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Legend Secured - 92%

soul_schizm, February 9th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1987, CD, Elektra Records

The band that fought each other Tooth and Nail from inception to meltdown managed to produce one final work, and it turned out be their best.

Dokken had about 10 years on their contemporaries, reaching their peak in their 30's while others in their genre were in their 20's. Although considered a part of the LA hair band scene, they were more of a creation of their namesake than a group of youngsters banging it out from club to club on the Sunet Strip. Indeed, Don Dokken's project started out as his solo band but quickly dropped the "Don" from their name before the inaugural release. Their output arguably had more substance than most other bands crawling the LA club circuit, owing to guitar god George Lynch's mind-bending guitar stylings and unusual influences. Don Dokken's strangely weak yet effective vocals put a stamp of recognizable marketability on their better moments, producing 3 highly successful studio albums and another strong live effort to round out their early career catalog.

The band was also notorious for their inability to get along, marked by Dokken and Lynch's near hatred of each other which eventually resulted in a physical falling out before a gig at Wembley stadium (yes, that means they started beating the crap out of each other). One final outing on the 1988 Monsters of Rock tour was a catastrophe, and then it was over. Although reunions and retools have taken place, Dokken as we knew it is effectively a historical entity at this point.

Before they melted down though, one final stab took place in 1987, entitled Back for the Attack. It contained music written and recorded over a longer period of time than their previous efforts. Reportedly, the sessions were extended because Lynch was going for a different tone on his guitars and recording many takes on his solos. Also, Lynch and Dokken were sick of each other and many times unable to record together, leading to delays. Accounts of the day spoke of painful writes and re-writes and disjointed recording sessions sometimes taking place with bandmembers absent or working in different studios. But the result was remarkable nonetheless. Back for the Attack is a slab of what Hollywood was producing in the mid to late-1980s, but with a chunkier edge and a relatively raw aesthetic. It serves up alternate courses of meat and cheese, sometimes nearly metal and sometimes poppy but always memorable and certainly several levels above the bulk of the bands coming from that corner of the music universe.

Let's face it, if you liked Dokken you came to the table looking for Lynch to blow you out of the water with his distinctive licks and unusual rhythm guitar voicing. His work was instantly recognizable, setting him apart from anyone else in his era. Lynch's influences were unique among his contemporaries, most of whom were busy copying Van Halen, AC/DC, and Yngwie Malmsteen among a few others. Lynch, on the other hand, counts Jimmy Hendrix and Jeff Beck among his most prominent influences and he used those classic players' work to great effect, mixing with heavy distortion and fast fretwork along with his own touches. His playing is at once angry yet mysterious, heavy yet intricate, technical yet frenetic. There's a certain obsessive quality to Lynch's style. You can tell he's shutting out the world at times, alone in a room trying to eek out that last bit of tone and inflection, jamming to a track over and over again until he has 10 good takes and still isn't satisfied with any of them.

Back for the Attack is the ultimate expression of his approach. Unlike previous albums, Lynch pulls much of the reverb and effects back from the rhythm guitar track. The polish present on Under Lock and Key is gone and it puts the riffs right in your face. He also clearly changed his amplifier rig, giving himself a heavier yet tighter tone.

On the other hand, his solos are rich with sustain and effects, soaring with strange scales and creative harmonics to go with some rather nimble licks. Lynch uses a Sustaniac device to create screeching harmonics that sit within his solos, controlled yet over-the-top. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Mr. Scary," which is the greatest metal instrumental of the 1980's. Mr. Scary secures Lynch's status as a guitar god with its crunchy main rhythm and gypsy-like melody, punctuated by leads that sound like a screaming heat-seeking missile. It's a jaw-dropper to be sure, and Lynch's legion of geeked-out guitar playing followers point to it all the time when asked about their cult leader.

Don Dokken's voice stood out as well. As I said he always had weak vocal chords (witness him sing alongside other metal greats on the documentary of the making of "Stars" during the Hear n' Aid sessions). But he stays on point, never hits a sour note, and has a recognizable tone. You knew it was Dokken the moment the first verse started. It can be argued that the contention between he and Lynch gave his work just the right edge to make Dokken more than simple groupie-bait. He's never been shy about his disdain for Lynch, but also never doubted that the music was good when they joined forces. And it was.

Strong moments abound on Back for the Attack, from the aggressive riffing of "Kiss of Death" to the mid-paced AC/DC-esque "Standing in the Shadows" to the cock-rocky "Heaven Sent." This album was known for the movie soundtrack theme "Dream Warriors" but there was much more to be had for different cross-sections of Dokken's audience. There's something for everyone, from scantily-clad groupies to budding metal guitarists and everywhere in between. The sound was fresh and clear, somehow giving their rather formulaic songwriting the bite and aggression that was lacking on Under Lock and Key, even if the songwriting was arguably a tad weaker. Although the band's lyrics weren't particularly mature, they did begin to explore a few timely topics such as AIDS and the Cold War, albeit in a less-than-intellectual way.

There's not much more to be said here. Back for the Attack is fantastic for what it is. I'm actually surprised to see it classified as heavy metal anywhere, including the archives. Although, to be fair, in the 1980's you would have found Dokken in the "heavy metal" section of the record stores. To me it's more commercialized hard rock with some metal cladding. I'd put other bands like them in the same category, such as Ratt and Mötley Crüe. But since it's listed in the archives and I'm a fan, it deserves a call out for the great music contained within.