Red Dragon Cartel – Red Dragon Cartel Review

PrintMany guitarists have passed through the ranks of the Ozzy Osbourne band over the years, but only one has inspired whole generations of axemen. Only one is mentioned in the same breath as legends like Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen; only one has had first-born children named after him. That man, my friends, is Mr. Jake E. Lee.  As you all know, Lee was the Ozzman’s guitarist during the mid-’80s, compelling countless teenagers to pick up the guitar and jam out to classics like “Secret Loser” and “Rock N’ Roll Rebel” in their bedrooms. But after the demise of his post-Ozzy band Badlands in the early ’90s, Lee has been keeping a low profile, to say the least. Other than one solo album and the occasional guest spot, he’s had almost no recorded output in the last two decades…until now. 

Opener “Deceived” kicks off with exactly the kind of riff I want to hear from Jake and co., uptempo and melodic with that classic ’80s feel to it. I start to believe that this project has potential. But about 25 seconds in, my parade is pissed on by the band’s vocalist, D.J. Smith. To put it nicely, this dude sounds like a cross between Stephen Pearcy (Ratt) and a chainsaw. Smith’s upper register is particularly grating, and his high notes on tracks like “Shout It Out” just sound ridiculous. Perhaps aware that his singer is out of his league, Lee pulled a Santana and added guest vocalists on about half the album, with uneven results. If you’ve ever wondered what Paul Di’anno would sound like singing generic modern metal, the track “Wasted” has the answer. On “Big Mouth,” Maria Brink of In This Moment tries to be more irritating than either Smith or Di’anno, and succeeds. Oh, and Rex Brown (Pantera), Scott Reeder (Kyuss) and members of Five Finger Death Punch also make appearances.

red-dragon-cartel_2013As the album plays on, the songwriting becomes seriously misguided at times. Rob Zombie-esque touches of disco metal crop here and there, way past their due date and way out of Lee’s wheelhouse. A lot of the guitar tones and production effects are similarly obsolete, as though they’ve been kept on ice Walt Disney-style since 1998. It’s times like this where he sounds like someone who’s been out of the loop for 20 years.

There are certainly some bright spots though. On “Slave,” Lee breaks out one of the most aggressive riffs of his career — hearing him backed by pounding double kick drums was a surprise, to say the least. Cheap Trick‘s Robin Zander, of all people, delivers a solid performance on the catchy “Feeder.” “Redeem Me” is a Badlands-ish bluesy rocker, with excellent vocals by Sass Jordan (who I thought was a dude at first). “Fall From The Sky” would be a decent ballad, ruined only by Smith’s overwrought vocals and complete lack of subtlety.

jake-e_-leeIt’s odd, considering that this is Lee’s big comeback, how many songs are entirely non-dependent on him. A lot of these tracks contain none of his trademark style or flash, and could have been played by anybody. The endless parade of guest stars doesn’t exactly help either. About half this record sounds like a band that Jake E. Lee is in, the other half sounds like some producer’s demo reel.

To be blunt, Jake E. Lee is a goddamn living legend. An amateur like Smith has no business being on a record with him, and neither do assholes from bands like 5 Finger Death Punch and In This Moment. If Lee had been paying attention, he’d know that he’s better off being himself and ignoring trends, especially ones that ended years ago. But he can still shred, and the good songs on this record suggest that he has at least some awareness of  his strengths. On the off chance that Lee decides to stay in the music business, I’d like to see him ditch this entire project, get a real singer, and kick my ass like he did back in 1986.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
Label: Frontiers Records
Release Dates: Out Worldwide on 01.28.2014

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