In October 2011 Double Dagger brought the curtain down on a 9 year career with a final tour that culminated in a home-town farewell show in their native city of Baltimore. Self-labelled as "graphicdesigncore", they were a staunchly independent and aesthetically principled trio whose uncompromising post-punk sound was characterised by the absence of guitars, their music instead being propelled by Bruce Willen's in equal parts brutal and melodic bass lines. During their tenure they opened for a host of punk alumni including The Buzzcocks and The Jesus Lizard, the latter of which offer a suitable reference point for the uninitiated. Live, Double Dagger shows were awash with fanatical crowd-surfers and a non-existent barrier between fans and band that saw frontman Nolan Strals literally climbing into the pockets of his audience.
Fast forward 18 months, and on Record Store Day 2013 Double Dagger released their sonic and visual epitaph in the form of If We Shout Loud Enough, a documentary of the band's final tour, and 333 a six-track EP that is comprised of their last recordings. The latter of these is the focus of this review and gives the impression of a band managing the rare feat of signing off when they are at their most creative, honest and sonically expansive. Clocking in at less than half an hour, the set is bookended by two almost progressive and sprawling post-punk workouts. The first of these is 'The Mirror' which starts with a cyclical bass drone, before lurching into a dark Slint-esque, spoken word groove, that is driven by Denny Bowen's metronomic and thunderous drums that mimic the high-fretted lead bass line. Lyrically, the song is an extremely personal document of the Strals' experience of living with a speech impediment that moves between wry catharsis and violent intensity.
Such is the breadth of this opening track, however, that the middle segment of 333 seems to suffer a little by comparison. 'Foreign Bodies' & 'Supply/Demand' are razor sharp, 200mph proto-punk workouts with a performance level reminiscent of early Black Flag, but don’t quite match the opening heights of the EP. In contrast, there are two very intriguing instrumental tracks that showcase a more eclectic persuasion during these last sessions. 'Space Dust' is an ethereal collage of layered bass lines which manage to be in equal parts minimalist and extremely psychadelic, whilst 'Figure Eights' introduces accordion into the mix at its halfway point and morphs into the soundtrack for a gaelic drinking session.
These contrasting elements of the Double Dagger palette are then reconciled to one another perfectly on the EP and indeed the bands final track, 'Heretic’s Hymn', which is a celebration of the creativity and community of the DIY scene that spawned them, whilst at the same time offering a cynical final swipe at the vacuity of art made for the sake of fashion and popularity, where people "only worship what sells." What starts as a fist-pumping call to arms then spirals down into a bleak and delicate picked bass outro over which Strals delivers the final words of the bands legacy:
"If this is my last song/ And these are the last words I ever write/ I hope you won't forget/ You're only free making art outside"
A final assertion of the morals at the core of everything Double Dagger have stood for the last 9 years, and then they're gone. But in offering this final audio & visual coda the band have managed to achieve that rare feat of bowing out with dignity and vitality, rather than placating fans with a best of or B-sides compilation. To the end creativity and relevance were the foundation of this Baltimore trio, and whilst all three members have now moved onto new bands, through this release old and new fans alike can toast their existence in style one last time.