Red Dragon Cartel
RED DRAGON CARTEL
Jake E. Lee - where have you been for the past two decades? Calling it the way it is, Jake E. Lee was one of the most recognizable sounds in hard rock/heavy metal for about five or six years. His work with Ozzy Osbourne on BARK AT THE MOON and THE ULTIMATE SIN were signatures to the Prince Of Darkness' biggest commercial success. He then moved onto Badlands, which is one of those bands that never got huge even though most now agree that it was one of the very best and most timeless bands of the late 80s and early 90s. In both cases, it was Jake's HUGE sound that propelled these projects. After that though, he was gone. Sure, there was the occasional sighting, like his solo A FINE PINK MIST release and then a somewhat surprise appearance on Enuff Z'nuff's DISSONANCE release, but ultimately the question of "where is Jake E. Lee" became one of folklore in the hard rock and heavy metal community.
After forever away though, Jake E. Lee is back, and his playing is as good as ever. His new project is called Red Dragon Cartel, and it features some killer guitar from Lee. At first listen, RED DRAGON CARTEL will probably surprise a lot of people with it's more modernized direction. Had Jake been releasing music all this time, it probably wouldn't be so surprising as we would have followed his progression...but when you go from 1992 to 2014 without hearing anything, all changes are amplified. Still, his playing is big and full, as always. Songs like "Deceived" remind you right away just how good, crisp and fast Lee always was as a guitar player. It's good to hear and worth noting that Jake has not tuned down any either, so his sound is still pure and not marred by the false heaviness of a drop d tuning. Hearing him rage to open "Slave", you are made very aware that Lee is still great.
As great as Lee is though, the album comes off as a bit of a mish mosh experience. There's a singer named Darren Smith who's solid, although fairly standard in his sound. He doesn't ruin anything when he sings on songs like "Slave" or "Shout It Out", but he's much more normal than what Jake has performed with in the past; most notably the unbelievable voice of Ray Gillen in Badlands. The problem though is the abundance of other singers that come in and take away from both the flow of the album and the building of this band as a unit. Robin Zander of Cheap Trick is the best of the bunch. His performance on the first single "Feeder" is arguably the best he's put down for any band (including his own) in a decade. There's other things though that just don't work. In This Moment's Maria Brink is abysmal on "Big Mouth" (which also suffers from a Kevin Churko mix that sounds almost identical to Ozzy's last two solo releases). Paul Di'Anno sings on "Wasted", and that's just more of his typical barking that has made anything past 1983 pretty much intolerable from him. Sass Jordan checks in on "Redeem Me", but she's not really adding a whole lot either. In short, this album would have been better if the band would have just let Smith sing all the songs. At least then RED DRAGON CARTEL would have done a better job establishing this band on their own merits. At this point, it's still a little fuzzy as to just what Red Dragon Cartel is going to be as a cohesive band.
PITRIFF RATING - 70/100 - I like it, and I love having Jake E. Lee back and wailing on guitar. I would have liked to see less guests and more of them becoming whatever they will become however. That said though, Jake E. Lee is back. There ultimately is nothing wrong with that.