It's not often one band, made of constituents from another, gets praised for emulating the latter. Yet BLACK STAR RIDERS has freely recreated THIN LIZZY for a modern generation, one who missed out on THIN LIZZY's glory days. If you're lucky, you'll catch "Jailbreak" or "Cowboy Song" on a gimmicky deep-cut weekend via FM classic rock radio, which has criminally relegated THIN LIZZY to the one-hit-wonder ranks. Whether you dig it or not, there's a reason THIN LIZZY carries on without its Yoda. Ditto for why BLACK STAR RIDERS exists on the side, and, it might be argued, better realizes its mission to protect Phil Lynott's gifts to us before they drift in vain.
Now dropping its third album, "Heavy Fire", one must appreciate the moment in 1974 when a young Scott Gorham jammed with rock royalty in order to see what a success, 40+ years on BLACK STAR RIDERS has made of itself. Said fragment of time, where Gorham rocked out with Phil Lynott and Brian Downey, rings true all over this album: just as it did on BLACK STAR RIDERS's previous two. Not every inch of "Heavy Fire" mirrors THIN LIZZY, which is why this band has cred. When the group is in the way-back machine, however, the resemblance can be uncanny—save for the wanting echoes of Lynott, loosely interpreted in this act by Ricky Warwick.
The title track aims for a brisk hard rocker with less focus on THIN LIZZY. The track pitches eighties American heavy metal with blues rock, and is given both a modern polish and new-gen strut. Ricky Warwick doesn't imitate Phil Lynott in pitch on "When the Night Comes In", but he does drop a noticeable tip of the cap in his pentameter. While THIN LIZZY absolutely plays into the verse scheme on "When the Night Comes In", the choruses stamp louder with the cracked universe preamble of, "this is a call to innocence, this is a call to arm yourself." They're delivered with an addictive upswing, swollen proudly by the backup vocals, which elevate Warwick and the guitar section. It's a larger-than-life rocker you have to scratch around for harder than ever these days.
It's hard not to chuckle upon sight at the title "Dancing with the Wrong Girl" (ditto for "Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed"), but if you're at home with BLACK STAR RIDERS's THIN LIZZY facsimiles, you'll have a ball with this number. What is Phil saying from the other side about a song so veritably THIN LIZZY from top to bottom? Afterwards, "Who Rides the Tiger" muscles up with thicker riffs, shifting toward booming thunder rock, which could've belonged to Lynott and company had fate taken a different course. Give BLACK STAR RIDERS credit though: with each album, the unit pushes the THIN LIZZY card as far as it dares as both reminder and tribute. The band rides this tiger like a champ before anyone has a chance to decry shark jumping. Accordingly, Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson tear the hell out of the solo section atop Jimmy DeGrasso and Robbie Crane's rumbling groove.
Given that THIN LIZZY operated during the political upheaval between superpowers, and given the sudden awkward tensions between them yet again, there's no irony lost with "Cold War Love". Even if cleverly disguising a frigid stalemate between lovers on the edge of breakup, it's hard not to let the mind drift toward broader urgent matters with this inherently snarky cut. The swinging "Testify or Say Goodbye" afterwards is more direct with its implications about global turmoil, embracing a neo-hippie ethos, "let this great world spin around and round and round…". This, after challenging American gun laws with "Who Rides the Tiger".
Robbie Crane's thorny bass lines lead the grumbly "Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed", as the song grooves hard on rails planted both by THIN LIZZY and GUNS N' ROSES". The riff-splintered, funk-bombed opening to "True Blue Kid" settles into homey choruses chuffed by Ricky Warwick, whom you can imagine was pointing his index finger toward the heavens while recording his tracks.
"Ticket to Rise" cleverly retools THE BEATLES's core riffs from "Ticket to Ride" and drops a heavy THIN LIZZY swing upon the song. It's the song's fun, swimmy choruses that make it a pleasure trip and summarize the spirit of retro reinvention, which BLACK STAR RIDERS shoves with self-satisfaction. Chances are, you'll join the band's glee and go to "Bad Reputation" after spinning "Heavy Fire", not out of spite, but with a celebratory mindset.