Sunday, February 5, 2017

Album Review: Black Star Riders - Heavy Fire

A few years ago, the members of Black Star Riders made one of the best decisions in recent memory when they opted not to make their new music under the banner of Thin Lizzy. That name carried too many expectations and comparisons for their music to ever be taken at face value, whereas giving up the easy audience was the only way to ensure that they were making their mark on their merits. And make a mark they did. Their first album, "All Hell Breaks Loose" was a phenomenal classic rock record, with enough modern touches to make sure it sounded like a band with a vibrant future. It was something that deserved to stand on its own, rather than being compared to "Jailbreak" in every other paragraph. The follow-up, though, didn't continue that momentum. "The Killer Instinct" was a solid album, but it was clearly a step below the spark they had from their years touring as Thin Lizzy. If their sophomore effort was them finding their own voice, it could mean trouble.

So here we are with the third record, the one that will either right the ship, or the one that will make it obvious that Black Star Riders doesn't have the fire to keep a hot streak going.

Unfortunately, it seems the latter is the case, and I have to say I saw it coming. With Ricky Warwick having released two albums of material last year, and Damon Johnson starting his own side-project as well, the core of the songwriting for the band was making it all too obvious they were spreading themselves too thin. Not many people can write albums upon albums of songs in such short order, and it seems Black Star Riders have fallen victim to the necessity in this day for artists to make as much music as they possibly can.

Many of the songs here play from the same blueprint as the first two Black Star Riders albums so closely that the chord progressions sound nearly identical, and with the lack of bluesy riffs to balance out the familiar chords, there's an immediate lack of freshness to the album. It sounds a bit stale. Even if you like the sound, which I do, there is nothing whatsoever about this album to differentiate it from the first two. And if all three albums are identical, I'm not sure why I would ever listen to anything but the amazing debut.

The other issue I'm having trouble with is Warwick's insistence on repeating lines in the choruses of these songs. Plenty of other bands have done it before, and I always find it to be a lazy way of writing. Rather than find something interesting to say for four lines, or altering the melody ever so slightly to give the song some movement, he chooses instead to repeat the exact same thing. There's no skill in that.

That being said, there are still moments on the album that are great. "Cold War Love" uses an interesting muted soft riff to lead into a chorus that finally sounds like the big melody I've been waiting for. The subdued nature of the song, and the build and release it utilizes, gives the track an identity so it stands out. It's a very fine song, and easily my favorite here.

So what can we say about "Heavy Fire"? Well, I don't want to say it's a bad album, because it's not. It's perfectly solid, and I would enjoy it a fair bit on its merits, if it weren't for the fact that I feel Black Star Riders have already made this exactly same album, and better. Black Star Riders are a good band, and I wish them well, but they are a bit of a one-trick pony. At this point, as the albums blend together and Ricky Warwick's melodies seem to intersect, hearing one song/album is hearing them all. It's good, but I need something more.

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