Dagger Down – Dagger Down II – Album Review
Busy year for Dagger Down! I can already see posts about their third record coming soon…I better get crackin’ and fill ya in on what you’re in-store for on their latest album, Dagger Down II, freshly released here in 2020. And I’ll tell ya folks…I’m excited to check this out! Looking over the list of influences they’ve got posted up on their page certainly implies this band will be no joke whatsoever; it’s a list of the verifiable best-of-the-best…names like Hendrix, ELO, Zeppelin, Tool, Page, Soundgarden, & ZZ Top. If that doesn’t suggest that Dagger Down is plugged into some rad music & ideas, I honestly don’t know what list of influences out there I could see that would entice me more. Now they just gotta live up to it – but in terms of visually standing out before I even pushed play…I felt like we’d get along just fine; with musical heroes like that, and the widespread range of sound & style they cover – how could we not?
While I started up the new album and the classic-rock inspired chords and piano began to ring out in the building intro before “Subliminal Intent” slides on into its main rhythm & groove, I was fully inclined to go about turning this record on UP, which I then did, as I continued to find things out there on the internet that caught my eye as well. Like…how about this…mission-statement of sorts I suppose you’d call it…creed of the band…motto to live by…however you’d describe it, this post on their social media pages speaks volumes about what they do – it reads: “Dagger Down represents a culmination of sound, emotion, thought and philosophy encompassing everything meaningful about being human.” Right? Try to tell me you’re not into a band that would write something like that onto their page! That’s awesome. Or how about the fact that, up until right at the very moment of me writing this review, I thought I was at least in the running for world’s best beard…and now I realize I’m basically a bald-faced baby-man! I’ve always had a huge, lusciously full neck warmer myself, and I can’t hold a candle to lead-singer/guitarist Lawrence Fothe’s mighty all-natural face-mask. You look at a beard like that and recognize he’s been years ahead of the pandemic world, crafting a covering practically around his whole head that should earn the man awards I tell ya. I, however, may as well surrender & shave now I reckon.
Back to the music where I belong! The composition, building of the structure, and range of instrumentation on display right off the drop on “Subliminal Intent” will confirm so much of what we’ve been talking about already in regards to the effect of the influences that have paved the way for Dagger Down to exist today – you can hear the hybrid versatility & the progressive-minded way this song moves. I also felt like the main hooks and brightest spots of this first cut really prove just how accessible a progressive cut can be when it’s done right…most listeners out there would likely hear “Subliminal Intent” and be sold enough on the quality of the hooks & musicianship not to question what category, box, or genre it would come from – not that this ultimately matters. Especially not when you’re rockin’ in multiple directions like Dagger Down goes on to do…these guys embrace the freedom to go where the music takes’em, and as a result, you’ll find Dagger Down II is quite the adventurous & ambitious album.
Where “Subliminal Intent” provides a great start with a nod towards what’s to come – the diverse nature of Dagger Down immediately sparks to life in presenting the difference in direction they’ll take right away with the second song, “Siren’s Call” – which is arguably, quite the single-worthy cut. Fact is, Dagger Down’s gonna go on a solid streak of really impressive tunes over this early part of the record – you’re kind of in a dealer’s choice situation where this band has a whole bunch of options in that regard. This cut has the band stomping & storming their way through a brilliantly savage song that pumps out relentlessly engaging & brooding moody sound. Probably the track that reveals the most of their Soundgarden influence, while also giving it like…a tinge of Ozzy-esque wildness in the verses and a high dose of melody or two along the way as well, both in the instrumentation and on the microphone. The solo, though short & sweet, is one of my favorites on the record…& in that “Kashmir” style of approach, Dagger Down uses a wicked selection of instrumentation on this track that immediately gives a huge & epic atmosphere that can’t be beat. No matter how many tours & trips I took through this record, “Siren’s Call” remained a massive highlight in this set of songs on Dagger Down II – it’s a killer cut, 100%.
Like to further the point on single-worthy sounds…I’m quite tempted to add “Eagle’s Eyes” to that list. I’ll put it to you this way…were it not for the impressive writing & musicianship & structure being more involved than 99.9% of most songs out there, I’d say have at’er, put out the mesmerizing allure of “Eagle’s Eyes” as a gateway into this record…but I’m also very realistic when it comes to that aspect of getting music out there into the world and know full-well that anything ‘involved’ or more complex than a 4/4 beat meets resistance with the masses. I should probably take offense to that, along with every other musician & sincere music-fan out there, but I’ve learned to live with it…I turn my attention to bands like Dagger Down that wanna offer our ears much more than that, tyvm, and so should you be. Sometimes ‘involved’ implies intricacies in the instrumentation that people outside the Top-40 crowd have a tougher time absorbing, sometimes it’s just a heavier mood, slower tune, or complex design – it could be many things. When it comes to “Eagle’s Eyes,” I’d imagine most people out there won’t have any real issues with following this along – and once they get to the chorus, there’s no question they’ll both be hooked on this track and definitely come back to it. For right there dear readers, dear friends – you might just be listening to the most universally accessible moment you’ll find upon this entire album – make no mistake, the magic that Dagger Down ventures into on this song is what making music is all about. You find a moment & melody like this and it should send ya running to the studio to push record. You’ll find there’s a gentle stream of Pink Floyd-ish like vibes in this tune as well…highly enticing all-around, lyrically sound…ultimately I think the chorus is probably gonna outshine the chorus for most listening…you couldn’t possibly complain about the payoff of “Eagle’s Eyes” once you get there.
As far as I can tell from this video for “She’s My Woman” that you’ll see posted up here, this cut was one of the lead-singles put out there to entice y’all into listening. I’m not opposed to it; it’s more of a straight-forward Rock cut to a degree, but you can’t miss out on these riffs and the savage crunchy impact they’ll make on ya. You might say it’s somewhere in between a Survivor-meets-Sabbath-meets-Zeppelin deal – a combo of which works for most of us out there I’d imagine if you got real Rock in your blood. Musically, I think they’ve got giant hooks in here that make a huge difference…they may be somewhat familiar and a little less definably Dagger Down than some of the other tunes you’ll hear – but the opposite can also be said – they rock, because that IS what they do, and they clearly do it well. Even if there might be a little less identity in a song like this, sometimes it’s well worth the trade in just getting an opportunity to turn those amplifiers UP, and have a lil’ fun in the process of entertainin’ ya – you’ll get no arguments from me against that, I completely get it, and the results are definitely there. What they’ve got here is a crisp & catchy cut that’s well designed to bring the people in, and they’ve chosen wisely in putting this out there with full video support in that respect to draw in the crowd – check it out for yourself & get a dose of Dagger Down & what they’re capable of on “She’s My Woman” below!
“Don’t Let It Be Me” almost can’t help but stand out with its creativity on display right up front at the beginning. Creepin’ synth sounds and steady bass-lines generate a slow-burning intensity & drama in the atmosphere as they dive deep into the verses, brightening up brilliantly when it comes to the chorus and taking this tune to the next level. Probably one of my favorite cuts on the record lyrically and vocally…but really, you won’t catch me complaining about a moment you’ll find on “Don’t Let It Be Me” – I think it’s wonderfully inventive & creative and really shows what Dagger Down can do in their own style. Another highlight solo in the mix here…not sure if that’s Paul S. McDonald or Lawerence, or both – but I know what I like, and this is that. All-in-all, “Don’t Let It Be Me” really speaks strong on behalf of their own signature sound…it’s a cut like this that seemed to allow us all to peer even further behind the scenes and understand the vast amount of diversity & impressive ideas Dagger Down can create in their music. It’s got that mod-style/back-alley danger sound to it…and when you combine that with the perfectly suited story-line lyricism that accompanies “Don’t Let It Be Me,” everything seems to fall right in line where you wanna hear it on this cut. And as impressive as everything literally and audibly is – somehow…SOMEHOW…Dagger Down still finds a way to raise the stakes even further, going from a brilliant build in the pre-chorus, to a golden switch & transition to the ultimately payload delivered through the title of this tune at the heart of it all. Super easy tune on Dagger Down II to find your way into – it’s got a ton of uniqueness to pull you in, a solid Alt/Pop/Rock-inspired design that’s truly interesting…and execution from a band that clearly puts everything they got into every moment. I don’t know about you folks, but that’s the kind of recipe for success I’m seeking out on my playlists over here.
I assume that a lot of what we hear on “Kingdom” in the added instrumentation beyond the beefy meat & potatoes of the bass, drums, & guitars and the sound selection you’ll find is largely coming from the contributions Rick G. Nelson has been bringing to Dagger Down II. Described on their website as a multi-instrumentalist – anyone who’s ever been on the inside of a studio or played a show live certainly understands what an asset a player like that can be to a band, and they certainly make great use of the guy on this cut right here. Excellent use of the violin flowing throughout this tune, and I dig on its mix of haunting-Rock vibes that circulate throughout the aura & atmosphere of “Kingdom” – I get that it’s not likely gonna be the first track to stand out for folks in comparison to the flashy & catchy sound they generate on so many others, but it’s tunes like this that majorly strengthen the lineup overall & keeps us coming back to it. “Kingdom” is like a dusty diamond…the more you spin it, the more it sparkles – and by the end of a couple rotations, you realize you’re up close with something quite impressive & special. I’m just realistic is all…I know the majority of dedicated music-fans out there would hear something like this and probably find their way into it immediately – as for the rest, let’em spin it a couple times to get the full gist of this gripping cut…I figure as long as they join the party before it’s over, all is well & good.
A track like “Dead End Street” is a great example of pulling the past into the present, drawing on the influences, and creating a cut that is relevant for the right here & now. You could look at “Dead End Street” and certainly hear the “Roadhouse Blues” in the bounce of the bass-lines – or anything Blues-related with respect to the overall sound at work here – there’s no doubt that Dagger Down are well within their comfort zone on a cut like this and know their way around the place like they call it home. But I gotta admit, it’s quite the tasty tune. As I’ve said many times…not every song ever made needs to recreate the Rock’n’Roll formula – and I’d suspect that Dagger Down would likely agree…sometimes you just wanna rock with something more familiar to us, and in many ways, “Dead End Street” and “Trip To Olympus” afterwards both explore those timeless Blues/Rock riffs we all know & love. They make it hard to argue against this tune, no matter how familiar it might feel as they rock their way through this stylistic set of standards with major flare & finesse…when everything sounds as ALIVE as this and you know the band is feelin’ it 100%, songs like “Dead End Street” are full proof inspiration in a performance counts for a TON. There’s no doubt that Dagger Down is lovin’ life as they jam through this tune, it’s got such a rad jazzy & soulful swagger to it that makes this track end up standing out much more than you would probably expect at first – and I’d imagine the same could rightly be said about the song to follow.
Much to their credit, I absolutely love “Trip To Olympus” – and I usually wouldn’t. As I implied just a second ago with “Dead End Street” – if you’ve sampled the Blues…if you’ve ever been to a live show in your LIFE…chances are, you’ve experienced something very much like this when you’ve been in the audience watching a band get their jam on. It would be extremely tough to argue on behalf of a cut like this necessarily bringing anything new to the scene perhaps – so I ain’t even gonna go there – I’m just gonna talk about how bulletproof the execution is and how hard Dagger Down nails every single part of this song, how about that? Absolutely one of the most surprising songs on Dagger Down II if you ask me, I kinda have a tendency to rebel harder against anything somewhat familiar…but on the merits of their musicianship, the charisma, and the personality they pack into this “Trip To Olympus” – I am 100% all about this tune – this is Blues/Rock done RIGHT. LISTEN to the crunch in those gnarly guitars will ya? The clever pace and crisp snap of the snare from Jonathan Arceneaux keeps the crew fully in line, and together on a unified front, they really put the neon into these vibes, know what I mean? It’s textural Blues/Rock at its finest…this is the kind of sensory experience you can feel – “Trip To Olympus” is fully built to be grooved on & grooved with – and you’ll find you’ve got no hesitation in doing exactly that. Add in the warm glow of the organ solos & guitar solos happenin’ simultaneously while the rhythm section keeps the core of this cut completely locked down solid – Dagger Down is bulletproof right here.
Lovin’ the drums from Arceneaux on “In The Mirror” right off the bat; he’s put in a rock-solid performance throughout this whole record like they all have, but you can definitely catch a highlight coming from the throne as he thumps his way through this tune. It’s a bit of a jagged cut in the adventurous sense of how it’s structured & flows – but if you dig on creativity in the music you listen to (and ya should!), then there’s plenty to really have your brain chewin’ on while your ears are listenin.’ I’m sure I’ve cited numerous guitar-solo highlights by this point on the record, but YES you will find another one here…time & again, this band shows they’ve got a killer balance of strengths shared between them, and “In The Mirror” is a song that pretty much exemplifies this in every way. There’s a wild range of color, personality, and serious musicianship on display throughout this whole song, right from the drop of the first seconds on forward, Dagger Down gets innovative and inventive in the sleek design & crunchy sound of “In The Mirror.” Kind of like an amped-up Jefferson Airplane here in a way – there’s just that right hint of psychedelic 60s vibes in the mix & melody of the chorus…and given that’s a timeless, tested, and true sound that the people out there still bump loud’n’proud to this very day, I’d imagine most out there will have no problem whatsoever trippin’ their way on into “In The Mirror.”
While “Blood On My Hands” pumps out significant energy…this is probably the cut I feel most inclined to reach out and advise caution with. There’s more than enough material on this record that proves Dagger Down can be Dagger Down and entertain ya by being the naturally organic Dagger Down that they are…and then there’s a track like this that almost seems to bend too hard towards being an intentional rock song, as opposed to the more fluid cuts that seem to bring it out of them with ease. It’s lively, no doubt about that – the energy this track pumps out makes it more than worthwhile, as does the musicianship in this band, as always. It’s a bit of a bizarre cut comparatively in some ways though – you’d be looking at verses that cross Van Halen with BTO…that’s way risky territory with yours truly here…and then in the chorus, you’d likely be hearing the Soundgarden influence much more. I think my main concern with “Blood On My Hands” comes much more from a lyrical aspect this time around; I don’t think you can ever really find any faults in the execution of their performances, these guys slay when it comes time to plug in. When it comes to the words…what can I say…sometimes there’s times like this where you just wanna Rock, and I get that…heck, I feel it quite often too – but phonetically, sometimes you can hear that stretch for a lyric that rhymes, as opposed to saying something more direct – that make any sense? There are a couple lines in “Blood On My Hands” where I felt myself bracing for what was the likely word to come, almost hoping it wouldn’t be…cause there’s more to this band than that in my opinion. With so much effort clearly being put into the music, I ain’t gonna lie – I’m always gonna feel that the words deserve that same level of focus…but that’s pretty natural coming from a guy that writes all day, every day, like myself. Chances are, for many folks out there, they’ll hear a song that’s well worth turning up for its skillful musicianship & just start singing along with it. No judgments from me – we all have tunes that appeal to us for what we love most, and that’s always a valid reason.
Loving the guitars on “The Bus” and the personality they chime in with as you travel through this tune. Can’t say enough about’em really, or just how much they add to this groove to help it stand out as it should in this classic-meets-psych sound they’re rocking “The Bus” with…those guitars are essential. There are tracks ya listen to, and tracks ya can’t HELP but listen to – and once “The Bus” starts rollin’ along, chances are you ain’t gonna wanna get off this ride – Dagger Down is in the groove here 100% and completely willing to pass on the vibes to us all. One of them clever tunes that gives ya that song-about-a-song aspect to it, or at the very least a solid homage to the love of great music – there’s plenty of room for ya to happily hop on “The Bus” any time and get into its early-Zep-meets-VH sound. Memorable hooks, undeniable groove, musicianship that hits the mark as we’ve now come to expect from this talented & unified crew – “The Bus” will take ya on that musical trip you’re looking to take.
I am gonna go to bat for the Bowie-esque vibes of “I Feel The Rain” probably more than maybe even they would! I mean…look…it’s pretty much one of the cuts you can point to as the most decisively different in the set, straying away from the Blues-Rock and diving headfirst confidently into a much more Pop-inspired Rock song…and man does this work well for them! It’s slower than the majority of the record for sure, but at the same time – listen to how the melody comes out sparkling & shining throughout the verses of this song will ya? Immaculate stuff from Dagger Down there if you ask me – I think you get a solid dose of genuinely charming sound and a highly addictive, subtle, quaint, & pleasant melody that absolutely hits the mark. And while they’re clearly probably more comfortable in the Rock realm of big guitars as they’ve shown us throughout the majority of this lineup – listen to how well the sound of “I Feel The Rain” suits them will ya? This is the kind of highly encouraging moment in time that should definitely have the band examining just how addictive this tune really is – quite honestly, I think it’s one of the best on the record without question, and reveals a whole dimension of the heart & passion of this band that you won’t quite find on any other song on Dagger Down II. I’m all about this song though – I think it’s equally subtle & epic at the same time, I think it makes a real statement on behalf of their mellower side, and I think the melody in the verses of this song is straight-up magical.
ELO would be proud of’em on the final cut “Sensual Overload,” which arguably puts that dimension of the influence on Dagger Down’s sound the most on display as they finish off the record with a solid instrumental jam at the end. Love the warmth of the synths and how they add to this tune…and overall, I’m pretty impressed with the memorable impact they make in this last cut without uttering a single word. Not only is it enticing right from the drop through their stellar musicianship & instrumentation fueling a mysterious & curious vibe, but hearing Dagger Down hit the switch around the three-minute mark and just start blazing it up for a moment or two was a serious treat. Turning on the ol’ proverbial dime, “Sensual Overload” begins to scorch its way quickly through a white-hot moment in time within this final tune, before making its transition back into the original groove that got us interested to begin with taking us out to the very end. After having vocals on each and every one of these tracks, this felt like a really bold way to end the record, and a song that really provides us all with the opportunity to really appreciate the high-level of musicianship, effort, and detail they’ve put into this album.
Versatility, passion, and talent combined sure equals one heck of a great time and an eclectic experience that pretty much covers the map of Rock from one side of the fringe to the other – Dagger Down’s got something rad goin’ on here in the chemistry between’em, and I’m looking forward to more for sure.
Find out more about Dagger Down and hear the music by checking out the official sites below!
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