DOKKEN in the Dirt
The latest Disc in the Dirt feature is focused on the catalogue of the iconic band Dokken,
Dokken formed in 1979. It split up in 1989 and reformed four years later. The band has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide. The live album Beast from the East was nominated for the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1989.
The classic Dokken lineup consisted of founder Don Dokken on vocals, George Lynch on lead guitar, Mick Brown on drums and Jeff Pilson on bass. This line-up remained stable from 1983 to 1989, and again from 1993 to 1998 and briefly reunited in 2016. After several personnel changes on guitar, Dokken‘s attorney Jon Levin stepped in to fill the role in 2004. In 2001, Barry Sparks replaced Pilson on bass. In 2009, Sean McNabb (formerly with Great White and Quiet Riot) replaced him and was then replaced by Chris McCarvill in 2015. After Mick Brown‘s retirement from the band in July 2019, Don Dokken is the only remaining original band member. Brown‘s vacancy was filled by BJ Zampa of House of Lords fame.
The band has a formidable discography of eleven studio albums and a number of live releases, including the aforementioned Beast from the East. This time round, we will rate and review the releases from Breaking the Chains (1982) to Back for the Attack (1988), which is widely acclaimed as the band’s most creative period.
Breaking the Chains (1982)
1982 saw the release of this major player in the rock world and the amazing voice and guitar that made up Dokken.
The album blasts through with infused energy from the lifeblood that is Dokken and George Lynch. They were made to play together with Dokken‘s high-end vocals and Lynch‘s virtuoso playing.
Tracks come and go like aural candy. They taste good, give you a rush and make you crave more after you finish. There is a very particular European feel to this release, with the influence of Scorpions very much to the fore.
What sets this apart from your Poisons or Faster Pussycats? Easy – this is about technical prowess and a harder edge than either of those contemporaries. Dokken is about mood, about power and about fantastic melodies that stick in your brain.
The story behind this record is quite strange. In 1982, Don Dokken travelled to Germany to record some backing vocals on Scorpions‘ Blackout. Whilst there, he made some contact with the people from Accept. This helped him to secure a deal with Carrere Records, the label that released Breaking the Chains in Europe.
This album ticks all the right boxes with heavy riffing and incredible guitar work, allied to an energy that is nuclear. Songs such as “Nightrider“, “Paris is Burning” and “Live to Rock (Rock to Live)” are off the scale powerful. On the other side, songs such as “Breaking the Chains” or “I Can’t See You” also demonstrate the capacity of the band to create chart-breaking singles.
Top Track: “In The Middle”
Disc Rating: 8/10
Tooth and Nail (1984)
Tooth and Nail is the second studio Dokken, released on September 14, 1984, through Elektra Records. After the unsuccessful release of the band’s debut album in the US, the record label was reluctant to give credit to Dokken for a follow-up. Dokken‘s management struggled to convince the label’s executives to give the band another chance and this fight for recognition is reflected in the album’s title. This album was the group’s first with bassist Jeff Pilson following Juan Croucier‘s departure to join Ratt.
Produced by Tom Werman, Tooth and Nail is a vibrant record. There is massive amounts of electric playing. The songs vary between the neo-Thrash of the title track and the more reflective cuts such as mega-hit “Alone Again“. The drums have a punch that was lacking on the debut record and the only flaw is the bass, which is too low in the mix.
There is a diversity of song tones that is easy to see why this was such a success for Dokken. Banger after banger is delivered like an Amazon driver during the pandemic – fast and regular.
Top Track: “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
Disc Rating: 9/10
Under Lock and Key (1986)
Released on November 22, 1985, through Elektra Records, the album reached No. 32 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and remained on that chart for 67 weeks. Two singles also charted: “The Hunter” and “In My Dreams“. Under Lock and Key was certified Gold on March 4, 1986, and Platinum on April 14, 1987.
For aural perfection, this album takes some beating. It was produced by Neil Kernon and Michael Wagener and the sound is just right with more bottom end and crunchy guitars. The songs again are varied and driving classics, in the main.
From the opener of “Unchain The Night” to the ripping “Til The Livin’ End“, the record delivers in the best way. Melodic metal never sounded so good. There is very little filler on the album, but “Slipping Away” is a bit flat.
Top Track: “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
Disc Rating: 9/10
Back For The Attack (1987)
My favourite Dokken record was released in 1987 and reminds me of a great year of my life. It is the band’s best-selling album and was certified Gold and Platinum on January 14, 1988.
This album is a long-player, but is a classic for the Eighties and beyond.
Canadian journalist Martin Popoff praised the album, which “offers length, variation and a sense of ambition as never before“, and called it “one of those lost records brimming with bravado“.
There is a freshness about this release that made it stand out. The guitar work is exemplary and Don sounds like he is on fire, especially on standout tracks like “Sleepless Night“, “Prisoner” and the incomparable “Burning Like A Flame“. When you hear how low Don now sings, it just makes you want to go back to this album and hear his greatest work.
The production on BFTA is very well balanced, although not as loud as on Under Lock and Key. The bass is punchier than on previous albums, especially on “Lost Behind The Wall” (which starts like AC/DC‘s “Who Made Who” from 1986).
Overall, this is my pick of the earlier albums. However, what a great four-pack of power the collection is!
Top Track: “Burning Like A Flame”
Disc Rating: 10/10
For my next part of the Dokken Disc in the Dirt, I take a look at the more divisive period from Dysfunctional to Erase The Slate.
Also, find more of my CGCM reviews here: Coxy