Review Summary: An underrated gem, even with the absence of guitarist George Lynch.
Losing a key member can be a huge crucible for the band involved, usually with painful results. Look at Queen; losing Freddie Mercury would clearly put a damper on the remaining members, and yet they continue on with different singers, even if no one can replace the original frontman's unique demeanor and golden voice. It would seem that Dokken could have suffered the same fate; after all, George Lynch is an immensely gifted guitarist, and brought the band through the glam metal years with material that was superior to most of their Sunset Strip-laden contemporaries.
Yet even to this day, the band presses on. Most of their mid-career work was under the radar, but with good reason; most of their 90's work was quite poor, usually having recycled riffs and uninspired vocal work. However, one gem in this pile of dirt is 1999's Erase the Slate. Concocting what can be considered an 80's metal revival with Maiden-style leads and mid/high-pitched vocal work from Don Dokken, the band had created something that unfortunately came out with very little fanfare.
It's a shame, because these songs were a great reflection on that decade of music and its impact. Multiple things are going on musically, mainly a mix of classic heavy metal, ballads drenched in honest emotion, and even some speed metal tendencies a la Motorhead. Even with all this, the production is crystal-clear and definitely carries more of a 90's vibe than what the music is going for. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it never distracts one from the material.
As for the songs, there's a nice variety here. "Erase the Slate" shows off guitarist Reb Beach's speedy licks and flashy solo work, while "Drown" shows a more doomy and almost Alice in Chains-type atmosphere. The ballads are pretty impressive as well, especially for a band past their heyday. Most notable is album closer "In Your Honor," a beautiful song with pretty depressing lyrics; the chorus's phrase "I lit a candle in your honor today" is particularly notable, and surprisingly deep for a classic rock act.
The members themselves give solid performances as well. The two biggest standouts are guitarist Reb Beach and singer Don Dokken (no surprises there). Don Dokken in particular gives an amazing performance, sounding almost as good as he did on previous releases like Tooth and Nail or Under Lock and Key. Plus, his softer vocals are a lot more emotive this time around, giving off a very honest and passionate feeling to them. The other members are no slouches either, especially drummer Mick Brown, who even takes a shot at the mic for rocker "Crazy Mary Goes Round."
The biggest complaint I have about this record is that everything starts to pay a little TOO much homage to the 80's metal scene. Because of this, some of the material starts to sound a little samey after repeated listens. Also, this record really won't be for everybody; if you didn't enjoy the era they're catering to, you might not enjoy this thing.
That said, Erase the Slate is still a great album for classic metal fans, and is highly recommended if you want to see a different side of the band than just their glam metal work. It shows that even with a certain virtuoso guitarist missing, they still churned out some excellent material with what they had.
Dokken were (at the time of this release):
Don Dokken - vocals
Reb Beach - lead and rhythm guitars
Jeff Pilson - bass guitar
Mick Brown - drums, lead vocals on "Crazy Mary Goes Round"