This year has seen a flood of albums from bands paying tribute to Thin Lizzy. The fact that they generally happily admit to Thin Lizzy being a primary influence, even emblazoning it on the sticker such as the case of Valkyrie’s Shadows, shows how far Thin Lizzy’s legacy has been rehabilitated this past decade. While they were respected in their time, for some reason starting with their dissolution in 1984 through the 90s, they were seen as hopelessly dated one-hit wonders (“The Boys Are Back In Town”) in the same category as dinosaurs like Grand Funk and Foghat. Nothing could be further than the truth. Of their 12 studio albums, seven of them, between Vagabonds Of The Western World (1973) and Black Rose: A Legend (1979) are absolute classics. Throw in Live And Dangerous (1978), which many consider the greatest live album ever, it’s the most consistently great run of hard rock albums in the 70s. Yes, that includes Led Zeppelin. There’s several reasons for this. The twin lead guitar harmonies between Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson (and also Gary Moore and Snowy White) starting in 1974, served as a huge influence, along with Wishbone Ash, on Scorpions, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and many other New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands. And of course they had Phil Lynott, the charismatic Irish bass-playing Hendrix who partied too hard, but who’s Celtic poetic soul was the equal of Van Morrison, and rarely wrote a bad song and was a great storyteller.
Much of Urge Overkill’s Saturation (1993) paid tribute to Thin Lizzy, but their tongues were too far into cheeks to start anything, and soon became a bit of a joke themselves. As far as I’m concerned, the most successful modern nods to Thin Lizzy started with The Lord Weird Slough Feg’s Twilight Of The Idols (1999) and Down Among The Dead Men (2000). Then Valkyrie’s debut in 2006, Pride Tiger and Birds Of Avalon in 2007, and with Valkyrie’s Pete Adams joining Baroness, The Blue Record (2009) had some of the most creative variations of Lizzy worship. Another highlight in tapping into the spirit was Gypsyhawk’s debut, Patience And Perseverence (2010). The band supposedly broke up, with a couple members forming a new project, Gygax, which will have an album later this fall. According to Gypsyhawk’s Bandcamp page as of March, they insist they’re still going and will release a new album, Fortune & Favor on Creator-Destructor. If that’s true and it really comes out, that will raise the tally of Thin Lizzy inspired albums to a dirty dozen, upcoming Horisont and Bible Of The Devil, and the latest from Valkyrie, Corsair, and The Sword, who always had a bit of Thin Lizzy in them, but went much further on High Country. After a double album foray into alt rock, Baroness may feature more Lizzy influence on their upcoming Purple (Abraxan Hymns) on December 18. Last but not least are the sophomore albums from Carousel, Black Trip and Dead Lord.
Carousel – 2113 (Tee Pee)
Carousel formed in Pittsburgh in 2010, and came out with Jeweler’s Daughter in 2013 on Tee Pee, full of solid songwriting, guitar harmonies and Dave Wheeler’s vocals that have just the right amount of gritty hoarseness. On their second album, 2113, they add guitarist Matt Goldsborough, who also serves with former Trouble members in The Skull. Guitars blaze out the gate with “Trouble,” already with more sticky riffs than anything on the first album. On “Buried Alive In Your Arms,” they do some great vocal harmonizing to go along with the dual guitars, with one of their all-time best hooks. “Highway Strut” slows to mid-tempo and is my least favorite, probably because it reminds me a bit too much of 80s Aerosmith, but it’s still pretty good. “Strange Revelation” is even slower, but the textures make it an engrossing listen. “Man Like Me” is a satisfying rocker, while the title track, all 7:42 of it, stretches way out with some delicious guitar soloing and interplay. The album concludes with “Turn To Stone,” a slow-building burner that alternates between some acoustic strumming and a heavy, crunchy crescendo with perhaps just a bit of Neil Young & Crazy Horse influence.
Black Trip – Shadowline (SPV/Steamhammer)
I was truly surprised to see a new Black Trip album, since Goin’ Under came out in 2013. I’ve gotten (mostly) used to bands waiting 3-5 years between albums. This Swedish supergroup of sorts contains members from Entombed and Enforcer. While some might think that having fun with some party rock would produce inferior work compared to previous projects, fun is a pretty damn important part of rock ‘n’ roll. It doesn’t hurt that the performances are tight and songwriting is top notch, especially on the new Shadowline. Along with Lizzy, the band cites Scorpions, Priest, Maiden, Saxon, and even Geordie and Blue Oyster Cult as influences. I’d add UFO and early Def Leppard to that list. It’s interesting that people and the band call their music heavy metal, because it’s clearly not. It might contain some proto-metal influences, but it’s purely hard rock, and there’s no shame in that, not at all. The album starts hot with “Die With Me” and goes into the first highlight, the super-Lizzy sounding “Danger,” that has it all, perfect lyrics, interesting solos and licks, and an exceptional vocal performance from Joseph Tholl. His vocal hooks reach another level on the title track, “Shadowline” that, wow, if Lizzy could have done that song back in, say 1981, they might have had a huge second act that decade alongside peers like Priest and Scorpions. “Clockworks” breaks into a wonderful early Maiden gallop at about :50, maintains a breathless pace until winding down again at the end. “Subvisual Sleep” features some really cool guitar interplay and arrangements that justify their efforts to pay tribute to past sounds, but still write some original new material that no doubt adds something special to the genre. “The Storm” masters the slower tempo epic with suitably dark atmospherics and some colossal screams. “Coming Home” wraps up the album not with a syrupy power ballad, but a solid rocker with shredding solos. It’s as if all the horrible mistakes of bands striving for mainstream dollars in the 80s never happened, and I’m fully on board with this alternate reality.
Dead Lord – Heads Held High (Century Media)
This Swedish band’s latest album came out August 21, a couple days after Phil Lynott’s birthday, but I hadn’t heard it until I was nearly done with this piece. However, they are so clearly indebted to Thin Lizzy that I need to mention them. They’ve got the twin guitarmonies down solid, but perhaps most impressive are Hakim Krim’s vocals, which might come uncannily closest of all these bands to Lynott’s timbre and mannerisms. Until last week, I was completely unaware of this band, and the fact that their debut, Goodbye Repentance, came out back in 2013. There’s just so many promising bands coming out of Sweden, I can’t even keep up. To be fair, that debut doesn’t exactly stand out from the pack. However, after two solid years of touring, their second album sees them moving up a tier and would be a great choice as a tourmate for any of these bands (hint hint).