Formed in 2005 with the intention of playing Motörhead-influenced HC-punk, Death with a Dagger has to this day released one demo, two splits, and now in 2009 their debut full-lenght. Their style has changed from HC-oriented sound to music closer to NWOBHM (with Motörhead still very present), with longer song lenghts and more emphasis on metal- than punk-style. Still, there's a lot of punk- and crust-elements to be heard in their music, and thus they've been labeled as a metalpunk-band. The band doesn't try to hide their influences, that's for sure.
The opener shows well what the band's music is about: mostly well above mid-pace guitars creating some heavy metal-melodies and occasional solos with some simpler punk-shreds between and amidst them, a powerful, pounding and well audible bass guitar creating an interesting background for them that works on it's own too, punk(rock)-styled drumming with not too many extra gimmicks and hoarse, low, shouted vocals. One could say that this is NWOBHM with a good dose of Motörhead-influence - which shows well in some more rocking parts such as the whole third track - but with an original touch and ideas, such as the evident punk-elements and the rather personal vocals.
Despite each song sounding good on their own, the whole has some flaws. Firstly, the vocals sound tame at times. The vocalist's harsh shouting voice is too thin and gets rather dull after some time despite it's minor variation, and it just doesn't have enough power to really deliver the feeling in the most speedy and in-your-face-parts. It sounds like he would've had the capabilities for a better delivery, but something just didn't work out. Secondly, it seems that the band hasn't yet found it's own style completely. On some tracks, such as the first one, the changes between "this is a punk-part" and "this is a NWOBHM-part" in the riffs are just too evident and attention-catching, which really damages the flow and the feeling the songs would otherwise have. Add to this the rocking Motörhead-parts and you have (with a little exaggeration) a "salad", kept together by the vocals and punkrock-styled drumming that don't go through such big changes.
One noteworthy talent the band possesses is their groove. The bridges keeping the main parts together often present some repetitive riffing that has a lot of catchiness and appeal, and their looping is even a bit psychedelic. For example the bridges in "Waiting" or "Heaven and Hell" got me headbanging instantly; they just grab you by the neck and command you to like them. These parts also show how talented the musicians are and how well they play together; all the instruments get their parts in the spotlight, but none of them are taking over the others. Instead, they're creating a working whole where they all have their place, thus creating a really cathchy and appealing whole. I hope that the band employs more of this groove and psychedelia in their later works; now they're "hidden" in these small middle-parts and "Spacetrain", the last track of the album with lenght of six minutes. The track is a really repetitive one: it's basically a jam based on one riff, but one that's luckily good. Sadly, the track loses it's appeal and power as soon as the bass is pushed to the background and guitar solos take over. The track just doesn't carry through it's lenght, but it's no wonder as it was mostly made in the studio. If it was a bit more dynamic, it just might kill.
Soundwise the album sounds like 80's heavy metal usually did, though the soundscape is a bit more clean and clear, and the instruments have a good deal of breathing room. Just a bit more violent and gritty sounds would've fitted better to songs with such an amount of anger, attitude and feeling, but otherwise there's nothing to complain about. When one reads the album's lyrics s/he might feel embarrassed for the band due to their simplistic nature, but in the actual songs they work like a disease; they have a good deal of attitude and crediblity, and their rather repetitive nature makes them good for shouting along, thus helping the songs stick to the listener's head.
"Dark Alleys" present a band with a good and original vision and the talent to execute it, and is a good record for a debut. The band just has to refine or completely leave some things out, or at least present them in a smaller quantity to make more of an impact. Get this album as an LP to enjoy the fitting and stylish cover arts, and for the bit rawer soundscape.