BLACK STAR RIDERS are back once again with album number two, The Killer Instinct (February 24, Nuclear Blast Records). Truth be told when I listened to the debut I wasn’t exactly blown away. I can’t really put my finger on it, but something was missing; that one thing that would have me going back for more. You guys know what I mean, right? Anyway, it would appear that whatever the intangible was that was missing is now front and center because this record is pretty goddamn great if I do say so myself. So much so that it’s been the morning commute record since last week. The songs have an energy that is much needed when one starts his day job at 7 a.m.
It also seems like singer/guitarist Ricky Warwick has grown by leaps and bounds, not only as a writer, but as a performer. Each song on the disc tells a story, and it’s the kind of record you listen to from start to finish without skipping over any tracks, something that is harder and harder to find in this day and age. This also marks the debut of bassist Robbie Crane (RATT, LYNCH MOB), replacing departing member Marco Mendoza and together with drummer Jimmy DeGrasso you can hear the warmth of the rhythm section permeating every tune. Of course the real star is the guitar work of Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson. Trading off and dual harmonizing all over the place, the duo never fails to keep things rockin’ and rollin’. A perfect example of this would be the Celtic-infused “Soldierstown” a song about The Troubles in Belfast, something I am all too familiar with. But the riffs themselves are big, loud and crunchy without being overwhelming.
The same can be said for the opening title track. Ten seconds in I knew we had something good goin’ here. The chorus really sticks in your head as it also does with “Bullet Blues” and my absolute favorite “Finest Hour”, the latter resembling the Strength-era of one of my favorite bands, THE ALARM. Last Friday this one was on repeat my whole ride to and from work; I just couldn’t get enough. Hell, I still can’t! And when the band decides to slow it down for a bit, what we have is the smoldering, slow burner “Blindsided” that over the course of six minutes builds into something truly magical, a tale of heartbreak and betrayal, sung by Warwick over some fluid guitars and solos that practically rip your heart out. And from the ashes of that comes riff rocker “Through the Motions” that will probably be killer live.
Another one that I find myself humming throughout the day is “Charlie I Gotta Go”. It’s a little different from the rest of the disc, but the groove is undeniable, and immediately stands out with its jangling guitars. ”Sex, Guns & Gasoline” taps more into an 80’s metal vibe and had it been released then would probably have been a staple of Dial MTV. The harmonized leads of Gorham and Johnson rear their heads once again on “Turn in Your Arms” and it’s a sound I’ll never tire of hearing. Closing the album is “You Little Liar” a foot-stomping rock song that for seven minutes rips into someone who’s clearly a fuck-up. And once more we get some searing solos that could sizzle up the eggs needed for an Ulster Fry back in my beloved Belfast! Overall, BLACK STAR RIDERS have outdone themselves on this record. The Killer Instinct is an album that any and every rock fan should be buying on February 24. Case closed, chapter ended, book DONE.
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM