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There are two lessons to be learned when it comes to this particular Dokken release. The first is to never judge an album by its cover, and the second is to never write off a band for recording a really bad grunge rock album in the mid 90s and ignore everything they’ve done since unless the band’s name is Metallica. Like a few other bands on both the softer and harder sides of the 80s Metal equation, Dokken learned their lesson and realized that pandering to a scene that will hate you no matter how much you sound like their heroes is a waste of time. Here you will find no nonsense about a “Convenience Store Messiah” or writing songs that lead you to “Bitter Regret”, only a solid blend of rock infused heavy metal with balls so big that your friends will have to sit in the backseat during the drive because they’ll be riding shotgun.
Naturally there will be all sorts of airhead pseudo old school types who say that it isn’t a good album because the guitarist isn’t George Lynch. Logic naturally teaches us that despite how good “Mr. Scary” was at churning out an amazing guitar solo, he is not the only expert with a six string at his command. Sure, Reb Beach was in Winger and Whitesnake, but he does one hell of a job here, as he always had in spite of supporting pretentious stage hogs like David Coverdale and Kip Winger. Granted, Don Dokken is known for his forceful stage presence, but for some reasons the guitarists he works with always tend to shine all the more brightly for having been associated with his work, much in the same way as it is when Ronnie Dio takes former glam shredders under his wing and turns them into sinister warlocks prepared to slay the dragon with their guitar screams.
When you think about it, recruiting the likes of Reb Beach is the ultimate one fingered salute to every sweat drenched, flannel wearing bonehead that ridiculed their music. You can literally picture these wannabe beatniks running back for their Starbucks lattés like vampires back to their coffins at daybreak when that first killer speed riff on the album’s title track “Erase The Slate” blazes out at 100 decibels. This is classic early 80s speed metal NWOBHM style, right out of the same playbook that gave us “Turn On The Action” and “Tooth And Nail” out of these guys back in 1984. Reb basically matches Lynch’s insanity during the guitar solo, with something of a higher end trebly tone and about twice as many guitar screams, like an air raid siren warning all of the little grunge kids that their precious scene is about to get bombed by 20 tons of explosive 80s riffage. If the slate that this album is talking about is the culmination of every crappy alternative rock abomination that was propagated on rock radio through the 90s, then I’d say that this solid opening song erased that fucker like a bad habit.
From here on in things continue on the uptake, as an entire album of heavier yet strongly 80s oriented heavy metal unfolds. “Change The World” is one of those mid tempo catchy fanfares in the vein of “Don’t Lie To Me” and “Breaking The Chains”, but with a less flowery riff approach that comes off as a little darker than the old days. “Haunted Lullaby” invokes some memories of “It’s Not Love” but with a little bit of a modern Rock tinge to it. The riff work here uses a bit of dissonance here and there, as well as a fair amount of Zakk Wylde influences. Perhaps there’s a case to be made that Reb gets a little too guitar scream happy on here, but since we’re chasing down grunge kids for a ritual sacrifice to the gods of non-sucky music, we have to resort to drastic measures in order to get the job done.
There are a fair number of surprises on here as well that don’t really conform to the band’s 80s material, but still keep things in the category of kick ass music. There’s a pretty slick remake of “One”, and I’m not talking about the song that Metallica used to simultaneously scare 8 year old kids with scenes of a armless and legless man while paving the way for their own demise via commercial recognition, but rather that late 1960s classic written by Harry Nilsson and performed by Three Dog Night to the shouting approval of a legion of acid pounding flower children. Naturally since the original is pretty strongly non-metal, they needed to burn all of the hippie out of the song with a flashy guitar solo and a much more aggressive vocal delivery. “Maddest Hatter” essentially takes the pre-80s rock elements of “Dysfunctional” and turns it into something that’s catchier and a lot more fun with a little bit of metal riffing, not to mention that Reb’s guitar work is tight rather than meandering. There’s also a nice little hidden track at the end called “Little Brown Pill” where Jeff Pilson challenges “Mr. Scary” for the title with a distorted bass solo that combines the slick bluesy style of Geezer Butler with a bit of Joey Demaio.
Though this isn’t really a perfect recreation of Dokken’s 80s music, it’s definitely of a similar caliber in terms of songwriting and performance, in fact I’d put it a notch above “Breaking The Chains”. So what if George Lynch isn’t on this album. Ozzy Osbourne wasn’t on “Heaven And Hell” and Black Sabbath pulled off an excellent album with 3 or the 4 original members, and the same basically applies here. There are probably a sizable number of butt hurt purists who can’t accept another guitarist in this outfit. But if you liked Dokken back when they were still playing music like they meant it, this is something to look into. It’s definitely the first one to check out of the four albums that Lynch is absent on.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 28, 2009.