When Last Lights opened for Four Year Strong at BU Central on December 5th, 2008, the band was celebrating their signing to blossoming punk label Think Fast! just two days prior, and singer Dominic Mallary was as energetic as ever, hurling himself about on the stage, screaming his lungs out and twisting the microphone cord around his neck, as he did nearly every show. A few hours later, his health began rapidly spiraling downwards, as he lost feeling in his legs and eventually convulsed in seizures after being taken to the hospital where he lost consciousness. Some 15 hours after performing what would be his final set, the last lights went out for Dominic Mallary, dying of a brain aneurysm before he could witness the full fruition of all his hard work and talent.
Though the band decided not to go on without Dominic, their recent contract with Think Fast! allowed them a proper sendoff, giving widespread release to their entire discography consolidated onto one album. From their initial self-released demos to their Bad Habit split and Mightier than Sword seven-inch, there’s no lulls or shifts in intensity; the collection is as seamless as if it had been cut in one clean studio swoop.
What Last Lights is able to do in 11 songs is rare. They don’t necessarily walk a line between the old school and the new school of hardcore, but they pull in the better elements of both and create something that’s as fascinating as it is raw and intense. Patches of short, fast Black Flag or Minor Threat riffs crop up (“Everybody’s Working for the Weak End,” “U.S. Out of New England”) to demonstrate the band’s sense of history, but co-mingle with discordant clashes of melody more reminiscent of Modern Life Is War or Bane. But what really solidifies Last Lights’ well-deserved recognition is the grimy, defiantly realist poetry of Mallary swimming in and out of the band’s damaging hardcore melee.
Mallary graduated from Emerson College in 2007. After one scan through the lyrics booklet of No Past No Present No Future, it’s hardly surprising that he focused his studies on writing, literature and publishing. Troubled by the wretched, creeping normalcy of modern society, burnt out on suburban blight and the false promise of the American dream, Mallary paints a bleak picture of the youth of recent past: “I was raised by radio waves in my parents’ separate homes / While our future was mortgaged for the down payment on a war of our own” (“No Future”); “These days are spent trading in cheap white lies / I’ll paint them black and call it a night / I tried but the light was never enough / This life could be the death of us” (“Destroy What Destroys You”). There's even the occasional homage buried in the lesson, as the Clash is quickly referenced twice in “Love + Rent”: “He who fucks nuns later joins the church / In the sad small town where fascism sells / The youth have hope, but give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves from wedding bells.” “Oh, Modern World” showcases one of the best single lines in recent hardcore memory (“Hey, hey, hey humanist: your Holy Grail is a cup of piss”) but it slightly loses its allure the eighth time it’s repeated. The only track exclusive to this disc is the instrumental “Sink.” Recorded in January of 2009 after Mallary’s passing, it’s pretty good for an instrumental hardcore song, but is clearly missing the key element of Last Lights’ greatness.
Though lead singer Dominic Mallary is gone and missed, No Past No Present No Future is a stirring encapsulation of his legacy. Graced, with the hauntingly lush artwork of Tim Brothers and a lyrics booklet of complete with photos of Mallary and the band at their finest, it makes it all that much more of a shame that Think Fast! is abandoning compact discs, because no digital package will be able to capture the feelings that complement the music in this way. But to give gratitude where it’s due, Dominic’s final goodbye is in fine form with this release.