Wednesday 11 September 2019

Black Star Riders - Another State of Grace (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 6 Sep 2019
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I'm late to the table for Black Star Riders, as this is their fourth studio album. For those others who are coming in fresh, they're a sort of spinoff from latter day Thin Lizzy but they're more interesting that that suggests. Thin Lizzy has been reformed many times by past members but, by all reports, none of them felt that it would be appropriate to record new material under that name. When a solid line-up seemed to be likely to do that, they chose a new name that had no connections to Thin Lizzy. That's Black Star Riders.

The line up has stayed reasonably consistent and is stellar. The remaining founder members are guitarist Scott Gorham, who had been with the original Thin Lizzy for a decade, playing on most of their most famous tracks, and Ricky Warwick, formerly of the Almighty. Damon Johnson, guitarist for Alice Cooper and the highly underrated Brother Cane, left in 2018 to be replaced by Christian Martucci of Stone Sour. Bassist Marco Mendoza, currently with the Dead Daisies, left in 2014 with Robbie Crane of Ratt taking over. Jimmy DeGrasso, of Y&T and Megadeth, among others, was the original drummer but he handed over to Chad Szeliga of Breaking Benjamin and Black Label Society in 2017. That's a lot of big names.

The standout here is the title track. If the opener, Tonight the Moonlight Let Me Down, didn't tell you in no uncertain terms that this is Thin Lizzy under another name, Another State of Grace makes it utterly impossible to think otherwise. It's the best Thin Lizzy song I've heard since Thin Lizzy were recording new material. It has an Irish folk melody to build it and it has to be said that Ricky Warwick often sounds uncannily like Phil Lynott. It can't hurt that he's actually from Northern Ireland, having been born in County Down, while everyone's favourite Irish bass player, Lynott, only grew up there, as he was born in West Bromwich in the English midlands.

Frankly, this song demonstrates how good it is to hear what sounds like Thin Lizzy with modern production values. However good the material on them, the old Lizzy albums often suffered from fair, if not outright bad, production. It helped me to be with the Black Star Riders for much of what would be the first side. Tonight the Moonlight Let Me Down and Soldier in the Ghetto are decent Lizzy-style songs and Ain't the End of the World is better. Candidate for Heartbreak, which closes out the album is solid too.

In between, I found myself fighting with the songs. Underneath the Afterglow is decent enough but it's a lot less Thin Lizzy and a lot more grunge, with some sections highly reminiscent of Nirvana. The ballad Why Do You Love Your Guns? takes its time to engage; it gets there eventually but it's only half a good song. Otherwise it's parts of songs that impress: the female backing vocals on What Will It Take?, the riffs on In the Shadow of the War Machine and the call and return vocals on Poisoned Heart.

These aren't bad tracks. They're just not up to the title track, which is a brilliant piece of music. An album of songs like that one would be an easy 9/10 for me, but, as it is, it starts out as an 8/10, drifts down to a 6/10 and I find myself arguing with myself over whether Candidate for Heartbreak lifts it back up to a 7/10. It's a good album. It's not a great one, though it has hints that it could be. I ended up tossing a coin, because 6.5/10 isn't an option and so 6/10 it is. Sorry guys.

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