Gary Moore’s political conscience rose to the surface on the last metal album of his career
When Gary Moore released After the War in 1989, he was still riding high on the success of what was then his most popular album.
Released in 1987, Wild Frontier gave Moore fans everything they loved about his music at that time. The power of the guitar distortion and drum machines–so integral to Moore’s dive into heavy metal throughout the 1980s–were enhanced by the political messaging that he began sprinkling into his music in response to the Troubles plaguing Northern Ireland. As a musician who grew up in Belfast, this political lean made sense for Moore, and he continued composing along that path for After the War. But Moore wasn’t happy with where his musical career was taking him. As he’d later share with friends and critics, metal was great for attracting listeners fascinated by the genre’s blitzkrieg onto the ’80s music scene, but it wasn’t in line with his real passions. Inspired since the 1960s by Peter Green, Moore wanted to tap into his bluesy roots. Three decades later, that tug-of-war between Moore’s obligation to his fans and the desire to try something new makes After the War a fascinating part of Moore’s discography—even if the album was technically a flop.
Released as an eight-track album with three bonus instrumentals added to the CD release, After the War had a lot to live up to when it hit shelves in January 1989. Moore’s first real commercial success as a solo artist (he’d already gained plenty of attention by this time with industry professionals as a guitarist for Thin Lizzy and the 1960s Dublin rock group Skid Row) came four years earlier with Run for Cover, his last album featuring his longtime collaborator Phil Lynott. When Moore released his seventh solo album (counting his 1973 release as The Gary Moore Band as his first), Wild Frontier, shortly after Lynott’s death, he dedicated it to his friend, a gesture that reappeared in Moore’s later work. Tributes aside, Wild Frontier was the release that catapulted Moore to fame, securing his spot among the best guitarists of the ’80s and landing him a dedicated fanbase throughout Europe, though he wasn’t quite able to crack the same code with American listeners. With expectations building and a busy release schedule that averaged a new album every two years, Moore approached his next project with the trust of his label, Virgin Records, and the support of some high-profile colleagues, producer Peter Collins (who also worked with Air Supply and Bon Jovi) and Ozzy Osbourne among them.
The metal base was there on After the War, but so was the experimentation in sounds that Moore hadn’t explored too deeply in previous solo works. The incorporation of Celtic music was the biggest twist. First heard on Wild Frontier, Moore’s embrace of his musical heritage came in full force in 1989, as the two instrumental songs that bookend the album’s CD release—“Dunluce (Part 1)” and “Dunluce (Part 2)”—bring those elements into focus. His nod to Dunluce Castle also shows the pride Moore had in his native Northern Ireland’s history, complicated as it made the political struggles he alludes to on “Running from the Storm” and directly engages with on “Blood of Emeralds.” “Led Clones” tapped into current events, too; with Osbourne’s guest vocals supporting, Moore hints at propaganda spreading through radio and television announcements, ending multiple verses with the warning, “I don’t think I can take much more.” Of course, he could have been looking at a vision from 30 years into the future and saw Greta Van Fleet all the same.
As a musician who was surrounded by political strife from a young age, Moore was quick to engage politics in his songwriting. He was notably anti-military and spoke out against the Cold War, and though he had already moved to England by the time Bloody Sunday hit Northern Ireland, it’s clear throughout his solo work of the 1970s and 1980s that violent conflict struck him to his core. He spent his youth listening to bluesmen like Albert King and Peter Green, learning the impact lyrics could have on an alert listener. Moore sought to bring this same thoughtful messaging to his own work, and in doing so, impacted others—in the years since Moore’s death in 2011, artists like Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa have given kudos to Moore’s style.
Despite his success in the mid-1980s, Moore wasn’t happy with the path his career had taken. As journalist Mick Wall later reported in a 2014 article for Louder, Moore felt trapped by expectations and “sick of his own music” as he began work on After the War. He was experimenting with Celtic music and other new sounds, as so many of his blues heroes had, and bringing deeper messages into his lyrics, but that wasn’t going far enough to scratch the itch that was starting to bother him. The third instrumental track on the CD release of After the War, “The Messiah Will Come Again,” is revealing all these years later. A guitar-heavy piece, it gave Moore space to let the song breathe and discover where the freedom could take him. It’s a far cry from the album’s other tracks but is the strongest sign of where Moore was heading next.
Looking back on After the War, it’s humbling to think of the leaps Moore made in just three years as he transitioned from his high-flying success in 1987 as a heavy metal master to 1990’s Still Got the Blues, which replaced Wild Frontier as the most successful album of his career. Even so, After the War makes honestly enjoyable listening. Vocals from Ozzy, an extensive mid-album guitar solo, political rebellion—what more could a rock fan want? But Moore wasn’t satisfied with his work at the time, and it shows in the way the songs pull the album in opposing directions. Luckily for rock and blues fans alike, metal’s political conscience of the ’80s found a way to make the genre jump and keep his valued musical integrity intact.