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Red Dragon Cartel: Red Dragon Cartel

Who saw this coming then? Not me and truth be told, not many others either. However the return of one time Ozzy guitarist and Badlands leader Jake E. Lee is a most welcome surprise, as is Red Dragon Cartel and their self titled album. Lee is at pains to point out that this new venture is a band, and not a flash in the pan project, with live date (to early mixed reviews) already underway with bassist Ronnie Mancuso also of Beggars & Thieves, drummer Jonas Fairley and singer D.J. Smith, better known as Darren Smith, the drummer in Harem Scarem, joining Lee to make up this cartel of red dragons.

With such a lengthy time out of the spotlight, I really had no idea what to expect from Lee and I'm probably more shocked that opening track "Deceived" has slight hints of the guitarist's time with Ozzy, than if it had been Peruvian nose flute music; think The Ultimate Sin album double O and you won't be far away in terms of guitar or vocal attack. From there things begin to joyously veer all over the joint, "Shout It Out" stupendously surging on an almost Industrial guitar slam, with a far rawer, aggressive vocal giving a more melodically inclined Rob Zombie like chorus. Cheap Trick's Robin Zander adds his vocal magic to "Feeder", Mancuso's bass bulging to bursting point, Lee squealing and howling his way through the barrage. Cleverly the song is nothing like the Trick at all, allowing Zander to really stretch out and offer something different, while still sounding as no other singer can.

"Fall From The Sky (Seagull)" slows things down in a way that broods and threatens, while still sounding fragile and beautiful, Ultimate era Ozzy again slightly brought to mind. "Wasted" thrums with staccato riffing and hammering drums; producer, mixer, masterer Kevin Churko proving his worth, the sound across the whole album being positively HUGE. The surprise choice of guest vocalist here being one-time Iron Maiden man Paul Dianno. A bit of a left field invitation, but it proves to be inspired once more, the singer's gravely tones hitting the mark big style.

The standard up to now has been remarkably high and while there isn't a bad song in sight, things do begin to dip ever so slightly. "Slave" starts out with some of the most fierce six-string work on show, before easing off a little and becoming possibly the least impacting track, while the dirty bluesy swagger of "Big Mouth", aptly fronted by Maria Brink of In This Moment, lacks the focus of what has preceded it. "War Machine" ups the ante again, the track being a successful, intentional homage to Black Sabbath, a grinding riff and spitting vocal reminding of "War Pigs". While the surging seduction of "Redeem Me" featuring the enigmatic vocals of Sass Jordan also lives long in the memory, before the beautiful instrumental piece "Exquisite Tenderness" closes the album out in fine style.

Red Dragon Cartel are a breath of fresh air, a band taking risks and making them pay off. Yes there's a couple of dips mid-album and yes, truth be told vocalist D.J. Smith could be seen as an acquired taste. Personally I think he nails it time and again and I'd happily have traded a couple of the guest slots to hear more of his input. However with the likes of Rex Brown, Todd Kearns, Brent Fritz, Scott Reeder and Jeremy Spencer also turning out, the list of contributors keen to be involved here is impressive indeed. The results however are even more hard hitting, creating an album that might disappoint Badlands fans, but marks it out as a stunning comeback from a much missed artist.

2014 just got off to a cracking start!

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

Added: January 18th 2014
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Red Dragon Cartel
Hits: 3404
Language: english

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