REVIEW: THE END MACHINE – “Phase2”
Let’s get down to brass tax. I love every Dokken record up to and including ‘The Beast from the East,’ and George Lynch is arguably my favorite metal guitarist. I have zero interest in a Lynch-less Dokken, knowing full well that I am probably doing old Don a disservice. However, the prospect of a Dokken-less Lynch is a completely different animal altogether. Throw in Jeff Pilson and Steve Brown, the brother of retired Dokken drummer “Wild” Mick Brown for good measure, and my curiosity is adequately piqued.
Following the requisite anticipation-building intro track “The Rising,” the upbeat “Blood and Money” commences ‘Phase2’ proper. The lively tune counters a driving hard-rock verse with a syrupy major-key pre-chorus and a shout-along chorus. The whole affair is cracked wide open by a brilliant, extended lead break. The guitar solo, a thing of wonder, is the kind of 6-string workout that made Lynch an icon. It is all there, the staccato arpeggios, the deftly picked runs, the finger-tapping, and of course the memorable minor-key phrasing and melodies.
“We Walk Alone,” with its slow groove and retro synths fares better in the songwriting department. Landing a little closer to the biker-bar, hard-rock of Lynch Mob, Robert Mason (Warrant, Lynch Mob) tempers his hard-rock rasp with an expressive croon that adds a depth of maturity to the song. Like Lynch and Pilson’s “big hair” peers in a little-known band from New Jersey, this is the sound of gracefully aged 80s pop-metal. It features the kind of big chorus aimed at rock radio if such a thing still existed, and it is propelled forward by the uber-tight, driving rhythm section of Pilson and Brown.
The record’s loud but crisp modern production keeps things simple, adequately capturing the sound of the instrumental 3-piece setup without a lot of extraneous overdubs. Pilson’s bass tone is monstrous and compliments Brown’s suitably big drums, and Lynch’s guitar tone is as perfect and creamy as ever.
Elsewhere, the pseudo-balladry and bluesy chorus-inflected lead guitars of “Scars” veers closer to a more 80s aesthetic to welcome effect. Where “We Walk Alone” plods, “Scars” saunters, allowing it to capture some of that moody, hair-metal ballad vibe that launched a million lighters into the air in days gone by.
While the record attempts to capture all incarnations of its lineup, it bends closest to Lynch Mob. In that sense, it will be a bit of a disappointment for those unfamiliar with the first The End Machine record, or for anyone hoping that the band would fully embrace their metal roots. The occasional bump in the road occurs when the band spins its wheels in by-the-numbers modern hard-rock, as they do in “Destiny,” but overall, these are well-written tunes from masters of their craft. From the dark grooves of “Prison or Paradise” to the alternative rock leanings and undeniable catchiness of “Plastic Heroes” ‘Phase2’ as a whole is an enjoyable listen.
“Shine your Light” harkens back to Lynch and Pilson’s glory days more than anything else here. The song finds Mason waxing lyrically about the sun as a metaphor for a celestial being that can save the Earth from impending darkness, over a riff that is the spiritual successor to “Burning Like a Flame.” The song’s excellent and highly lyrical guitar solo is a standout, and the stomp of the catchy anthemic, arena-ready chorus will hopefully find its target audience in the post-COVID festival circuit.
On ‘Phase2,’ The End Machine serves up a sturdy slab of the 80s referencing modern hard rock. Predictably, the whole affair is elevated by the inimitable tone, technique, and all-around guitar wizardry of George Lynch. Fans of the genre can do far worse.