DOKKEN – Hell To Pay

DOKKEN - Hell To Pay


Sanctuary Records
Release date: July 13, 2004

Guitars: B
Bass: B
Percussion: B
Keyboards: C (sparsely used)
Vocals: B+
Lyrics: B+
Recording Quality: B
Originality: C
Overall Rating: B

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It’s hard to believe, but it has been 20 years since Dokken really took the Metal industry by storm with Tooth And Nail. Now back again after a 2-year hiatus, Dokken returns with another new guitarist in John Levin, Barry Sparks on the bass guitar, and loyal skins man, Wild Mick Brown. The band’s new album is called Hell To Pay, and is available via Sanctuary Records.

After the solid 1995 Dysfunctional “comeback” album, Don Dokken’s lyrics writing has taken on a more-than-noticeable “sadness” flair … his song topics have often described a profound longing for the past, regret for the way events transpired, and conceded futility in his ability to successfully nurture a sustained and meaningful relationship. Hell To Pay seems to take this despondent demeanor to the next level … there are 11 original tracks on this album, and the lion’s share deal with less-than-pump-your-fist-and-scream Metal topics. Songs this time around following Don’s glum view include: “The Last Goodbye,” “Don’t Bring Me Down,” “Escape,” “Better Off Before,” “Still I’m Sad,” and “I Surrender.” Sounds as if Don is slipped a dull razor blade, that might be all it takes to “send him over the edge,” eh?

Notwithstanding the sullen nature of many of the track titles, the true test of an album lies not in its song titles, but with the music contained therein. So on with the music discussion …

Dokken has become a pretty “mature” songwriter over the years … that can be a “good” thing, or a regretful logical next step in the career of one of the true great artists/vocalist in the Metal genre. In the case of Hell To Pay, it’s generally a good thing. Sure, Don barely even attempts to squeal out a patented higher octave note out of his vocal chords this time around, but the beats and rhythms and song structures present in each track show Dokken knows what he’s doing … and, as important, enjoys what he’s doing.

Lyrically, Don is flat out smooth. His songs tell a story and have themes, and each word intertwines masterfully into the next. The album is recorded with bass-end emphasis, which tends to hide some of the talents of John Levin, but when given the opportunity, he shows that he can hold his own with the likes of former axe-man Lynch in songs like “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Better Off Before.” Sparks adds some nice fills, and definitely is entrusted to carry the pace of each song. Brown is asked to do little that can be labeled “stellar” on this album, but the song structures simply don’t call for wild drum beats or anything overly-innovative from his end – yet as always, his playing is consistent and also is successful in creating the foundation for each track.

Hell To Pay is well polished, and as a result, it has no apparent weakness … but that same polishing results in nothing truly eye-opening contained within this album. It’s certainly an enjoyable listen, but an enjoyable listen when essentially conforming to the frame of mind Dokken appears to have been in when composing the album … in other words, this album is best suited for listening on those occasions when you either are or feel the need to “drink alone.” This isn’t a party album, and it isn’t an album that you’re going to feel compelled to get up and play air guitar or drums to … but it still qualifies as a solid piece of introspective and reflective work.

Against our conventional wishes most times, we all have to “grow up” to some degree … and Dokken certainly has … but Dokken also shows that maturity need not translate to producing a sub-par effort, as it’s obvious Don and his cohorts put quite a bit of consideration and thought into this Hell To Pay CD. There’s not a whole lot of “hell being paid” within this album, other than Dokken’s personal purgatory, but Dokken fans, and Metal fans in search of an album to fall back on for those certain “rainy day” moods, can be assured that the band is indeed delivering a quality and enjoyable product from start to finish this time around.


  • Dan Skiba

    Dan is a former partner at Metal Express Radio, and also served as a reviewer, photographer and interviewer on occasions. Based out of Indianapolis, USA he was first turned on to Hard Rock music in the mid-1970s when he purchased Deep Purple's Machine Head as his first album. He was immediately enthralled with the powerful guitar sound and pronounced drumbeat, and had to get more! His collection quickly expanded to include as many of Heavy Rock bands of the time that he could get his hands on, such as Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, to name just a few.

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