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Red Dragon Cartel
Red Dragon Cartel
February 2014
Released: 2014, Frontiers Records
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: Waspman

It’s hard to believe that ultra-talented guitarist Jake E. Lee hasn’t been in a full-time band for more than twenty years. Sure Badlands’ DUSK came out in 1998, but by then the band was on ice due to the untimely death of Ray Gillan. Despite issuing a few solo albums, Lee has been exceptionally quiet. That all ends this year with his return to full-band mode with Red Dragon Cartel, featuring his friend Ronnie Mancuso (of King Kobra, Beggars & Thieves etc.) on bass, along with newcomers Jonas Fairley on drums and DJ Smith on vocals. The album also features several guest appearances, which I won’t list here, but does include vocalists like Robin Zander and Paul Di’Anno. All in all, it appears as if Jake E. is ready to rock once again.



In fact, rock is exactly what RED DRAGON CARTEL does, right from the opening riffs of “Deceived”. The album is surprisingly heavy, with a much thicker guitar tone than I was expecting from Lee. I was surprised, but after a few listens, I was digging it. Musically, the album runs the gamut from straight ahead hard rock, stoner metal (check out the awesome Sabbath riffs in “War Machine” – an album highlight), and blues rock (expertly handled vocally by Sass Jordan on “Redeem Me”). That said, I could sure do without In This Moment’s Maria Brink clogging up the works on “Big Mouth”, and the closing instrumental “Exquisite Tenderness” is a throwaway. The rest is as solid a ball of rock as you can get, and rocks beautifully. Lee’s riffs and solos have lost nothing over the years, and he remains as enjoyable as ever.



The only other complaint I have is the over-reliance on quests. I can understand why the band (and label, likely) would want as star-studded a cast as possible to sell the album, but honestly, the music doesn’t need it. In fact, new vocalist DJ Smith is more than capable of carrying the load and it’s overly jarring when all of a sudden a song like “Feeder” suddenly has another voice on it. I won’t get into the recent live debacle because I don’t want to judge the guy on a single, from all reports rushed, performance. What I can say, is that on this album Smith proves himself a solid vocalist with room to grow. I expect that if there is a second Red Dragon Cartel album, he’ll be even more impressive.



Anyway, I’m more impressed by RED DRAGON CARTEL the more I listen to it, and that’s the mark of a truly good album. Welcome back Jake!
Track Listing

1. Deceived
2. Shout It Out
3. Feeder (feat. Robin Zander)
4. Fall from the Sky
5. Wasted (feat. Paul Di’Anno)
6. Slave
7. Big Mouth (feat. Maria Brink)
8. War Machine
9. Redeem Me (feat. Sass Jordan)
10. Exquisite Tenderness

Lineup

DJ Smith: Vocals
Jake E. Lee: Guitar
Ronnie Mancuso: Bass
Jonas Fairley: Drums

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Other reviews

» Red Dragon Cartel
by Waspman

» Red Dragon Cartel
by Erich


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Red Dragon Cartel
Red Dragon Cartel
February 2014
Released: 2014, Frontiers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Erich

Noted recluse Jake E. Lee returns to metal, and does so in blistering form with his new band, Red Dragon Cartel. Jake was coaxed out of retirement by friend, and bass player Ronnie Mancuso. The two teamed with producer Kevin Churko, known for his work with Ozzy, Hinder, and Rob Zombie and began to write songs incorporating the stockpile of riffs Jake had composed through his absent years in metal. As the outline of an album began to take shape, two unknowns were added to complete the band, vocalist D.J. Smith and drummer Jonas Fairley, selected from over a thousand submissions to a “Jake E. Lee needs a lead singer and drummer Facebook page.”



Album opener, “Decieved” immediately dispels any concerns about Jake losing any of his formidable prowess, referencing “Bark At The Moon’s” monster riff while Smith channels Ozzy on the bridge of the tune. It is an impressive beginning, maybe the album’s best tune and infused with elements of vintage Jake E. Lee combined with modern production. The self-conscious follow-up, “Shout It Out” seems to exist solely to stress Churko’s more modern influence, and dismiss any thoughts of a retro album, a tune with a chorus that was probably written for and withheld from a Rob Zombie album, with lots of effects thrown in. “Feeder” is another stand-out song, featuring Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander on vocals.



RED DRAGON CARTEL immediately reveals itself as an album that refuses to neatly fit into a pre-determined category. “Fall From The Sky” could have been released as a 90s post-grunge tune and been a hit, while metalcore diva Maria Brink, of In This Moment contributes vocals to the Joan Jett-inflected “Big Mouth”. The surprises keep coming, with another guest vocalist in Sass Jordan singing on “Redeem Me”, lending this song a soulful but hard rock vibe not unlike a good Tesla song. Paul Di’Anno also makes an appearance on “Wasted”, while “Slave” is one of the heaviest tunes, where Smith pointedly reveals that he should have been allowed to sing more songs on the album. Piano ballad “Exquisite Tenderness” closes the album, ending a varied and unpredictable album.



At this point, the question is bound to arise; is this a metal album or not? Tallying scores based purely on the number of songs that are heavy versus ones that are not, you could make the case that this is not metal. However, the album is bold and experimental, almost certainly defying what folks expected from Jake, and proving his versatility extends beyond Badlands and Ozzy. “Deceived” is almost worth the price of admission alone. I happen to really dig it, but folks expecting Badlands redux are probably going to be sorely disappointed and truth be told, I cannot help but feel that Churko had a disproportionate influence on the album from the sound of the songs, to Five Finger Death Punch’s Jeremy Spence appearing on the album. Ultimately, RED DRAGON CARTEL comes across as disjointed and too obsessed with trendiness. I and most fans are glad to have Jake back and making music, but here’s to the next album being a more consistent and metallic effort.
Track Listing

1. Deceived

2. Shout It Out

3. Feeder (featuring Robin Zander of Cheap Trick)

4. Fall From The Sky

5. Wasted (With Paul DiAnno)

6. Slave

7. Big Mouth (featuring Maria Brink of In This Moment)

8. War Machine

9. Redeem Me (with Sass Jordan)

10. Exquisite Tenderness

Lineup

Jake E. Lee – Guitars
Ronnie Mancuso – Bass
D.J Smith – Vocals
Jonas Fairley - Drums

Other reviews

» Red Dragon Cartel
by Waspman

» Red Dragon Cartel
by Erich


Next review: » Red Fang - Murder the Mountains
Previous review: » Rectified Spirit - Rectified Spirit





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