RED DAWN – Never Say Surrender

After leaving Rainbow in the mid-80s, keyboard player David Rosenthal began writing songs with a budding AOR singer named Mitch Malloy. The sessions produced some fantastic material, but circumstances changed and recording sessions for a proposed album were abandoned. Malloy subsequently recorded a solo album (a self-titled release, it was soon considered a melodic rock essential) and Rosenthal set about forming a permanent band. The new band, Red Dawn, saw David drafting in a familiar face in drummer Chuck Burgi – a trusted friend from his Rainbow days – and ex-USA vocalist Larry Baud. For those who heard it, their one and only album, 1993’s ‘Never Say Surrender’ would ultimately change the landscape of 90s melodic rock forever.

Originally given a Japanese only distribution, the album was subsequently picked up by UK independent label Now & Then Records who’d already shown great faith in the melodic rock sphere by releasing superb albums by Crown of Thorns, Cannata and Marcie Free. By the time of ‘Never Say Surrender’s UK release, the label had over a dozen releases to their credit, at least five of which set a standard high enough to potentionally silence the whiners who claimed that grunge had killed all of their favourite music [decades on, though, they were still whining…], but the Red Dawn disc trumped the lot.

In melodic rock terms, ‘Never Say Surrender’ is almost perfect. The sheer professionalism of the recording is obvious right from the off, with ‘Flyin’ High’ tearing out of the gate with a huge pompy keyboard widdle that could be Greg Giuffria in his House of Lords days, followed by a solid drum part and a busy lead guitar, before settling into a very punchy rock arrangement that sounds like Survivor circa ‘Too Hot To Sleep’ meeting with something akin to Mitch Malloy’s solo LP. Baud’s vocal has a slightly scratchy delivery, but given a couple of lines to attune, it’s obvious he’s more than up to the job, especially given the uptempo style of the track. Chorus wise, this is huge: it’s lyrically familiar without too much of a heavy cliché and his great keyboard flourishes accenting a selection of harmony vocals, but it’s the instrumental breaks that make the track fly…almost literally. Taking their time to show off his prowess, Rosenthal fills several bars with a solo that revisits the pomp of the intro, this time with the kind of flair that would have suited Rainbow in their ‘Bent Out of Shape’ years, while guitarist Tristan Avakiari indulges in some great tapping before dropping into a very melodic solo that really bends the strings. The album includes more melodic works than this, but in terms of grabbing the attention, the band have all the bases covered here.

For a bit less showboating and a much bigger AOR thrill, ‘I’ll Be There’ is one of the LP’s essentials. Tapping into their softer side, the track is best described as one part Survivor, one part Danger Danger, one part Mitch Malloy and six parts Desmond Child. As good as anything recorded during the genre’s 1984-89 heyday, this is a guaranteed mood lifter; a rock/pop ray of of sunshine, Tristan’s cleaner guitar tones ring through almost every bar and his featured solo is a master class in how to fill a small space with maximum effect whilst holding on to a very strong melody. An upfront bass adds a fluid melodicism that’s in contrast to the opener and the huge backing vocals pull greatness from a hook you’ll only need to hear once to feel like you’ve known it forever. Perhaps it’s due to those early sessions involving Mitch Malloy, but this is especially close to parts of his debut. In short, it’s one of the best melodic rock tracks you’ll ever hear…period.

An overhang from the writing days with Malloy, ‘Liar’ has such a Rainbow influence at its core that Baud almost sounds like Joe Lynn Turner in more than a few places. Busier keyboards and heavy drums set the pace, before chugging guitars drive a tune that’s closer to the European end of the melodic rock scale. In terms of verse, it values pure hard rock over AOR, but this allows Greg Smith’s bass to pump with a hefty heart, before a bigger chorus – bolstered by gang vocals – sets about slapping the listener in the face with more of a mid-80s Rainbow-esque charm. It is, perhaps, a little bit of a step backwards after ‘I’ll Be There’, but if heard in isolation, it’s fabulous, with the band showing no weak links within their ranks. Keeping with the more melodic end of hard rock, ‘Dangerous Child’ kicks off with a huge riff from Tristan, before pitching a wailing lead guitar over a chunky backdrop. Falling into the verse, there’s a fair amount of macho posturing, but with a major key change into a pre-chorus and then shifting into a chorus driven by some enormous vocals, there’s much to love…especially if you’re a fan of Red Dawn’s label-mates Shotgun Symphony. A couple of rhythmic shifts to accommodate the guitar solo seem slightly awkward, (though it’s got nothing on ‘Call’ by Pole Position) and doesn’t damage an already a great track.

Opting for something much slower, the wash of keyboards throughout ‘Promises’ are almost a direct lift from a couple of Foreigner classics, but the force behind Baud’s voice provides a constant link to the rest of the material. Melodically speaking, the chorus sounds like something on loan from Yngwie Malmsteen’s ‘Odyssey’. It’s testament to Red Dawn’s collective talents that they are able to take these inspirations and meld them in a way that results in another melodic rock belter. With a slow but bombastic rhythm and a world of keys to give a strong base, it’s Avakiari that absolutely steals the show with a beautifully played solo. Why he wasn’t better known prior to this recording – or, indeed, since – remains somewhat of a mystery. Based on his work throughout this album alone, he was one of the era’s most gifted players. In a change of mood, ‘I Can’t Get Over You’ is a mid paced workout that sometimes sounds more like a Huey Lewis cover than an AOR classic, whilst there are occasional hints of Danger Danger to bring things back towards melodic rock. The lolloping rhythm is constantly entertaining and Baud puts in a cracking performance during the verses, but the number eventually ends up being the weakest, no thanks to keyboard parps where horns should have been employed and Baud over-stretching himself on a pedestrian chorus. Every great band has the potential to misfire and for Red Dawn, this is very much the case here, despite their best efforts.

Another throwback to the early writing sessions with Malloy, ‘Christine’ is almost a match for ‘I’ll Be There’ in AOR terms. There’s an American sheen, but underneath that is a song that would have suited Joe Lynn Turner’s 1985 opus ‘Rescue You’. With a rhythm section akin to a great Survivor record, everything drops effortlessly into a mid-paced groove, but the presence of Baud’s vocals and the way the guitars fill space are both invaluable in keeping the arrangement interesting, while another simplistic hook comes with the kind of punch you’d find on a thousand great 80s records. Moving back into ballad territory, Rosenthal wheels out the bell-like keys for ‘Take These Chains’, a full scale cheesefest settling somewhere between Jim Jamison and Winger. As expected, the band takes everything in their stride; the rhythm guitars, in particular have a fine chug without overshadowing those lovely keys, whilst Baud chews through each line in a huge way that really gets the point across, but without ever becoming an over-emotive foghorn [Toby Hitchcock, take note]. By the time everything ramps up for a semi-bluesy lead guitar break, this has asserted itself as another stand-out track.

Moving into the close of the album, the momentum is still as strong. Dabbling with a little of a new age element, Rosenthal puts forth a swirling sound at the beginning of ‘She’s On Fire’, a track that at first sounds like another Foreigner homage, but quickly changes mood to introduce a fat, mid-paced guitar riff. What transpires is solid but by numbers melodic rock and another number that would have been absolutely perfect for one-time Rainbow man Joe Lynn, to the point where you might even wonder if Rosenthal and Burgi had thoughts of working alongside him again someday. Chorus wise, Red Dawn have offered better, but all the same, it’s hard to find fault with the delivery: a wall of harmony vocals very much lifts the simple refrain on the kind of song that filled many of the earlier MTM Records releases circa 1996. To finish, the title track thunders along in a breezy manner occasionally reminiscent of something in the Jeff Scott Soto/W.E.T. mould. The chorus is an absolute belter – pure AOR gold – and the band really sound as if they’re inspired in the playing department too. The way Tristan’s guitar locks in with the bass and drums creates an unshakeable rhythm, which even taken at a slightly faster pace, is hugely melodic. Rosenthal’s solo leans shamelessly towards the pompy, with his fingers moving at lightning speeds, while Baud really belts through a hook that is so good that to hear it just once is enough to love it. Whilst almost everything on ‘Never Say Surrender’ is fantastic, this track really ends everything on a maximum high.

A few mumblings circa 1996 suggested a second Red Dawn album was in the works, but despite ‘Never Say Surrender’ being much loved by the melodic rock community, nothing came to pass and Red Dawn remained one of the truly great “one album acts”. For its members, of course, this was not the end: David Rosenthal later worked with guitar virtuoso Vinnie Moore; in a strange twist of fate, Greg Smith became the bassist in the briefly reformed Rainbow (in a line up that excluded both Rosenthal and Burgi) and much later in 2017, both Smith and Burgi resurfaced as the rhythm section in Ted Poley’s appallingly named Tokyo Motor Fist.

Perhaps the best twist of all in the Red Dawn story, though, happened in 2011. A new AOR release by a band named Infinity gained rave reviews from melodic rock buffs across the globe. The band reunited David Rosenthal with Mitch Malloy. Well, not exactly: the name had changed, but the Infinity album was, in fact, those original late 80s recordings that eventually spawned the Red Dawn project…proving that if something is good enough, it’ll eventually find a place in the world.

‘Never Say Surrender’, meanwhile, sounded like a genre classic upon release and still sounds bloody superb. Anyone claiming that melodic rock was dead by the mid 90s is clearly (a) a bona fide idiot and (b) didn’t hear this LP. It’s an album that seems utterly undiminished by time…and a thoughtful balance between melodic hard rockers, purer AOR and a few moments of real indulgence makes it an album that lovers of melodic hooks should not be without.

July-August 2018