Dokken remains a heavy metal and hard rock institution, but like any other band that has been around for over forty years they have been through plenty of lineup changes and had some ups and downs when it comes to studio output. These days singer Don Dokken is still supported by guitarist Jon Levin, who has been with the band since 2004’s Hell to Pay, while Chris McCarvill and B.J. Zampa have joined on bass and drums respectively. Nearly eleven years have passed since the last time a proper Dokken album came out, but that drought ends with Heaven Comes Down which finds Don and company continuing to do what they do best. It does have some lulls and like any long-established artist you’re doing yourself a disservice to try and directly compare this to any of the group’s 80s output but give it a shot and you may be pleasantly surprised.
Heaven Comes Down starts off strong with opener “Fugitive”, which features a combination of warmer guitar tones and soaring leads that still have that hard rock and metallic edge to them. It’s a high energy and catchy way to start things off and showcases that Dokken still has that classic approach in mind when composing new songs. From there you get a mix of fast and slow tracks, as there are still plenty of power ballads to be found here. Where Heaven Comes Down succeeds is in its sequencing, as just when you start to get worried that Dokken and company are slowing down too much and starting to lose some momentum, they kick things back up into another high energy rocker on the next song. It helps that ballads like “I’ll Never Give Up” are really strong too, hitting you with slow burning riffs and soaring guitar leads and solos that hook on the first listen. Closer “Santa Fe” is also notable, as producer Bill Palmer provides acoustic guitar for a somber and reflective piece that’s stunning. On the heavier side of the aisle, “Saving Grace” and “Over the Mountain” find that sweet spot between hard rock and heavy metal with some bluesy twang that proves to be infectious. There are a few lulls on Heaven Comes Down though, as “Gypsy” and “Just Like a Rose” are a bit too straightforward and start to drag while “I Remember” doesn’t quite reach the same heights as “I’ll Never Give Up”. None of these are outright bad mind you and long-time fans are still likely to appreciate what Dokken is going for here, but they do hold things back just a bit. It’s also worth mentioning the production works well for this material, as it gives the soaring melodies a chance to breathe while still giving some weight to the low end,
You’ve probably seen plenty of chatter about Don Dokken’s health challenges over the years and how his voice has changed, so there’s no need to rehash them here. For those that want to make a big deal of how he can’t hit the higher notes anymore and opts for a gruffer range on more recent material, you’ve still got the 80s albums readily available and can easily return to them. But I found that Dokken has adapted well to the limitations of where his voice is these days, and he sounds great throughout Heaven Comes Down. On “Fugitive” his lower pitch and rougher edge actually reminds me a little bit of Lemmy on the chorus, which is hardly a bad thing. He hasn’t completely lost his range, as the ballads allow for some slightly higher pitched singing, again comfortably utilizing where Don’s voice can go. The previously mentioned “Santa Fe” is such an effective closer as it features a more reflective and vulnerable approach to the vocals, which stands out over repeat listens.
At this point Dokken certainly doesn’t need to prove anything, as their discography speaks for itself. But I can appreciate the current incarnation putting together this solid of an effort, which surpasses 2012’s Broken Bones with ease and has the right balance of faster scorching guitar work and power ballads. A few songs don’t quite hit the mark, but this is still a strong listen from beginning to end and I’ve found myself returning to it often throughout the week. Time will tell if schedules and other circumstances align for another Dokken album in the coming years, but if this does end up being the last one it isn’t a bad way to go out. Heaven Comes Down is available from Silver Lining Music.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg