Ever since Black Star Riders revealed themselves in 2013, they’ve consistently released a new album every two years and subsequently, toured the arse off it to great acclaim. So here we are, another two years down the line and Another State of Grace is their fourth album, following on from the behemoth that was Heavy Fire. This is possibly the Black Star Riders album with the most at stake since their debut effort. Gone is long-standing member Damon Johnson and as the predecessor fully dragged the band out from the shadow of Thin Lizzy and was the album which really established the band as an individual entity, it begs the question, “Where do we go from here?”
While the predecessor felt darker and more experimental, Another State of Grace is more reined in and control, especially now they know exactly what Black Star Riders is. This is an album intent on building on that and giving you more of what you love. That said, opening track “Tonight the Moonlight Let Me Down” and second single, “Ain’t the End of the World” could have featured on one of their earlier albums and definitely has that Lizzy tint to them. Nevertheless, they’re great songs but it feels like half a step back and this early into the album, it makes you question whether the rest is going to follow suit.
However, the gritty crunch of “Underneath the Afterglow” quickly puts paid to that notion and the album fully ramps up into more familiar Black Star Riders territory and continues for the remainder of tracks. Elsewhere, the rollicking romp of the title track (and lead single) brings a Celtic flavour into the mix, and you can imagine the Gaelic chants featured in “Soldierstown” would fit well here, too. The number has Ricky Warwick at his lyrically biting best throughout, none more so than its opening gambit of “They called it The Troubles cos it wasn’t quite a war / To admit that it was would make it harder to ignore”. But as ever, the entire album shows Warwick’s prowess as an evocative songwriter and storyteller.
Whilst its great to have an album full of hard rock numbers, predictably, even in the slower moments, the band shine just as bright on “Why Do You Love Your Guns” and the acoustic-driven “What Will it Take”. The latter has a more upbeat feel to it despite its bluesy and reflective tones and Pearl Aday’s vocals add a more soulful texture to it. Meanwhile, “In the Shadow of the War Machine” takes on a more funk-based flavour with its chugging riff but still undeniably a Black Star Riders tune and “Standing in the Line of Fire” is simply a prime cut of the band and a perfect example of what they are as they’ve grown into their own shoes.
Naturally, to fill Damon Johnson’s shoes is no easy task and when you watch them perform, it very much felt like he was the glue which held everything together. However, Christian Martucci has more than risen to the challenge and the interplay between himself and Scott Gorham beds in as tight as possible. As a baton pass between an integral part of the band, it’s one of the most seamless and it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the back catalogue.
Another State of Grace is Black Star Riders at their potent best. Refining everything which made the last album such a heavyweight and nods to their past, there’s not a bad song among the ten and there’s not even a lull. Between the anthemic classic rock and fist-pumping modernity, they’ve made their best album yet.