By Adrien Begrand
When I saw Taking Dawn perform last fall, I didn’t really know what to make of them. Hampered by an atrocious mix and a performance that wavered from tight to strangely awkward, the band didn’t exactly make the best first impression. I loved the ’80s hooks, but oddly enough, it was when they pulled out the more aggressive sounds that it all started to sound too contrived for me to bear much longer. However, a few songs that went over huge with the crowd wound up stuck in my head for some time after, leaving me feeling that if the Las Vegas band could somehow rein in all their influences, they just might be on to something cool. Finally hearing their debut full-length for Roadrunner, it’s an absolute pleasure to say that they’ve done just that.
Time to Burn is stuck shamelessly in 1984: it was a time when melodic heavy metal and hard rock boasted über-slick production and massive, massive hooks, but most importantly, the guitars still retained a metallic bite, unlike the gaudy, thinner sounds of the post-1986 glam metal era. More Spencer Proffer, less Bruce Fairbairn. Simply put, if you grew up with bands like Ratt, Dokken, Kick Axe, and Y&T, you will dig this sucker, without a doubt. Of course, there are the odd modern trappings, as Time to Burn boasts the kind of gigantic, over-compressed production that today’s market demands, but to their credit, these boys keep their heads stubbornly stuck in the early-’80s, as if 26 years haven’t passed by. Only, back then a major label wouldn’t let a band get as potty-mouthed as they’re allowed to do on this record.
Unlike Steel Panther, Taking Dawn doesn’t come off as a simple retro hair metal piss-take. The songs, the chops, and most crucially, the sincerity are all there. Led by singer Chris Babbitt, the band exudes the kind of swagger that cock rock demands, but as songs like “Like a Revolution”, “Fight ’em With Your Rock”, and the Bon Jovi-esque (first album, specifically) “Take Me Away” all attest, melody and song craft is just as imperative, the hooks on nearly every track well-written and refined. The album’s biggest surprise, the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, turns out to be very well executed, its faithfully performed first half giving way to a spirited hard rock jam. “Time to Burn” is the best encapsulation of what this band is all about, the band bringing the ferocity of Y&T’s Mean Streak and marrying it with the kind of fist-pumpin’, shout-along choruses that crowds love. Only does the morose “Godless” stumble attempt a more overbearing, post-thrash style more suited to the likes of Trivium, but that’s but a small speed bump on an otherwise very pleasant surprise. So many young bands try the ’80s thing, but so few actually know how to nail it. Taking Dawn sure as hell does, and halle-fucking-lujah for that.