REVIEW: Dokken “Heaven Comes Down”

Let’s get this out of the way immediately. 

The new Dokken album, “Heaven Comes Down,” released Oct. 27 on Silver Lining Music, is good.

Not great. But good. Having gone through numerous health issues, debilitating surgeries, and God only knows what else, it’s a miracle Don Dokken can do anything, let alone front his now 40+-year-old band and put out new material. 

“Heaven Comes Down” very well may be the culmination of Don Dokken’s recording career. He’s hinted at it in the past, and if this is indeed the swan song, it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

But if you’re looking for songs on the level of “Tooth and Nail,” “Alone Again,” “Just Got Lucky,” “Into The Fire,” “It’s Not Love,” “In My Dreams,” or “Kiss of Death,” they aren’t here. The band that was once a veritable hard rock hit machine no longer exists. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see what the band could have been. After years of much publicized in-fighting, the original foursome of Don, George Lynch, Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown reached the top of the mountain, and instead of planting a conquering flag and proclaiming the hard rock world theirs, the quartet walked to the edge and jumped off.  

Though different iterations of Dokken have tried to get back to that place since, it’s been an impossible trek. What once was will never be again, beginning with one of the band’s instantly recognizable qualities: Don’s vocals. He gives it all he has on “Heaven Comes Down,” but even then, his now-raspy voice is light years from where it once was. 

In a recent interview, Don addressed his fading vocal strength by owning up to it and saying, “If you don’t like it, don’t come to the shows.”

The same could be said for the new album. If you’re expecting classic Dokken, don’t. Oh, there are definite whisps here and there, but that’s as far as it gets. And according to Don, that’s what he was shooting for: something different. 

Album opener “Fugitive” is by far one of the stronger tracks here, with guitarist Jon Levin getting out of the gates quickly and putting his fretboard skills on blast in a manner that would likely have even Lynch nodding in approval. Follow-up “Gypsy” keeps the frantic pace up the same way “Kiss Of Death” did on their platinum 1987 album, “Back For The Attack.” So far, so good. 

“Is It Me Or You?” and its slippery guitar riff showcases the band’s rythym section of bassist Chris McCarvill and drummer BJ Zampa, leading to “Just Like A Rose,” which comes as close to days gone by as anything on the album, with it’s catchy, radio-friendly, ear-worm chorus.

“I’ll Never Give Up” is a solid power ballad, with Levin’s guitar work soaring above Don’s harmonized vocals. If “Slippin’ Away,” the power ballad from 1986’s platinum “Under Lock And Key,” has a second cousin, this is it. 

Tracks like the hypnotic and almost Zeppelin-like riffing of “Saving Grace,” as well as “Lost In You,” while containing moments of promise, are filler tracks missing that soaring upper vocal register. Ditto for “I Remember.”

No one ever likes to face the end of the road, especially aging rock stars. But it is what it is, and in the back of his mind, Don may know it, too. During “Lost In You,” the wistful Dokken sings, “There’s no reason to say the word/our time is through.” Album closer, “Santa Fe,” sees the vocalist getting even more contemplative, detailing his realization that life, and the things around him, had changed over the years. A change of scenery was in order. The stark loneliness of the song comprised of just the vocalist and an acoustic guitar is a first for Don. And possibly a last. Time will tell.

“Heaven Comes Down” certainly won’t go down as Dokken’s best album. Possibly not even in the top four. The bar has been set too high. That’s not to say that the album isn’t worthy of your time, because it is. Just make sure you enter the “Heaven Comes Down” listening experience with your expectations in check. 

3.5 out of 5