Black Diamonds

rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. You Betray
02. Wrong About You
03. Diamonds
04. Babylon
05. Shame
06. Shattered Glass
07. Gonna Lose
08. Got It Wrong
09. Lowlife
10. Crying
11. Like A Drug

It's impossible to discuss the 1980s Sunset Strip-era of hair metal without including L.A. GUNS. The band was part of the movement's so-called second phase, forming in 1983 and releasing their self-titled debut in 1988. Armed with a sexy, slick look, dramatic guitars and party-happy lyrics, L.A. GUNS made a name for themselves with early records such as the aforementioned debut, 1989's "Cocked & Loaded" and, right before "Nevermind" killed the hair metal star, 1991's "Hollywood Vampires".

While many glam acts stopped making music after the Seattle invasion, the L.A. GUNS brand has consistently released albums and toured. Amid the grunge and post-grunge movement, they released "Vicious Circle" in 1994 and didn't go for longer than a handful of years between records up until their last release, 2021's "Checkered Past".

Of course, the elephant in the room is all the lineup changes. In 2002, founding member Tracii Guns split with the band to focus on BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION with MÖTLEY CRÜE's Nikki Sixx. While he was away, L.A. GUNS continued to tour and release music with a lineup that consisted of "classic-era" drummer Steve Riley, Phil Lewis and a selection of other glam-era players. In 2006, Tracii put BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION on hiatus and launched THE TRACII GUNS BAND.

Tracii Guns changed the name of THE TRACII GUNS BANDL.A. GUNS in 2006, essentially establishing two "L.A. GUNS": Riley's version and Guns's version. In 2012, Guns abandoned his version, but that didn't last long, as Guns and Lewis started performing together and releasing music under the L.A. GUNS moniker again in 2016.

In 2020, Guns and Lewis sued Riley over the use of the L.A. GUNS name. Riley changed his band's name to RILEY'S L.A. GUNS" in April 2021 following a settlement reached between the camps. That's a longwinded way of saying that L.A. GUNS has the kind of storied history that you would expect from one of glam-metal's greatest. But, all drama aside, they still put out solid rock records.

"Black Diamonds" marks the latest release from the reunited Guns and Lewis, and for anyone who has followed Guns's version of the band over the years, "Black Diamonds" is exactly the kind of release one would expect. It's loud. It's guitar-centric. It's catchy. It's dirty: it's L.A. GUNS. While "Black Diamonds" brings the voracious hard rock on songs such as "Babylon", "Shame" and "You Betray", what really stands out are the album's acoustic ballads. Early single "Diamonds" is a gem — pun intended. Here, amid acoustic guitars and soft sonics, Lewis sings about messing up in his relationship and begs his lover for another chance to be the man she wants and deserves. It doesn't get more '80s than that. "Gonna Lose" is another acoustic highlight, with uplifting guitar chords and personal, introspective lyrics.

Other places, "Lowlife", "Crying" and "Like a Drug" are all endowed with huge, catchy hooks and blues-based riffing, with each offering the upbeat, live-in-the-moment kind of vibe that's trademark for the band. "Got It Wrong" is a bit silly and perhaps dated, with Lewis singing about groupies crossing state borders to get to the band's shows in hopes of some post-show action. But even here, there's a charm and spunkiness that makes the song a fun listen.

On "Black Diamonds", L.A. GUNS sound like they're still in the '80s, but somehow avoid the catch of sounding too much like the old days for modern ears. If '80s hard rock and metal isn't your thing, then you likely won't find much on here, but if you have even an inkling of nostalgia, this one is more than worth a crank.

Author: Anne Erickson
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