Desert Dragon is a Los Angeles based progressive rock band that has recorded three albums to date, has opened for the likes of famous bands such as Blue Oyster Cult, and has worked with some of the most prestigious and celebrated producers in rock music. The band was formed by guitarist and principle songwriter Greg Patnode and consists of bassist Rick Brandt, Danielle DeCario on keyboards and bass, Nick Mason on drums, and ex-White Wizzard vocalist Joseph Michael, who joined Desert Dragon in 2014 after the band parted with their former lead singer. That same year, Desert Dragon began recording their third effort, a full-length album titled “Before the Storm”, which showcases a more aggressive rock sound than their previous releases and features three re-recorded tracks from their self-titled debut. “Before the Storm” is Desert Dragon’s most recent album.
One of the first themes to become clearly noticeable in “Before the Storm” is a keen emphasis on truly top-notch musicianship, but not to the extent where the songs become lessons in musical narcissism. The eleven tracks on this album showcase guitar and vocal chops that are about as slick and professional as possible; Patnode’s solos and busy riffage is flawless, creative, and demonstrates extensive knowledge of musical theory while maintaining a certain element of rawness that prevents the guitar work from sounding too overproduced and still believable given the hard rock styling the band is striving for. The sophistication is there, but subtle enough to know the songs still rock at their heart and that this album isn’t some kind of elitist excursion into neo-classical metal where the guitarist just wants to sweep pick at 200 bpm for an hour straight. Moving to the vocals, Joseph Michael of White Wizzard gives a truly exceptional performance on this album; his voice is weighty, aggressive, and has a way of piercing through the mix with a combination of fantastic depth and howling vibrato that absolutely impales the soaring high notes scattered throughout the eleven tracks. The signature “thickness” of Michael’s voice is one of the key features that sets it apart from a lot of other metal singers that can still hit pretty much all the same notes, but lose a lot of the weight to their delivery in the process. This concept isn’t necessarily an indication of a poor vocalist, but can serve to separate one vocal approach from another. Taking both the depth, weight, and qualities of the vibrato into account, Michael’s voice is similar to a vocalist such as Ronnie James Dio as opposed to someone like Rob Halford; a bit more low-end with a slightly thicker delivery, especially in the high notes and vibrato. Basically, everything in this band works almost perfectly to create a very full, encompassing, and aggressive hard rock album. But “Before the Storm” is also a very dynamic album. While there is certainly no shortage of the super slick, virtuoso level guitars and soaring vocals indicative of progressive metal, the album has its fair share of blues based songs and lighter tracks that demonstrate the band’s versatility and the fact that they aren’t conceded, progressive metal elitists. Production is great, guitar is great, vocals are great, drums are great; it really doesn’t get much better than this from a technical standpoint. Desert Dragon means pretty serious business.
From a musical standpoint, “Before the Storm” is rock solid, there is serious talent in this band and everyone that performed on this album has chops that most people can’t come close to. However, for everything Desert Dragon has from a “technical” music standpoint, the actual songwriting and lyrical quality is just average, maybe a little mediocre. Throughout these tracks, there are multiple instances of cheap rhymes that lack creativity and verses that don’t seem to have direction. There are many parts in this album where it seems like Michael is just singing words for the sake of filling space as opposed to conveying something insightful. Granted, Michael sings the words very, very well, but for the most part, one could have put in words completely at random and the tracks probably wouldn’t have been hurt or improved that much. It is not to say that the songs are without meaning in every instance, because to say such is certainly not true, but it is accurate to conclude that the lyrical content on this album, in its majority, is pretty stale and definitely not one of its best qualities.
Desert Dragon is a top-notch progressive hard rock band , and “Before the Storm” showcases serious musicianship. The chops demonstrated on this album are fantastic and along with the slick, professional mix, these eleven tracks stand as a significant accomplishment. This is quality rock music, and although some lyrical content might be lacking, the band more than makes up for it with an all-out bombardment of shrieking guitars, howling vocals, and an exceptional musical performance from pretty much every angle.
Artist: Desert Dragon
Album: Before The Storm
Label: Sliptrick Records
Genre: Hard Rock/Progressive Metal
Sounds Like: Dio, Steve Vai, John Petrucci
Technical Grade: 9/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 9/10
Commercial Value: 7/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 7/10
Performance Skills: 9/10
Best Songs: Desert Horizons, Slow Groove
Strengths: Excellent musicianship from every member of the band, Production is pretty much perfect
Weaknesses: Lyrical content is somewhat mediocre