It was during one of my final viewings of VH-1 Classic’s That Metal Show where I learned that legendary guitarist Jake E. Lee was coming out of retirement, if you will, to grace us with new music in the form of RED DRAGON CARTEL. I was understandably excited. Although I wasn’t a big BADLANDS guy, I loved his playing with OZZY and The Ultimate Sin is still a personal favorite. So naturally I was curious as to what he had in store for us, and when I heard first single “Feeder” featuring CHEAP TRICK’S Robin Zander my excitement only grew. Not only is it one of the self-titled record’s best cuts, but it has a little bit of an 80’s feel to it, from the guitar work to the overall aesthetic.
The man who sings the bulk of the songs is UK-born vocalist D.J. Smith whose voice you will either be into or you will not. There’s really no in between. I happen to like it, but there were one or two of his tracks that had to grow on me, I can’t lie. On opener “Deceived” both he and Lee come out swinging and it is one hell of a way to kick things off. “Shout It Out” is a rather serpentine affair, featuring that trademark Kevin Churko-produced drum sound we’ve come to expect, and is very groove-laden. Another album highlight is “Slave” with Lee off to the riff races and the band following suit. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when they slow things down, the results are nothing short of beautiful on “Fall From the Sky”.
Of course with all that said, there a few missteps. One of these is “War Machine” that quite frankly sounds like a recycled BLACK SABBATH song. Another is “Wasted” featuring Paul Di’Anno. You know who he is, don’t play dumb, OK? His voice is and always was god-awful, horrific, terrible, insert your word here, just brutal. I may be scarred for life after that one. And here’s the thing: The music? Fucking great!! But that voice, oy! I NEVER liked it on those early IRON MAIDEN records and I sure as hell don’t like it now. THIS is the kind of singing they should play outside of any building with suspected criminal activity. The perps will come out crying, hands in the air, I guarantee it. Thankfully the guest vocalist situation takes a turn for the much better with “Big Mouth” and “Redeem me” starring Maria Brink from IN THIS MOMENT and SASS JORDAN respectively.
One thing that really struck me from the very first listen was the closing track “Exquisite Tenderness”. It’s a simple, elegant piano piece that is in stark contrast to the bombastic nature of the other songs, and is a very nice way to end things. Overall I was highly impressed with all but two of the songs on RED DRAGON CARTEL’S debut, and I am very curious to see how these tunes will sound in a live setting when the band comes to Dallas on March 16.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Feeder”, “Deceived”, “Shout It Out”, “Fall From the Sky”, “Redeem Me”