Baltimore hardcore punk outfit Double Dagger may have called it a day in late 2011 after nine years of their viscerally melodic post-punk, but this Record Store Day sees the release of their posthumous final record 333, along with a documentary-film of the band’s last tour entitled If We Shout Loud Enough.
Double Dagger have never worried particularly about sticking to convention – naming themselves after a typographical symbol, describing their music somewhat tongue-in-cheekily as ‘graphicdesigncore’ and foregoing guitars entirely for a stripped-down line-up of bass, drums and passionately shouted vocals. The band’s lack of regard for convention extends to the format of 333: at 24 minutes long and containing only six songs that range from just over a minute to more than seven minutes long, the record falls into the awkward grey area between EP and LP – more than the EP it’s been commonly billed as, and yet not quite a full-length album either. The result is a record that manages to develop its sound and ideas more than the average extended play.
If an EP is a 100m sprint and a full album a marathon, 333 is the middle-distance run – time for the crowd to immerse themselves fully in the thrill of it, but still over before anybody realizes, the end still coming as an unwelcome surprise. The album opens in low-key fashion with slow-burning opening track The Mirror, its monotonous rhythm section matching the emotionlessly spoken lyrics of frontman Nolen Strals – a man who vaguely resembles, both audibly and visually, a really pissed-off Michael Stipe. The tension and frustration inherent in the music and the lyrics (‘You’ve got so much so say but you can’t get it out’) gradually build until the song reaches its noisy climax – Double Dagger finally finding the means to express themselves.
There are unexpected contemplative moments to 333 in instrumental track Space Dust and Figure Eights. The former’s sweet but gravel-textured melody revolves round and round over a haze of harmonica noise, while the latter sees the band go slightly folksy – beginning with a jangly, endearingly childlike melody that sounds like the kind of tune you’d find in a beginners’ violin book, and ending with a multi-layered accordion dirge. Sandwiched between is the blistering Supply/Demand, providing a rude awakening with its relentlessly screamed vocals and high-pitched bass speed-riff, interspliced with ear-splitting shrieks of feedback. Foreign Bodies, too, harks back to the early ’80s glory days of hardcore punk, all strained shouting and a bass riff that grinds and ascends like a punk call to arms.
Seven-minute finale Heretic’s Hymn provides a fitting elegy to the now-defunct band, showing off everything Double Dagger were capable of. Two minutes of high-octane hardcore segue abruptly into a downbeat bass solo that has something of the Last Post about it, a single melody line echoing mournfully over softly lethargic drums and a fog of white noise before Strals delivers the band’s final message: ‘But if this is my last song, if these are the last words I ever write – I hope you won’t forget you’re only free making art outside’. It’s an emphatic finish and a neat summarisation of the band’s sound – partly the hardcore fury of Minor Threat, partly the taut post-punk minimalism of Joy Division, partly experimental noise.
333 may be less than half an hour long but it packs a punch, Double Dagger taking a last swing at the world from beyond their musical grave. Its release on independent-spirited Record Store Day is an apt full stop to the band’s never less than independent-spirited career.