The wayward sage has come home.
Some legends refuse to die, they just opt to become more reflective with age and find themselves sticking closer to what works, or at least that’s the way things have seemed to work out for 80s rock icon and Sunset Strip original Don Dokken. As the de facto brains behind the operation bearing his surname as well as its vocal helmsman, his career has been a brilliant and uncanny exercise in blending the grittier, more metallic side of the Southern California sound with a uniquely soulful and smooth voice that has always stood apart from the rest of what L.A. had to offer during the Reagan years. Yet like all artists that have persevered in an every-changing scene, his career has seen its share of peaks and valleys, culminating in a discography that has seen a fair share of stylistic shifts and ephemeral band lineups, and along with it all the usual gripes from certain quarters about not being able to step on the same river twice with the same pair of boots.
After a little over a decade of studio silence and about 7 years to the day that a one-off live performance/album with the classic lineup of George Lynch, Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown had the masses speculating that a return to form in LP form with said members in congress was in the cards. Suffice it to say, anyone making such predictions would be proven half right with the advent of “Heaven Comes Down”, Dokken’s 13 th and latest full length album, as all the sonic ingredients for a modern throwback to the glory days of the 80s were in place, though none of the aforementioned support musicians. In their place, the long-term services of former Warlock/Doro axe-slinger John Levin have been retained, and a new rhythm section consisting of veteran bassist Chris McCarvill and one-time past live drummer for both this band and Yngwie Malmsteen‘s B.J. Zampa. The sonic results prove something well worthy of the legacy built by the original lineup, with Levin’s highly expressive lead guitar lines often approximating the signature sound Lynch sported in the mid-80s, though erring on the side of tasteful fills and solos over epic shred fests.
In like fashion to previous ventures such as 1999’s “Erase The Slate” and 2008’s “Lightning Strikes Again”, this latest suite of compact and riff-happy bangers comes dangerously close to reliving the past while being sonically affixed in its respective present. One can’t help but note the overtly 2023 flavor exhibited by the modern punch of Zampa’s drum work and McCarvill’s solid and precise bass lines, yet a few production tweaks and Dokken’s high register being limited due to decades of wear and tear are all that really stand in the way of this album being something that might have been heard in 1985. It presents itself as a heavier and generally moderate-paced composite of everything that Dokken fielded before the dawn of the 90s, though it tends to mostly resemble the nuanced and melodically driven trappings of “Under Lock & Key”, taking a few asides to venture into post-80s territory to remind the listener that this album functions not so much as an elder statesman reliving the past, but instead remembering it fondly and without apology.
Though not as overtly kinetic as select entries off “Tooth And Nail” and “Breaking The Chains”, there is plenty of punch being packed in these newly minted anthems. Banger entries like the opener ‘Fugitive’ and similarly mid-paced grooves of ‘Saving Grace’ possess a sort of mystical edge that recalls some of the more exotic entries of Led Zeppelin, but also hold the 80s line between the bombast of the guitar work and the utterly infectious choral refrains put forth by Don Dokken, whom sounds weathered yet holds his own within a more limited dynamic range. Upbeat cruiser ‘Gypsy’ ventures the closest to the band’s speedier moments of the past, while the punchy yet catchy edge of ‘Just Like A Rose’ all but comes off as a long-awaited sequel to ‘Just Got Lucky’ and the guitar-drenched glory of ‘Lost In You’ keeps the metal end up by exploring early 80s Black Sabbath territory. The bluesy edge of ‘Is It Me Or You’ screams classic Sunset Strip in all its Motley Crue-like glory with zero apologies, while the grittier ‘Over The Mountain’ takes the same concept and mixes in a bit of the 70s hard rock vibes heard on this outfit’s unsung 1995 dark horse entry Dysfunctional.
Over the years Don Dokken has played many roles, and this latest entry could be best summed up as him donning the mask of the reminiscing traveler. It’s arguably the most expected route for an artist that is approaching the end of his career to take, but the manner in which he accepts his entry into his golden years while still displaying that youthful defiance of his formative days has a certain potency to it that can only be described as utterly riveting. This is underscored in the one stylistic deviation to be found at this album’s tail-end, namely the acoustic ballad ‘Santa Fe’, a sort of nostalgic and stoic folksy romp that manages to be both poignant and fun as Don’s weary voice churns out a humble yet spellbinding swansong. There is a bittersweet charm to the closing chapter of all great stories, and while this one doesn’t possess the pizzazz and magnificence of Dokken’s 80s entries, nor does it surpass that of “Erase The Slate”, it’s a solid representation of the sound that this band’s multigenerational fan base has come to love, and a fine conclusion to a long-running career by one of the titans of the 80s, should it prove to be his final word on things.
Released By: Silver Lining Music
Release Date: October 27th, 2023
Genre: Hard Rock / Glam Metal
- Don Dokken / Vocals
- Jon Levin / Guitar
- Chris McCarvill / Bass
- BJ Zampa / Drums
“Heaven Comes Down” track-listing:
- Track Listing:
- Is It Me Or You?
- Just Like A Rose
- I’ll Never Give Up
- Saving Grace
- Over The Mountain
- I Remember
- Lost In You
- Santa Fe
Order “Heaven Comes Down” HERE.
After more than 4 decades of delivering high octane, metal-infused rock with a soulful edge to the masses, Dokken throws together a highly reflective, nostalgic and powerful opus that defies his 70 years of age and the very notion of rock being dead.