The land with the most heavy metal bands per capita, Sweden, is at it again – unleashing new band The Dagger, comprised of former Grave and Dismember death metal inmates, on an eager listening public. The Dagger’s ten-track eponymous debut has a warm, inviting tone and a pleasing, “retro” or vintage sound, recalling the formative days of heavy metal itself. Claiming influence from bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, early Scorpions, and Thin Lizzy, the band – Jani Kataja, David Blomqvist, Tobias Cristiansson, and Fred Estby – masterfully amalgamated their musical heroes, recording something decent for fans of hard rock and early heavy metal.
Pleasant, mid-tempo, easy to listen to, and easy to enjoy, the proto-heavy metal disc begins “Ahead Of You All”. Kataja’s vocals are well-performed throughout the disc – nothing neutered or annoying, just well-done heavy metal thunder. Song content aside, the first thing that jumps out at an astute listener is how well-composed the songs are, down to Estby’s drum fills and Cristiansson’s bass guitar lines. While not over-produced, what the band have conveyed is that they’re a songwriting force to be reckoned with, especially within the context of the formative days of heavy metal. Remember what you liked so much about Michael Schenker when you first heard The Scorpions? Or what was so attention-getting about Ted Nugent (politics aside)? Blomqvist’s guitar solos are like that: pre-Van Halen “fantastic”. That said, that was a long time ago, and lead guitar work has come a very, very long way since those days. It’s very pleasant – in-key, well-phrased, played “to the song”, well-composed, and energetic, but not hair-raising. And that’s just fine. What’s outstanding is the harmony guitar and bass guitar work – thoughtfully planned and masterfully executed. Accompanied by the vintage sounding drums, tunes on the disc retain a convincing delivery, transporting listeners back in time.
One of the most meticulously composed songs on the disc is “1978”, with lyrics showcasing outstanding hard rock and heavy metal albums originally released in 1978. The label and band have chosen to make this the selling point of the album, which may or may not be a good move, seeing as that the song doesn’t really have the same sound or vibe as about 75% of the other songs on disc. The album’s highlights peak in four places: “Electric Dawn”, the aforementioned “1978”, “Nocturnal Triumph”, and “Inside The Monolithic Dome”. “Electric Dawn” channels a Judas Priest–Iron Maiden vibe, with a suitably heavy, uptempo delivery. “1978” is catchy, melodic rock, nicely phrased, with memorable lyrics. “Nocturnal Triumph” has a more ‘American’ sound, a catchy chorus, and varying levels that seem to build at least some dynamic. “Inside The Monolithic Dome” has a catchy, melodic verse-and-chorus earworm lick (which sounds very similar to “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi), and vocals performed in a lower register, different from the rest of the disc.
A criticism is that the tunes tend to be bland, at least by today’s listening standards – if the disc was to be lined up with some of the classics from say, 1978, it might be a closer or better fit. But for a 2014 release, it tends to not snap the neck or raise the heart rate much. Remember what was so crazy about everything from “Breaking The Law”, to “High and Dry”, to “Eruption”? None of that here. It doesn’t really ride the rails of “dad rock” – it’s a little more energetic then that – but it might be a little close. Heavy metal was, and still is, about excess and there’s really no excess here. There are some keyboard (Hammond/B3) tones on the disc – especially on “Ballad of an Old Man” and “Skygazer” – yet nobody’s credited with that, which is odd. That said, it’s competent, well-done, well-performed music that stands on it’s own – not necessarily requiring comparisons to the subgenre it’s channeling.
Keep your ears on the north: if you’re in to classic heavy metal that actually sounds like it was released during that era, The Dagger’s debut disc is a no-brainer, a must-listen. What’s really outstanding about the release is how un-death metal it is, showing accepting attitudes and well-rounded versatility in both listening habits and playing capability from the musicians involved. Kudos to Century Media Records for taking on such an “early heavy metal” beast and giving it some of the exposure it deserves.
Ahead Of You All
Call Of 9
Ballad Of An Old Man
Dogs Of Warning
Inside The Monolithic Dome
Jani Kataja – Vocals
David Blomqvist – Electric guitar
Tobias Cristiansson – Electric bass
Fred Estby – Drums