Released by: Frontiers Records
Release Date: January 28th, 2013
Genre: Hard Rock
Guitar: Jake E Lee.
Bass: Ronnie Mancuso
Vocals: Darren James Smith
Drums/Vocals: Jonas Fairley
Shout It Out
Feeder (featuring Robin Zander)
Fall From The Sky (Seagull)
Wasted (featuring Paul Di’Anno)
Big Mouth (featuring Maria Brink)
Redeem Me (featuring Sass Jordan)
If you don’t know who Jake E. Lee is then chances are good you’re either too young, live under a rock, or aren’t a metal fan. He is the guitarist that had the daunting task of replacing Randy Rhoads in Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band after his tragic plane crash. Not only having to fill the shoes of an immensely talented guitarist, but also having to follow up two very significant albums in the catalog of such a legendary singer as Ozzy, Jake E. Lee had the unenviable task of winning over an already committed fanbase. I make no bones about it, other than Tony Iommi, and despite the love and respect I have for Rhoads, Jake in my humble estimation is my favorite guitarist to play with Osbourne in a long line of incredible players. There is something about those two albums, Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin that “did it” for me. Truth be told, I came to Ozzy solo via The Ultimate Sin, and Randy’s legacy followed shortly so for me Jake’s guitar work is what made me love Ozzy away from Sabbath. After his stint with Ozzy he moved on to form a band that recorded an album that still to this day blows my mind and makes my nipples hard as a rock. That band and album would be Badlands s/t debut. No joke, the first time I heard that album, and every single time since, that album sends chills down my spine and excites me beyond belief. Sadly, Badlands would be cut short after only a couple albums, and then silenced forever after the tragic death of singer Ray Gillen in 1993.
Disenchanted by the music business, Jake would go into a self-imposed exile after releasing one solo album called A Fine Pink Mist in 1996. For nearly a decade he was virtually off the radar, only releasing a couple covers albums that were well received by longtime fans. Finally, after being coaxed by Ronnie Mancuso, current Red Dragon Cartel bassist convinced him to come out of retirement and put to good use the music he had amassed during his time away. When I heard that Jake was coming back I was beyond ecstatic. I have wanted him to come back all these years, and have enjoyed everything he has put out, including the covers albums. I have eagerly anticipated the release of this album since well before it was even a thought in anyone’s mind. My expectations were very high for it, so it’s no surprise that on my first listen (especially after hearing reports of the first show fiasco with new singer DJ Smith not performing very well at all) I would be slightly disappointed. Musically, the album is super impressive. Jake is playing with a power and fire that got my pulse racing. This is easily the heaviest release he has ever done. So any setbacks I had initially had little to do with Jake. The first thing that soured me some was the vocals. To put it bluntly, I didn’t like the vocals on the songs done by the main singer DJ Smith. Pretty much every track that had a guest vocalist I enjoyed, it was just the ones featuring Smith. And it’s not that he’s a bad singer, it’s just that he’s kind of generic. He sounds like so many other radio rock singers out there, but not even on the upper level of those vocalists. Perhaps I’m just spoiled wanting to hear someone belt out like Gillen. And not that I was expecting this album to be a Badlands-esque album, but with the quality I have come to appreciate from Jake over the years, this not so great singer was a bit of a shocker.
Having said all that, I still like the album after a few spins. The songs I loved instantly were “Feeder,” “Slave,” “Big Mouth,” and “Redeem Me.” And again, musically, though it’s significantly heavier than what one would be accustomed to from Lee (and at times a bit more modern than my personal tastes typically go for,) it’s an excellent album. If I could’ve isolated the vocals on some of the other tracks and removed them I would’ve been an instant fan of the entire album. Now that I’ve had a chance to get a little more used to DJ Smith’s voice I have come to appreciate it a little bit, but stand firm on the ground that his voice really detracts from the songs. I truly believe had Smith had a better voice (or Jake had gone with a different singer) Red Dragon Cartel’s debut would be a contender for album of the year early on for me. As it stands it’s an enjoyable album, and perhaps others may appreciate the vocals of DJ Smith better than I did.
Written by Chris Martin