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Slave To The Empire

Rat Pak (2012)
Rating: 8/10

Featuring three former Dokken members, T&N (which stands for Tooth And Nail, although we’re not allowed to mention that!) consists of axe-master George Lynch, bassist Jeff Pilson and drummer Mick Brown, who are accompanied by a handful of special guest vocalists who have breathed new life, if it was required, into five reworked Dokken classics from the 80s (with Brown on drums), which sit alongside seven brand new tracks (recorded with drummer Brian Tichy, who has worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Foreigner, Whitesnake and many more). Some fans may feel that the Dokken tracks were not required, and I tend to agree to some extent, but in the modern era it seems the “in thing” for artists to produce albums with a variety of guest vocalists. Even so, Dokken records will always stand the test of time, but after hearing how good the original tracks are on Slave To The Empire I’d have preferred an album consisting of entirely unique material.

Oh well, you can’t have it all ways, so let us first look at the reworked Dokken cuts. My favourite has to be ‘Kiss Of Death’ featuring the vocal talents of Tim “Ripper” Owens. Now this guy has a serious set of what I’d call power metal pipes, and it’s no wonder Owens has been seen as the only “replacement” for legendary Dio frontman Ronnie James, featuring respectively for Dio Disciples, and has also been part of Judas Priest’s back catalogue, although his best performances were with Charred Walls Of The Damned.

Tim ignites ‘Kiss Of Death’ with his warrior wails and screams, backed by the ever dark and moody riffs of Lynch. The gallop of the drums from Brown complements the shuddering bass of Pilson, and the track takes on a new life, although naturally it lacks the melody of Don Dokken. But the point of these “covers” was clearly to add extra steel, and on ‘Kiss Of Death’ T&N have succeeded, effortlessly combining icy rhythms and primal screams. Great stuff!

‘Tooth And Nail’ features the soulful voice of Doug Pinnick (King’s X), who gives the vocal attack a more subtle flow, but behind him the music still rages – killer licks, and clattering drums. If T&N take this record on tour, Pinnick should be the man to take on all vocal tasks.

Another standout track is ‘Alone Again’, which is delivered vocally by Sebastian Bach (ex-Skid Row) who makes a fine job of this. The track boasts some wistful acoustics before lurching into a deep chug. Bach is a spectacular metal frontman who sings from the soul and ‘Alone Again’ almost becomes his own; a stirring, simmering semi-ballad fused by the tight musicianship. This cut wouldn’t seem out of place on one of Bach’s own records.

Although Robert Mason (Warrant) fronts ‘It’s Not Love’, which isn’t too bad, I find myself craving the original on this one, maybe due to its hair metal chant, but this is still a good effort. The band really shines however with the booming ‘Into The Fire’ featuring Pilson’s excellent vocals, which are fiery and hearty. The track builds to a sturdy, in-your-face metal classic that sounds like it was recorded back in the fiery 80s, rather than being a rework of the Dokken classic.

The same could be said for the opening title cut, and one of seven brand new songs, which is a full throttle fist pumper. But the band’s darkest edge is evident on the mid-tempo, grunge-tinged ‘Sweet Unknown’ with its brooding riff and wicked vocal sneer. ‘Rhythm Of The Soul’ is another slow burner although does tend to drag, and this is the only issue I have with the record, particularly the mid-section.

Although tracks like the aforementioned ‘Rhythm Of Soul’ and ‘Where Eagles Die’ are massive, robust numbers, by being a tad shorter they would’ve benefited. For instance, the latter, which clocks in at six minutes, is hindered by its length, although it does showcase some superb soloing courtesy of the inimitable Lynch.

Jeff Pilson’s vocals really were a surprise, giving the album a meaty melody that complements the shadier guitar riffs. ‘Mind Control’ is a prime example of how this works; a menacing riff injects the heart of the chorus. The only weak track on the record is ‘Jesus Train’, a bluesy shuffle that lacks the weight of previous efforts. Maybe this track could’ve been left on the studio floor, but thankfully album closer, ‘Access Denied’, keeps the fire burning; a whopping six-minute plus number with killer melody and doom-laden chug. Pilson’s vocals on this track take on a thrashier tone to complement Lynch’s cutting riff. The vocal effects on the chorus are great too with their mechanised edge.

So overall, Slave To The Empire, as I expected, is a behemoth of a metal album. One that respects the legacy of Dokken but propels it into the 21st century, thanks mainly to the tight-knit musicianship of the Dokken trio. Although the guest vocalists have made this record one of variety, it may have been better without them, with Pilson clearly being man enough for the job. I’m pretty sure T&N will simply go down as another brief project, but it’s certainly one that has been a rip-roaring success. Hard as nails!

Neil Arnold