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Dokken has sort of gone back and forth between being a slightly less light and happy remake of their glory days in the 80s or an all out dark rock/metal outfit since the exodus of long time fret shredder George Lynch. “Hell To Pay” basically has a bit of both, merging the muddy rhythm guitar and bass heavy tone that dominated “Long Way Home” with the consonant melodies and catchy riffs that defined their late 80s sounds. There are a good number of “Back For the Attack” moments on here, albeit presented in a somewhat modernized light. It’s a bit slower and also fairly poetic lyrically, carrying perhaps a small measure of the cynicism that the band exhibited on “Dysfunctional”, but without all the meandering musical ideas and tired 70s rock clichés.
This is the first album to feature guitarist Jon Levin as the 6 string guru, and he does well to carve out his own identity rather than parrot one of the three 80s rock icons that preceded him. His style somewhat loosely resembles Lynch’s, though not nearly as much as it would on “Lightning Strikes Again” later on, and tends to work in short bursts, often with more than one lead section in a song. His guitar tone doesn’t quite lean as heavily towards the doom/rock oriented Tony Iommi meets Dave Chandler sound that John Norum incorporated on “Long Way Home”, but it does incorporate some similar riff ideas and largely avoids the trebly, guitar scream happy, flamboyant style that Reb Beach contributed to “Erase The Slate”. Although the songwriting on said album was better than this one, Levin is the better guitarist style wise.
All around, the collection of songs on here is pretty solid, though stylistically a tad bit inconsistent. When you listen to high octane speed songs like “Don’t Bring Me Down”, coated with brilliant lead guitar breaks and agitated riffs in the vain of “Tooth And Nail”, or catchy mid-tempo rock that hearkens back pretty heavily to classic “Back For The Attack” style ass kicking, you’re certain that this album is going for a retro sound. But then you throw in darker though still heavily catchy and fun songs like “Escape” and “Better Off Before” and you have a hard time believing that it’s the same album, though Don Dokken’s vocals act as a pretty effective anchor in this respect. If there is one song that really captures the duality at work here, it would be the opener “The Last Goodbye”, which somewhat loosely resembles the atmosphere of “Dysfunctional”, but presents a riff set that is more intricate and attention grabbing.
This album will probably appeal to older Dokken fans a little more than “Long Way Home”, but it doesn’t quite go all the way towards that same spirit the way “Erase The Slate” and “Lightning Strikes Again” do. I personally like this album a little better than the latter, mostly because the ballad work is a little stronger here and Don’s vocals aren’t quite as scratchy and haggard sounding. Don’t make the mistake of writing this album off because the guitarist isn’t George Lynch. A lot of guitarists are not George Lynch (Yngwie Malmsteen and K.K. Downing for example), but that doesn’t mean that their playing is any less competent. Leave us not forget that Lynch was a co-contributor to the disaster otherwise known as “Shadowlife”.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 28, 2009.
I was able to get ahold of the new Dokken album "Hell to Pay" recently. It was released in July and needless to say I was really surprised to see that the band would still be releasing albums. My previous Dokken experience had consisted of the classics "Tooth & Nail", "Under Lock and Key", "Back for the Attack" and "Beast from the East", all of which were instant classics and some of the best heavy metal to ever be released. So before I even listened to "Hell to Pay", I knew that it probably wouldn't live up to the high standards of those albums, seeing how about twenty years have passed. Even though my assumption was correct, "Hell to Pay" certainly stands as a good heavy metal release that will probably entertain many fans of the genre.
The production and musicianship on this album are quite good. The only original band members who remain today in 2004 are vocalist Don Dokken (of course) and the drummer Mick Brown, both of whom carry the album nicely. Dokken is no longer able to hit the high notes like he was back in the eighties, but his vocals are still excellent. The infectious hooks he provides us with on the tracks "Escape" and "Haunted" show that he hasn't lost too much of his touch. Most of the lyrical content still has to do with the tumultuous love life of the vocalist, one thing that has certainly remained unchanged since the eighties. The guitars on this disc are pretty good. You'll find excellent, catchy riffing on many of the tracks, including "The Last Goodbye", "Don't Bring Me Down", "Haunted", "Better Off Before" as well as "Can You See". The new guitarist acquired for this album is John Levin, who is cool but is only a shadow of the former Dokken member George Lynch. Levin doesn't solo for as long nor as frequently as Lynch did, thus leaving a lot to be desired for fans of early Dokken material. The bass of Barry Sparks can be heard loud and clear throughout the duration of "Hell to Pay", and some interesting keyboard moments can be heard as well.
I know that I probably shouldn't judge the overall quality of this disc based on the material that Dokken was putting out twenty years ago, but it is almost impossible not to. Therefore, I'd have to give this disc a 70% rating. While it delivers the track "Haunted", which I honestly think is one of my favorite Dokken songs of all time, there are also too many generic sounding moments. I also dislike the song "Care for You", and was disappointed to hear that track 12 was the unplugged version of the same song. All in all, this is a pretty good album that will find its way into the cd player every so often. I'm glad to see that Dokken will still have some metal moments, since I've heard they tried to experiment with some alternative rock during the 90s.