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Cynical songs, killer solos. - 77%

hells_unicorn, March 28th, 2009
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, T&T Records

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.