Sound — 8
Guitarist Jake E. Lee first broke out into the mainstream as the guitarist for original Black Sabbath lead vocalist Ozzy Osbourne's solo career. There were many established fans who wondered how anyone could step into the shoes of the late Randy Rhoads, especially after such landmark albums as "Blizzard of Ozz" and "Diary of a Madman." However, Lee took over the position with eccentric talent, and managed to not only be more than a suitable replacement in the lineup but also pick up exactly where the band left off with their second studio album.
Osbourne's next two efforts with Lee on the six strings, "Bark at the Moon" and "The Ultimate Sin", showcased the bombastic playing style of Jake E. Lee, while subsequently inspiring countless listeners to pick up the guitar and learn the same riffs which Lee was producing throughout those two titles. Following a bizarre message from manager Sharon Osbourne which stated that Lee's collaborations were no longer needed following the tour in support of "The Ultimate Sin," Jake E. Lee went on to form the band Badlands with former Black Sabbath members Ray Gillen and Eric Singer, whose debut album spawned a number of successful singles, including "Dreams in the Dark" and "The Last Time."
After the eventual dissolution of Badlands, Lee went on to occasionally focus on a solo career, before leaving the music scene entirely for a period of six years. Now, Jake E. Lee is making a bold return with his new project, entitled Red Dragon Cartel, which shows the renowned guitarist surrounded by a cast of unknown musicians found through a talent search. There are several moments on Red Dragon Cartel's self-titled debut album which show Lee returning to the same mindset that he was during his first new efforts with Ozzy Osbourne. The captivating guitar riff which first introduces the listener on "Deceived" could, in fact, be referred to as the second coming of "Bark at the Moon." The shredding arpeggios which so vividly decorate "Feeder" are enough to capture the listener's undivided attention, let alone the eerily Osbourne-esque vocals provided by vocalist D.J. Smith which transport the listener all the way back to 1983. The album also has more than its share of guest musicians. "Deceived" includes a special contribution from Robin Zander of Cheap Trick, whereas original Iron Maiden lead singer Paul Di'Anno joins Smith on vocals for "Wasted."
Lyrics — 7
Jake E. Lee managed to gather a dynamic collection of unknown talent to fill in the rest of the Red Dragon Cartel lineup. Lead vocalist D.J. Smith is certainly no exception, and while his gritty blues singing style admittedly can contrast with Lee's riveting guitar work, Smith has more than his share of highlights. I personally found his performances on "Deceived," "Feeder" and "War Machine" to be incredibly enjoyable as they heavily complimented Lee's racing guitar work; whereas his collaboration with Di'Anno on "Wasted" was one of the album's weakest moments, especially from a lyrical standpoint. "Hey/ Whatcha high on/ Wasted/ You're so wasted" Smith snarls during the chorus, with the track's only redeeming factor being Jake E. Lee's gloomy guitar bends. While Smith's performance is of hit and miss quality, there are thankfully more positive moments than negative ones.
Overall Impression — 8
Jake E. Lee executes a long awaited return-to-form with his new band, Red Dragon Cartel. High energy, explosive riffs are in surplus throughout the entire debut effort, and the backing band comprised of unknown musicians pull their own weight and then some. This is an album which any hard rock and heavy metal fan should have no problem enjoying.