Saturday, 15 February 2014

Red Dragon Cartel "Red Dragon Cartel"

It took me a little longer than I’d like to admit to truly appreciate Jake E. Lee. He is known prominently as one of Ozzy Osbourne’s most popular guitarists, having played on his immortal Bark At The Moon album, but it wasn’t until I first heard Shot In The Dark from his second album with Ozzy, The Ultimate Sin, when I first truly discovered who this man was. I was in my early years of high school by this time. It was a little bit after then that I discovered Badlands; the other band Jake is well known for. However, despite having found out of his existence, I still didn’t truly have a grasp on how significant Jake E. Lee is as a guitar player. Just before graduation, I got my hands on a copy of The Ultimate Sin and was blown away. To this day it remains my favourite Ozzy album, completely because of Jake E. Lee’s ability to bring the best out of Ozzy Osbourne as a singer.

But it wasn’t until just before I turned 20 that Badlands took the forefront of my musical interests. To that point, I had known, and loved, their song Dreams In The Dark, but Badlands albums are so damn hard to find. Once I finally got my hands on their self-titled debut album, I had a completely new lease on music. I consider it one of the most important albums in my life, not only because of Jake E. Lee’s obvious skill and untouchable talent as a hard blues-rock guitarist (a genre Ozzy wouldn’t, and couldn’t, touch with a ten foot pole) but also because of the soul and all around charisma of the late Ray Gillen, possibly the greatest singer that few people have ever heard of. With exception to a small stint with Black Sabbath, (to which his only recordings were never officially released until recently for collectors such as myself) Badlands is really the only main thing Ray has to show for his talents. Three albums worth of songs donning his voice have been released; all three encompass the sheer hard blues-rock sound that I love so much with Ray and Jake’s perfection as musical collaborators. You almost can’t believe how much they reportedly couldn’t get along on a personal level for how tremendous they got along musically.

So, fast forward to the present; Badlands completely fell apart at the seams after two albums (a third was later released), Ray Gillen passed away from AIDS in ’93 at age 34, and Ozzy Osbourne has gone through a couple of other well named guitarists. In all this time, barely anything has been heard from Jake E. Lee, despite a few low key solo albums. Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, Jake has come back with a new band, Red Dragon Cartel, and seems to be fully dedicated to recording and touring, despite some early fears that nobody would “give a shit,” which I think he realizes by now was nonsense. The band includes bass player Ronnie Mancuso, drummer Jonas Fairly and vocalist Darren Smith.

I couldn’t be happier with Jake’s choice of a singer, as I’ve been a fan of Darren’s for years. Originally a drummer, he performed with one of my favourite bands, melodic rockers Harem Scarem. Their self titled debut album is another that I consider to be one of the most important albums I’ve ever listened to. Very briefly, it helped me through a difficult and stressful summer in my life: everyone who has been through high school remembers that time that they graduated (or dropped out) in which they realized that their next step in life was adulthood. Some people handle that realization well; I didn’t, and had a real hard time being able to relax that summer. However when I think back on that time, I don’t remember the stress; I remember that Harem Scarem album and listening to it beginning to end countlessly that summer. Darren even sang lead on a song on their second album, and later became vocalist for Heavens Fire, among other Toronto bar bands, so I’ve been aware of his talents for a good decade or so.

There’s nothing left to talk about besides the long awaited self titled debut album for Red Dragon Cartel. Let me get right to it by talking about the opening track Deceived. Actually the opening riff is what should be talked about first because it sounds like if Edward Van Halen were to attempt the riff to Bark at the Moon. Basically, you know right away that Jake E. Lee has not lost his touch. The song continues in to a completely intense fast paced hard rock ride and starts the album off in the best way possible because you already can’t wait to hear the next track, which is Shout It Out. What I don’t like about Shout It Out is the chorus, I mean there really isn’t anything wrong with it, (having seen the song performed live on YouTube, it makes for a good means to get the crowd pumped) but songs that try too hard to be anthems have never interested me, they are too basic. Luckily Jake’s guitar playing throughout the song still makes this worth hearing on record.

Four of the tracks on the album feature guest vocalists singing lead; this includes the first single released from the album, Feeder, which features Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander. This track is effective in its delivery, with the very heavy and noticeable sound of bass guitars playing behind a seemingly Slash inspired guitar riff. Robin’s voice doesn’t seem to have changed much in the 35+ years that he’s been recording music, but this song doesn’t seem to demand too much in its pitch. One man I was glad to see come out of the heavy metal shadows is former Iron Maiden singer Paul Di’Anno, who sings lead on Wasted. After recording Iron Maiden’s first two albums (which are my favourite Maiden albums) and subsequently getting fired, Paul just couldn’t seem to come even close to matching any such success again and has since just been playing bars and has taken up quite the change in appearance, but it is great to hear his voice, while very different and very aged, on this ruthless heavy metal tune.

In This Moment singer Maria Brink sings lead on Big Mouth, which according to Jake E. Lee features the oldest guitar riff on the album, written in the 90s. I am a big fan of Maria’s voice, I just hate In This Moment’s most recent album Blood, but it is good to see she hasn’t forgotten how to really sing her heart out, which she does on this track that actually fits her style well. It is a good mixture of Jake’s style and In This Moment’s recently adopted electronic rock sound to combine for the absolute sleaziest dirtiest song on the album. The last song to feature a guest vocalist is Redeem Me, featuring Canadian legend Sass Jordan. Those familiar with Sass’s style know she’s mostly known for an early 90s southern rock sound relatively similar to The Black Crowes, which is a style that this track encompasses very well. Plus, you can hardly hear any age in Sass’s voice at all.

These songs don’t take away from the great job Darren does throughout the album. His voice changes well with every song; including the fast riffed/mid paced Slave which calls for a very dark voice which is delivered well. It is accompanied by perhaps the best work by Jake E. Lee done on the album. However, it is the albums ballad Fall from the Sky (Seagull) where Darren truly makes his identity. I like this song most because musically it sounds the most like something that would have been released with Badlands than any other song on the album. The vocal performance is just flawless; Darren doesn’t soften his voice too much and maintains a credible rock voice, while putting forth the most melodic and beautiful performance I’ve ever heard from him.

 War Machine’s intro and riff are a little uncomfortable to listen to given the similarities to Black Sabbath’s War Pigs and N.I.B. The song is a doom metal song, just like what Sabbath is so credited to have created. The song is great, and so far I haven’t seen anyone really say much negative about the song despite some mentions of its Sabbath similarities, so I’m definitely not going to be the first to put the song down, as it is probably the heaviest song on the album.

The album ends with a piano instrumental called Exquisite Tenderness. The significance with this song is that it is the first song Jake E. Lee ever wrote when he was a kid and piano was his primary instrument, so for big Jake E. Lee fans such as myself, this is just an absolute treat and the perfect way for Jake to come full circle with his career, even though he doesn’t show any signs of stopping now.

Jake E. Lee is a unique guitarist in that he has so many colours that practically all of them are his true colours. The heavy metal sound he played on his two Ozzy Osbourne albums are 100% different from the hard blues-rock sound he played in Badlands. With Red Dragon Cartel, he does as fine a job as he possibly could at finally bringing the two elements together. I wouldn’t call this album a blues rock album as it does show a lot more heavy metal on it, but it is still different from anything else he has ever done. For the first time, he was able to do what he wanted to do and still get his music distributed to a large audience. The albums few flaws lie more in the rhythm section than anything else, as some songs could have been much more dynamic had the drums, for instance, been more dominant rather than just playing basic beats. Nevertheless, one of the most anticipated albums to come out this year holds up pretty well to my expectations of it.


Deceived” –­ Every song on the album sounds different from the other, as should any good album, so there isn’t one track that could best sum up the album for first time listeners. That said, I can’t see why any first time listener of the band won’t want to hear more after hearing Deceived. The song never lets up from its almost effortlessly dynamic pace. Both Jake’s guitar playing and Darren’s singing are in tip-top form and they are sure not to disappoint.


8.5 (Out of 10)


Track List:

Shout It Out
Fall From The Sky (Seagull)  
Big Mouth  
War Machine  
Redeem Me  
Exquisite Tenderness

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