Review: The Damned Things – High Crimes

Count me as one of the (many? few?) that found great enjoyment in The Damned Thing’s 2010 debut, Ironiclast. That album served as both the most interesting project released during the late aughts Fall Out Boy hiatus and an album that tugged at my hard rock heartstrings, even though some found it (incorrectly) to be too generic. In many ways, it was ahead of its time, laying a foundation for other punk and metalcore acts to explore more accessible sounds in recent years.

You can buy or stream High Crimes on Apple Music.

Nevertheless, as time passed, it began to feel more and more like a fleeting moment that never found its foothold. The band’s members (Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley, Anthrax’s Scott Ian, and Fall Out Boy’s Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley) all have successful careers and plenty to do aside from scratching a side project itch that a select group of fans quietly clamor for. But here we are nine years later with another album on our hands. And let me tell you, High Crimes is unbelievably good, one-upping its predecessor in almost every way.

The easiest place to find fault in Ironiclast was in its safety. While full of melody and fun, radio rock guitar riffs, the album goes by in a breeze, never really changing pace or taking chances. High Crimes truly feels like the band, now employing Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano on bass, just said, “Fuck it. Let’s have some fun.”

Opening track and first single “Cells” capitalizes on the potential a band with this much star power possesses. It’s raw, wild and manic throughout, feeling from its opening moments las if it’s channeling In Utero’s spirit. The track’s best moment comes near the end as Buckley shouts, “Guitar!” just in time for a sick guitar solo. It’s a moment so carefree and silly that it allows you to lower your guard and simply enjoy the ride.

High Crimes succeeds in capturing very distinguishable influences from each of its members – something Ironiclast could never fully execute. Here, there is no pressure to make something specific – just a group of musicians having a great time and bringing their own ideas playfully to the table. The album transitions from fast and dirty hardcore punk tracks like “Carry a Brick” to dark, eerie synth-driven songs like “Storm Chaser” to cheesy rock n’ roll sing-a-long moments like “Something Good”, which opens with a group chant of “Y-E-L-L / All of my friends are going to hell”.

Hearing Trohman and Ian have so much fun on guitar throughout the album is truly a delight. It’s almost as if that metaphorical loosening of the tie allows Buckley to tap into his signature wit and exuberant nature. On “Invincible”, easily the most accessible track on the album, Buckley croons, “And if you’re trying to bring me down / Then you’re the last to know / Once the bullet leaves my brain, it can’t be stopped / You’re in over your heard / I’m invincible!”

Later, on “Young Hearts”, Buckley flexes his voice in new ways, with ghostly back-up vocals added to the mix: “Young hearts don’t come free tonight (come free tonight) / And not one of them is built to save my life (to save my life)”. On grimy rocker “Keep Crawling”, he taps into a dark mood of self-loathing, singing, “I’ve been broken / I’ve been shamed / But I keep crawling back / You keep calling it faith”.

With all of its variety, High Crimes still manages to feel cohesive. There are changes of pace and plenty of moments to catch waning ears, but there’s an easy-going sense of purpose that helps tie things all together. Each member finds moments to shine, but never at the cost of pulling the sound too far in one direction. The band even manages to save one final fastball for closing track, “The Fire is Cold”, unleashing ripping guitar riffs and spastic screaming from Buckley, feeling like one final burst of artistic energy that has pent up over the past nine years.

Since its inception, The Damned Things has been a project full of the kind of potential that could conceivably go toe-to-toe with the legacies of the parts that made it. Unfortunately, super groups often suffer from that very trap, never living up to the expectations that come naturally with so many household names. High Crimes may not sit on the same shelf as some of the best releases from Every Time I Die, Anthrax or Fall Out Boy, but it sure as hell works as the kind of rock record that feels fresh in 2019, which is truly no small feat.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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