Red Dragon Cartel - Red Dragon Cartel
To say Jake E. Lee has been reclusive might be a bit over-the-top, but he sure has been flying under the radar in the past ten or fifteen years. Jake is of course known best for his stint as Ozzy’s guitar player from 1983-1987, during which he recorded the Bark At The Moon and The Ultimate Sin albums. A couple years later he formed the bluesy hard rock band Badlands. Since the disbanding of Badlands, Jake E. Lee has done four solo albums that garnered little to no attention, and he even played guitar on the Enuff Z’Nuff album Dissonance. So, yeah, he’s been tucked away from the big boy scene for a little while. Red Dragon Cartel is Jake E. Lee’s way of saying “I’m back,” and it’s a welcomed return for the guitar hero.
First, let me tell you that Badlands was one of my favorite bands. The riffs were vicious, the solos melodic yet aggressive, and the groove was deeper than the Grand Canyon. And I haven’t even told you how much I thought of Ray Gillen as the singer in that band. But this is not Badlands. I had to erase the slate of expectation before I jumped into Red Dragon Cartel, and you probably should, too.
Red Dragon Cartel trades in the blues groove of Badlands for a more metal approach. This is a release that will fit in well with today’s metal scene. Vocalist Darren James (DJ) Smith is more Axl Rose than Ray Gillen, but he does have a tinge of Graham Bonnet’s throaty tone. He’s in your face a lot more than a bluesy type like Gillen, and it’s an attitude that goes well with the songs here. But it’s almost a secondary thing, being that he only sings on about half the tracks on the disc. Jake has brought in guest vocalists Robin Zander (Cheap Trick), Maria Brink (In This Moment), Paul DiAnno (ex-Iron Maiden), and Sass Jordan to finish out the album. Other guests on the album include ex-Pantera bassist Rex Brown on bass, and other players from metal bands like Five Finger Death Punch and Kyuss. There is definitely no shortage of heavy sound here.
Most of these songs have that signature Jake E. Lee guitar sound. Lee sounds as sharp as ever, with almost every track featuring a monster solo or riff. I think the thing I like most about this record is the fact that it finds a way to be melodic. Underneath all of the heavy elements of these songs, there are melodic elements that make them work even better. Whether its the catchy chorus of “Deceived” or the harmonies of “Fall From The Sky,” most of these tracks have a sense of melody and structure that keeps them pretty tasteful.
You get songs that range from the metallic anthem “Shout It Out,” to the steady glide of Robin Zander’s vocals on “Feeder” (yes, the verses reminded me of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”). You might even feel like you found a hidden track from one of the first two Iron Maiden albums with “Wasted”. It was great to hear Paul DiAnno again, as he turns in a nice performance on a solid metal song.
The standout tracks for me were:
“Deceived” - The massive hook in the chorus is infectious. There’s a reason this is
the first single.
“Big Mouth” - My favorite tune on the entire package because of the marching
heaviness and Maria Brink’s sly and ballsy vocals. This Rocks - yeah,
with a capital "R."
“War Machine” - This might garner a lawsuit from the Sabbath camp. The
opening sequence is almost an exact ripoff of “War Pigs,” and
even the vocals have Ozzy inflections in
parts. But, being a huge sucker for all things Sabbath, I love this
tune. Great heavy groove going on.
“Redeem Me” - This track is the closest thing to a Badlands track. With Sass
Jordan’s sassy scratch, she might remind you of a soaring Ray
Gillen. The cadence of the song is very reminiscent of a “Dreams In
The Dark” type of song, too.
“Exquisite Tenderness” - This is a solo piano track that runs just over 2 minutes.
Not much to it really, but it is so different and surprising to
hear. Not to mention it has great melody that actually
“sings” to you. A sweet way to close a pretty heavy album.
This is a pretty solid effort, and what I see as a welcome return for a guy that really knows how to put together songs and blistering guitar parts. Welcome back, Jake. I can’t wait to hear more.
You can visit Jake and Red Dragon Cartel on the web at http://reddragoncartel.com/