierstown as an example of the kind of “monster riff” that Gorham brings to this album. “It’s very grand in its scope,” he says. “It has the feel of some of those classic Thin Lizzy songs – Black Rose and Emerald.”
Soldierstown is also an example of the depth that Ricky Warwick brings to Black Star Riders in his lyrics. The subject of this song is terrorism – for the Northern Ireland-born singer, a subject of profound personal significance. Warwick says: “The scenario in Soldierstown is one that has happened so many times in history, and it still happens now. Terrorists come to a house and say: ‘Give up your strongest son, he has to go and fight.’ There’s that expression: you lose a finger to save a hand.”
There are other songs on the album that Warwick describes as “storytelling” – such as Charlie I Gotta Go, its title a reference to Charles Manson. But much of what he writes is drawn from his own life. “I got a little more personal on this record,” he says. And this is most powerfully illustrated in a song that is destined to become a Black Star Riders classic: Finest Hour. “It’s about my first girlfriend,” he says. “We were living in Glasgow, we were sixteen, into music, and we’d go to gigs at Barrowlands. That song is me reaching out to her and saying: they were good times, I hope you remember them, and I hope you’re okay.”
For Warwick, the beauty of Finest Hour is in its simplicity. “There are only three chords in that song,” he says. “The best songs are like that.” And the emotive quality in it is echoed in what Johnson describes as this album’s most leftfield track, Blindsided. “It’s an epic song,” Johnson says, “with an epic Ricky Warwick lyric. And that beautiful guitar figure is Ricky’s. It gets me like Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd or Tuesday’s Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s one of those classic guitar statements.”
In fact, the album as a whole is a defining statement. Above all else, The Killer Instinct proves that Black Star Riders is a classic rock band in its own right.
“We’ve come a long way in two years,” Gorham says. “And you’ve got to feel good about that. I trust these guys with my life. We’re like brothers, and that’s a big thing in a band. When you have that trust in each other, that’s when you’ve got a fucking great combination.”
With The Killer Instinct, Black Star Riders have truly arrived. “There’s something really special about this band,” Gorham says. “And it has the potential to keep on evolving. We’ve made a great record – and I still think there’s more to come.”
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