Black Star Riders the killer rock act are back with their 3rd album HEAVY FIRE Out February 3rd on Nuclear Blast Entertainment.
Rohan had a killer chat with Damon Johnson about what to expect.
“This is a call to innocence… This is a call to arm yourself.”
There’s a beautiful purity to the finest rock ‘n’ roll, a thrilling simplicity in striking an over-amplified guitar chord, a transcendent joy in getting high on just volume, adrenaline and a backbeat. BLACK STAR RIDERS, lifers in an industry less secure than a secret in a soap opera, understand this, which is why »Heavy Fire, the quintet’s third album for Nuclear Blast, sounds so fresh and exhilarating and alive.
Recorded with producer Nick Raskulinecz (FOO FIGHTERS, DEFTONES, RUSH) at Rock Falcon Studio in Franklin, Tennessee, the follow-up to BSR’s acclaimed 2015 release The Killer Instinct, finds the quintet – frontman Ricky Warwick, guitarists Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson, bassist Robbie Crane and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso – in electric form, crashing through 10 tracks of swaggering, life-affirming hard rock with a shared passion and power both irresistible and inspiring. It’s another compelling chapter in the storied career of a band Classic Rock Magazine hails as “the most vital classic rock act on the circuit.”
“It’s an album that showcases the very best of what we can do as writers and players,” says Scott Gorham simply. “And an album we think will have a real resonance with our audience. We were excited making it, and I think BLACK STAR RIDERS fans are going to be even more excited hearing it.”
Though the history books will record that BLACK STAR RIDERS first came together in late 2012, the band’s spiritual roots stretch back four decades, to the moment, in the summer of 1974, when a 23-year-old Scott Gorham walked into The Iroquo Restaurant in Tavistock Hill, North London, plugged a cheap Les Paul copy into a humming valve amplifier and first ran through ‘The Rocker’ with THIN LIZZY’s Phil Lynott and Brian Downey. Together with fiery Scotsman, and fellow guitar prodigy, Brian Robertson, Gorham re-energised the Irish rockers, helping to transform LIZZY into one of the most exciting, brilliant and influential bands of their generation. The Californian guitarist was an integral part of the band through to their break-up in 1983, and is recognised of one of the architects of a tough but melodic twin guitar sound which changed the face of hard rock. In 2012, recordings potentially earmarked for a first THIN LIZZY album since 1983’s Thunder And Lightning, were collated instead under the BLACK STAR RIDERS banner, and with the release of All Hell Breaks Loose in May 2013, the new-look band hit the road running.
“One of the great memories of my life is the day, back in 2012, that Ricky and I went to Scott’s hotel room and played him the first batch of material that we had written together for what we thought at the time was going to be a THIN LIZZY album,” recalls life-long LIZZY fan Damon Johnson. “His reaction could not have been more positive or more excited or more trusting, and from that moment on, we knew we had something special with this band. You know, if I was Scott Gorham, and I have this legacy and I was a part of this incredibly influential band, I don’t know if I’d trust a couple of young upstarts showing up in my hotel room with acoustic guitars saying “Hey man, we got some songs”, but Scott was amazing about it right from the beginning. And from the beginning we wanted to repay his faith in us.”
Due to the strength of their respective CV – Warwick having previously fronted THE ALMIGHTY and Johnson known for his work with ALICE COOPER and BROTHER CANE – BLACK STAR RIDERS were initially billed as a “supergroup”, but eighteen months on the road supporting All Hell Breaks Loose bore witness to the fact that this was a genuine band of brothers, not a vehicle for inflated rock star egos. The release of The Killer Instinct, the group’s second album for Nuclear Blast, in February 2015, was concrete proof of this, featuring as it did a spectacular arsenal of songs, instant fan favourites ‘Blindsided’, ‘Soldierstown’ and BBC Radio 2 “Record of the Week” ‘Finest Hour’ among them, which illustrated that BLACK STAR RIDERS were no longer content to merely stand on the shoulders of giants.
“We started out emerging from the shadow of a legendary band, and that was a big shadow,” concedes Scott Gorham. “But I feel like BLACK STAR RIDERS quickly began owning our own space.”
That notion is hammered home emphatically by Heavy Fire, the group’s third long-form collection. From the Warwick/Johnson/Gorham-penned title track to the euphoric, driving ‘Letting Go Of Me’, this is a superior hard rock set, 10 songs with their feet in the gutter but their eyes firmly fixed on the stars. Like Phil Lynott, Northern Ireland-born Ricky Warwick is a gifted storyteller, and his sharp, allusive observations on the human condition coupled with an ingrained empathy for the disaffected, the marginalised, the troubled and the voiceless, shines through on the likes of the VAN MORRISON-tinged ‘Cold War Love’, the deceptively-upbeat ‘Dancing With The Wrong Girl’ and the tense, cautionary ‘Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed’, inspired by a conversation with a homeless Vietnam Vet. The album touches on matters both personal and political. Warwick describes ‘Ticket To Rise’ as “a warning shot across the bows of a relative, to say “Think about the path you’re taking”,” while ‘Who Rides The Tiger’ is the singer’s seething indictment of the madness of America’s gun laws – while retaining a basic faith in humanity’s ability to cope with whatever obstacles might hurl at us.
“I had the album title almost a year before we started recording,” says Warwick, “and it refers to the fact that there’s so much going on in the world right now, and we’re bombarded constantly with information and technology designed to make our lives better and easier, but yet we don’t really have a clue where we’re going as a species. It’s kinda asking about how we deal with all that, how we negotiate our own paths in these sometimes dark and dangerous times.”
“I think it’s the most solid piece of work that we’ve done,” says Johnson, of the album as a whole. “Do we have songs on this album better than ‘Blindsided’, better than ‘The Killer Instinct’, better than ‘Finest Hour’? I think so, but beyond that I think that our audience is going to recognise this as a complete work from top to bottom. We’ve grown as songwriters, we’ve grown as musicians, and I think you can hear that in the record we’ve made.”
“I feel like we’re just now coming into our own as a band, in terms of sound and style and attitude,” agrees Warwick. “It feels like we’re just getting started.”
For his part, Scott Gorham jokes that his bandmates are trying to kill him with the schedule BLACK STAR RIDERS have in place to take Heavy Fire to the world. But he’s entirely serious when he considers the space that this band, and this music, occupies in 2017.
“I don’t think there’s another band out there doing what we’re doing,” he says. “And I think there’s a value to what we do. If you stood where I stand night after night, looking out at phenomenal crowds losing their minds to a rock ‘n’ roll band, it still looks like rock ‘n’ roll has something to say, and a big part to play in people’s lives. I was lucky enough to be in a great rock band with LIZZY, and I’m fortunate to be part of another great band with BLACK STAR RIDERS. We’ll always have a debt to our past, spiritually and musically, but this is a band focused very much on the future.”