Black Star Riders: The Killer Instinct

Scott Gorham’s posse shoot straight and true on album number two.

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

In the summer of 2012, as his band began pre-production work on what was mooted to be Thin Lizzy’s 13th studio album, Scott Gorham dismissed talk that fans would baulk at the idea of the legendary rockers rising again without their charismatic and much-missed leader Philip Lynott. “We’re fully aware of the risks and rewards involved,” the guitarist told this magazine. “Now we have to man up and do it.”

When the album emerged in May 2013, however, it was as Black Star Riders’ debut All Hell Breaks Loose. Whether enforced or freely made, that decision was undoubtedly the correct one, for while Gorham’s intentions were entirely honourable, the pressure of extending Lizzy’s legacy three decades on from their last studio album, 1983’s Thunder And Lightning, would surely have torpedoed his band./o:p

The wisdom of that call is made even more explicit by The Killer Instinct, which sees BSR begin to carve out their own history, unfettered by the past.

The ghosts of yesteryear still cast long shadows here – it’s impossible to listen to the Celtic melodies of the excellent Soldierstown without recalling Black Rose, Emerald and the late Gary Moore, or hear Ricky Warwick’s phrasing and evocative lyrics (‘Let’s go feed the vultures down in this concrete jungle’) on the title track without feeling the guiding hand of Lynott – but the overwhelming impression here is of a band growing into their own skin.

The exuberant Finest Hour has echoes of Social Distortion and Springsteen amid its ringing open chords, Blindsided is a beautifully crafted broken-hearted ballad with jaw-dropping guitar work from Gorham and Damon Johnson, while Charlie I Gotta Go translates the vibe of Waiting For An Alibi into a striking declaration of independence.

The outlaw blues of Sex, Guns & Gasoline, with its knowing tip of the hat to Skynyrd, has a rollicking Southern juke joint swagger, the Cold Sweat-tinged Through The Motions has the album’s punchiest chorus, and the way Gorham’s guitar climbs behind Warwick’s vocals on the excellent Bullet Blues will cause the heaviest heart to soar.

Indeed, brilliantly produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Alice In Chains/Deftones), all 10 tracks here would sound glorious blasting from a jukebox in the best spit ’n’ sawdust bar in town, and make a strong case for BSR as the most re-energised and vital classic rock act on the circuit. The boys are back in town, and The Wild One would surely approve./o:p

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.