2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the best Irish rock band of all time: Thin Lizzy. Their contributions to hard rock and heavy metal have never received the kind of praise heaped on peers like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. However, the groundwork they laid out has influenced countless acts in heavy music. Philip Parris Lynott’s bluesy, working-class voice was instantly recognizable; as Thin Lizzy’s bassist and primary songwriter, he channeled his heritage and personal experiences into Thin Lizzy’s music and lyrics.
Early albums like Shades of a Blue Orphanage and Vagabonds of the Western World incorporated traditional folk and Celtic themes into hard rock, a technique heard today in metal bands like Enslaved and Korpiklaani. Early tracks like “Sitamoia” and “Whiskey in the Jar” balanced heavy riffs and acoustic breaks. A great example of their influence is the first few minutes of “The Funeral Portrait” from Opeth’s Blackwater Park.
While early albums showcased Eric Bell’s guitar, Thin Lizzy’s signature dual-guitar attack came into play on 1974’s Nightlife. Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson’s dueling melodies were the perfect complement to Lynott’s vocals and lyrics. Iron Maiden have sung their praises for decades, and nowhere is this more apparent than the first few Maiden albums. Original vocalist Paul Di’Anno was more of a hard rock singer, and “Killers” is a heavy metal song that still retains bluesy swing in its verses — a description that fits Thin Lizzy classics like “Jailbreak,” “Waiting for an Alibi,” and “Emerald.”
With the mish-mash of influences that have become the norm in metal, it’s surprising that a second-tier classic rock band still maintains presence with newer acts. But musical ideas established in the Seventies are still going strong. Mastodon, in particular, have made their mark by being heavy and progressive without being “proggy.” A rager like “The Wolf Is Loose” is based on a few simple riffs, visceral yet epic. It comes out swinging and doesn’t let up. Thin Lizzy’s “The Rocker” brings the same kind of intensity, so much so that you forget only three people are playing.
Not only did Thin Lizzy bring new, exciting ideas to heavy music, they brought an equal amount of passion. This is why bands as disparate as Zeke, Disfear, and Nile cite them as an influence. As more bands move forward while looking backward, Thin Lizzy’s influence will be heard for years to come.