One of the things I have slowly come to accept in the last couple of months is that melodic rock and AOR simply don’t have anywhere new to go musically any more. I’m saying this as someone who absolutely loves both genres, I should stress: I love rock with huge, catchy choruses and a strong sense of melody to it, but, realistically speaking, there’s not really any way to make that formula sound new and exciting any more because so many bands have used that basic formula that the only real way to stand out nowadays is to not use the cliches that make up the core of the genres (by which point, you’re not really doing those genres any more). It’s the same basic problem that pop-punk suffered from in the 2000s: sure, it was fun and exciting at first, but then everyone started to do the same basic thing in the scene and the lack of anything new to the scene basically caused it to dig its own grave in the eyes of the mainstream.
Still, just because it isn’t new doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy it: it just means that perhaps the core question one needs to ask isn’t “how will this appeal to those who don’t usually enjoy these genres”, but “how will this appeal to those who already enjoy these genres”, for what reason would there be for trying to win people over on something that they don’t enjoy to start with and which doesn’t really have anything that can be done which will radically reinvent the wheel on the genre without deviating so much from what the genre stands for?
Note to self: don’t play Ace Attorney games before doing review writing.
Anyway, the story behind Cry of Dawn is that it is basically the brainchild of one musician: Goran Edman. Best known for his time singing for Yngwie Malmsteen’s solo band from 1989 to 1992, Edman is a Swedish vocalist with a large resume of albums under his belt (among others, he has sung for Karmakanic, Vindictiv, John Norum and Signum Regis) and over three decades of professional performing experience (indeed, the first record he provided lead vocals on was Madison’s 1984 album Diamond Mistress). This isn’t to say that this album is completely lacking in names that should ring a bell with longtime readers of the site: the guitars and bass on the record were provided by Michael Palace, whose band Palace released their debut album just last month and Daniel Flores (who provides drums and, alongside Soren Kronqvist, keyboards, alongside handling production duties) should ring a bell for being a member of The Murder of My Sweet. The only real exception on this front is Soren Kronqvist, whose only performance on record that I’m aware of is his project with Flores called Crash The System, on whose debut (and, currently, sole) album he played bass, guitars and keyboards back in 2009 (a project that Edman also appeared on as one of the guest vocalists, funnily enough).
Being honest, I think Cry of Dawn is a flawed album that, while not awful at all, does feel like it doesn’t hold up as well as it should do. It’s a professional release by musicians who definitely know what they are doing, but it doesn’t really do enough to warrant a particularly major recommendation from me to most people.
The sound of the record is pretty easy to guess if you have even the slightest familiarity with melodic rock, but I’ll provide a description anyway for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t heard a melodic rock record before now. The best way I can put it is that there is a strong focus on keyboards to help offer a more poppy edge to proceedings, with guitarwork, bass playing and drumming that, while not especially complex on a technical level, help to enhance the poppy vibe of the material. The main aim of the material is to provide a catchy chorus that is aiming to encourage singing along, although the verses usually are still rather catchy in their own right. Although most of the material is somewhat focused on being in the rocker vein of things, the speed doesn’t particularly go beyond a comfortable midpace and there is a ballad on here which serves to offer the vocalist an opportunity to show off their voice (which is pretty much a standard feature of melodic rock in general: I’ve even joked that, if you don’t have at least one ballad on a melodic rock record, you’re doing it wrong!). Nothing is particularly NEW here to the vast majority of people, but it’s certainly a sound that can be easy to enjoy.
The problem that strikes me about this record is that the songwriting doesn’t particularly feel that strong. I don’t mean by that that the songwriting is bad (certainly, it handles itself fine overall and nothing strikes me as particularly weak about it), but the general songwriting on here doesn’t really ascend above being pleasantly listenable. To put it another way, the problem is less the presence of anything particularly bad and more a lack of anything particularly good: the material just feels like somewhat faceless melodic rock, for the most part, which is fine if you happen to like that stuff, but it certainly does not help the album to stand out overall. This isn’t to say that there AREN’T enjoyable songs on here, though: “Listen to Me” is fairly decent and I particularly enjoyed “Tell it to My Heart”, “Light a Light” and “Life After Love”, as they have fairly energetic performances which helped to inject some much needed life into the record and feel like they would have been solid tracks to have on a much better album: as it stands, however, they’re merely highlights on a record that should have been much stronger than it actually is.
Edman’s vocals, for the most part, are pretty great! I can definitely see why the guy has gained a lot of respect for his vocal abilities, because he has a voice which isn’t just your typical melodic rock, with more than a bit of influence from soul to give his voice a uniqueness to it. When he is singing in his comfortable range, he also sounds pretty great overall. Unfortunately, I think there are occasions on this record where his voice shows its age a bit more than it probably should have done, as some lines in a few songs feel like he was struggling to pull them off properly and there is a recognisable change in the sound of his voice when he goes for higher notes. I will be fair and acknowledge that Edman is now 60 (he was probably 59 when this record was being recorded), so some of this is a very unfair comment because age can change your voice quite drastically, but you can definitely tell that the vocals are being provided by a vocalist who is a bit on the older side of things due to his vocal tone.
The production on this record is actually pretty solid! The overall sound of the record, while clearly a digital production, manages to avoid feeling so polished that it starts to work to the record’s detriment (although, frankly, considering this is melodic rock, where a clean production is pretty much a standard requirement for the genre, you’d have to try REALLY hard to get a clean production which starts to really work to the album’s detriment in this genre of music!), with no problems like the feeling of being recorded with a way that sounds very weird or having the equivalent of the drums hitting an invisible wall between the listener and the band. The mixing is pretty much spot on, with a great bass presence that is audible throughout the record, but doesn’t demand attention away from the rest of the instruments and no instruments which feel like they are dominating the mix. The mastering is my only real criticism, as I think it might be a bit louder than is reasonable…and, honestly, it’s not done to a particularly bad extreme, so it’s hard to say that it is a major fault with it. Being honest, had the mastering been dialled back a bit, I’d find very little reason to complain about the production work on here at all! Huge props to Flores and everyone else who was involved in the sound aspect of this record, you all did a superb job!
Ultimately, I think that Cry of Dawn is fine in every matter except for the one which matters the most: the songwriting. It’s not really a bad record, but it feels more than a bit underwhelming when you consider who is on it. There’s certainly enjoyable material on here, but I think this is going to be a tough sell to most people and is hard to really give a particularly strong recommendation to as a result. Die-hard fans of melodic rock who are able to approach it with reasonable expectations should find this worth a look into and should definitely be able to come out of it with at least one or two tracks worthy of keeping on their playlists, but, for the vast majority of people, this just isn’t strong enough to really justify the purchase.
Cry of Dawn will be released on the 23rd of September by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.