To celebrate the Christmas season, I’d like to explore 80s hair metal giants Dokken’s first three albums, starting with their 1983 debut, Breaking the Chains. The story of this album is curious in itself, as there are actually two versions: one recorded in 1981, then in another with the classic Dokken line-up of Don Dokken, George Lynch, Mick Brown, and Jeff Pilson (Pilson played bass on the tour, but not on the album). The best treatment of that story is The Rageaholic’s Metal Mythos: DOKKEN video; indeed, that video first turned me on to Dokken, a band I’d almost entirely missed in past forays into 80s metal.
This review will cover the 1983 album, as that’s properly when “Dokken” as such began (some pressings of 1981’s Breakin’ the Chains—note the dropped “G” in the ’81 version’s title—listed the artist as “Don Dokken”). Also, I haven’t heard enough of the ’81 cut to comment upon it adequately.
Breaking the Chains kicks off with its excellent title track, a tune that’s both rockin’ and sleek. It’s central riff—built around a persistent transition from E minor to D to C, and back again—is simple but effective, and resolves nicely into the G major of the distinctive chorus. Like much of 80s hair metal, the tune effortlessly combines a brooding sense of rock ‘n’ roll machismo with a catchy, radio-friendly chorus.
The album’s second track, “In The Middle,” is another mid-tempo rocker, but feels like a missed opportunity. The opening track itself, while exquisite, is already a slower tune. The decision to follow that up with another andante selection makes for a lackluster double opener. Dokken would perfect the “rockin’-double-opener” approach on future albums, but the best tracks on Breaking the Chains await.
Really, the album doesn’t really get cooking until the fifth track, “Live to Rock (Rock to Live),” an unapologetic rocker all about, well, rockin’ out. I’ve yet to give this track the “drive test” I referenced in my Down to Earth review, but I’m sure it would pass. Speaking of the drive test, Dokken follows “Live to Rock” with “Nightrider,” which sounds like driving a sports car with a panther on the roof through the rain-slick neon of an 80s night. These two tracks should have appeared a bit earlier on the album.
The album closes with a live recording of “Paris is Burning” from a 1982 show in Berlin. That track rips open with a George Lynch guitar solo that sounds like Van Halen’s “Eruption.” That kind of guitar pyrotechnics is missing from most of the record, so this live recording is a welcome addition to the album.
Much of this initial effort is enjoyable but forgettable, but there are some real gems on Breaking the Chains, not just the title track. All in all, it’s a solid record that points to the intensity and power of future Dokken releases.