Groundbreakers: Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
It is a hideous crime that there are still people walking in the streets thinking of “Whiskey in the Jar” as a song composed by Metallica; I remember I crushed the dreams of a little girl in my college that told me that it was her favorite ‘Tallica song and I had to do it for the sake of the horn-bearers Gods of Music: that the infamous guys of San Francisco pulled that move from a cover made in 1973 by a band called Thin Lizzy of a traditional Irish song. I chuckled when she stutter and did not believe my case.
Of course that Thin Lizzy version was not the original one either, but their outtake conquered the charts because the tight homage made by the Dubliners boys: the colorful Phil Lynott’s voice redefined and re-painted it with mastery, aside the soulful guitar riffing below. They were not happy with the release of this single, thinking that their first big hit in the radio did not conveyed their overall image; but the smash was made and, from that, they build their pantheon brick by brick in the rock temple with hard work and perseverance.
Putting that Metallica offense aside, there are people that agree too that the legend of Thin Lizzy is tangible and is still haunting the heavy metal genre. The Boys are Back in Town, Jailbreaker, Bad Reputation… All of those records feature such a great songwriting that are still celebrated and are regarded as timeless gems. But, in this edition of the Groundbreaker column I want to induct and share what it is one of the best heavy metal (YES! HEAVY.FUCKING.METAL.) records ever: Thunder and Lightning.
In 1983, the band was successful, made impressive mixes of rock, folk, melodies, blues and jazz all over the way of their discography and settled them as pioneers in the Ireland musical scene. Also, it saw other lineup movements for the last time in the band lifespan, but, unlike some other projects, the new hired guns brought everything to the table and revitalized the name, stage presence and music.
The percussive duo of Phil Lynott and Brian Downey improved in their synergic force, and the new songs needed it because the result was heavier and way more badass. The ‘biker’ attitude of the band was reinforced by this final record; mostly because the punching rhythms come and go without sweating and it forms themselves as a cohesive platform in which the hard riffing melodies, the vicious lyrical attack and the explosive solos effortless skate and dance in the roughness of the drums and that sweet flavored bass lines and tone.
Every song is a diamond polished by Phil’s vocal delivery. The first song, named after the album’s title, is a rapid fire of violent lines that are exalted with his backing bands swears and shouts. He screams, rhymes, whispers, grunts and recites. He has no fear spitting your face and remembering you who are one of the bosses during the 40 minutes that last this spin of electrified madness. The same happen in the entire album, with special mentions in “This is the One”, “The Holy War” or “Baby Please Don’t Go”; sing-along pieces in which Phil Lynott shows the best and most dynamic vocals in his career.
Obviously, we cannot talk about this album without mentioning John Sykes and Scott Gorham. Like they scream in the first song of the album, I must say: “GODDAMN!”
The guitar solos rips every fiber of your face. Those fast pentatonic leads, tapings, harmonic pinch and Floyd Rose dive bombs are one of the best examples of how to do them in an effective non-cheesy way. The riffs are there to burn you. It is like being trapped in the eye of the hurricane while the wind cuts you until you are nothing; and the vibrato, that perfect guitar tone made with sinuous waves of pure attitude it crowns and harden the entire sound. The fast clean thrashing and corrosive solos can be found in “Cold Sweat”, “Thunder and Lightning”, “Someday is She is Going to Hit Back” and “”Heart Attack”; in those songs, the tandem of Sykes and Gorham phrase and talk with their guitars, they mumble and make them scream when those bending echo through the air and those fast notes assaults leave you without breath.
Still with that, Thin Lizzy prove that when they go slow and mysterious, they still deliver the dark, film-noir aesthetic-like and sensual vibes; for example, this happen in the great track “The Sun Goes Down”, a song in which the keyboards triumph to add that ominous and dangerous ‘street in the night’ atmosphere.
What else do we need to add? The influence in the recent metal scene, of course:
“Cold Sweat”, the only song in which John Sykes had writer credits, is one of the most covered songs because that biker rhythmic attitude. It is a perfect song, well composed, with every bit in the correct place. It have the riffs, it have the power and that “heavy metal” aura. Megadeth covered it and brought it to their tours, too (It is also one of the two good songs on their entire Super Collider record); also, melodic death group Kalmah, mighty thrashers Sodom, pioneer speed metalheads Helloween and many more paid tribute to Thin Lizzy using that exact piece.
John Sykes heavy, flexible and melodic guitar flashing served as inspiration for United States Power Metal scene, which got feed by the compact and powerful riffing by the duo he made with Gorham. Also, he was, along Randy Rhoads and Van Halen, one of the first promoters of the fast tapings in the metal sound; and Zakk Wylde pulled his harmonic pinches and squeals because of him, too. Sykes continue to shredding along Whitesnake and his solo project, Blue Murder.
Phil Lynott’s baritone and rasp vocal voice, with all his resources, was inspiration for many metal vocalists. He did not have a monstrous range like Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson; but he meant what a real vocalist must do: serve to the song with passion and personality.
Also, to name a few, Thin Lizzy is a direct influence for bands like: Metallica, Megadeth, Alice in Chains, Mastodon, Helloween, Carcass and many many more.
For all of this, and for saying good-bye with this perfect monolith of music. I must conclude that they still live inside the sounds of multiple bands and musicians in our precious genre, and that is why Thunder and Lightning is inducted into the Toilet ov Hell Groundbreakers Hall of Fame to accompany our other luminaries in the Toilet sky.
Thank you so much, Phil Lynott.
Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.
Neurosis – Souls at Zero
Death – Symbolic
Fear Factory – Demanufacture
Voivod – Killing Technology
Today is the Day – Temple of the Morning Star
Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
Acid Bath – When the Kite String Pops
Ministry – The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Vulcano – Bloody Vengeance
Sleep – Holy Mountain
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Kayo Dot – Choirs of the eye