Released: 2014, Frontiers
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.