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.

Review: Blink-182 – California

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Blink-182 has long been an institution of music. The burden of reinventing themselves to reassure fans who have been through a decade of drama and disappointment is a heavy one. California is not a new Enema of the State, but it adds something that hasn’t seemed to be in their recordings for quite some time: they sound like they want to be there.

California is a fun record. There are no “First Date” or “The Rock Show” mega-anthems, and there shouldn’t be. What could have been a disaster of replacing a primary songwriter after 20 years, Matt Skiba is still getting his footing to live up to a band that, essentially, brought pop punk and skatepunk to the mainstream.

California is not a serious record, a notion we get straight out of the gate during “Cynical”. After a meaningful message of Mark Hoppus addressing everyone who questioned moving on without Tom, (“There’s a cynical feeling saying I should give up / You said everything you’ll ever say”), just as the guitars take off and a massive drum solo from Travis Barker rages, the music pauses ever so slightly for someone to make an irritated noise as though they just messed up the song during recording to start over.

That is what differentiates California from what Blink-182 had become – it’s not trying to be something it’s not. It’s simple, it’s loud and it will have you attempting to sing along on the first listen. Mark Hoppus and Matt Skiba’s call and return vocals, and the trade off of verses is seamless. Barker’s drumming phenomenal. Per usual, Hoppus’ bass lines are crisp, deliberate and deep.

Skiba, taking the reigns for guitar, weaves himself into the worthy successor we’d have hoped for. The riffs are light and pop perfectly. He understands what Blink-182 sounds like and differentiates that style of songwriting so that, for the most part, it doesn’t sound like it was pulled from an Alkaline Trio record (the one exception arguably being “Los Angeles”). Some of the guitar riffs sound like they could have been written by Tom at any point (“The Only Thing That Matters”), which seems like more of a tip of respect than ripping off an idea.

As the second singer, Skiba is terrific. His vocals seem a bit higher and pronounced that they do with Alkaline Trio, and at certain pitches, he sounds like Tom. More often than not though, his deeper pitch blends eerily with Mark Hoppus and creates a rich harmony, occasionally accented by Skiba’s whimper between notes.

The trio experiments lightly on songs like “Los Angeles”, relying on Barker’s drumming and a shaky guitar to produce a song that has light R&B flavors and drops into a dark rock chorus. This is the one song that sounds like it could have been an Alkaline Trio song before exploding completely into a bridge that is pure Blink-182 under Hoppus’ vocals.

Some of the more somber notes and spacey synth (“Left Alone”) feel like an homage to Tom, and sound like something he would have written himself. “Bored to Death” already feels like a staple for the band, and if you haven’t heard it already, it has already lauded itself as the most successful single for the band since “Miss You”. The temperament between soft verses to a loud chorus and sweeping backing vocals is fantastic work of cooperation between each band member.

For the most part though, California is a collection of good-to-fantastic pop punk songs that fit perfectly in-sync with the rest of their discography. “Teenage Satellites” is a fast jam with a soaring chorus and is perhaps the song that best focuses solely on Matt Skiba. It’s fun, romantic and demands to be sung aloud. “Kings of the Weekend” charges in a slow build before throwing itself headlong into the chorus, celebrating punk rock music as the savior to boring nights.

“She’s Out of Her Mind” might be the most ‘classic’ song on the album, as it sounds like a spiritual successor to “The Rock Show” in its build up, punctuated chorus and raging guitar. Each element is perfectly written to stay stuck in your head for-fucking-ever.

On my first listen, there were a few songs that I thought could have been pruned or worked on a bit more to make the album flow a bit better, but after listening to it a few times, I’m happy for everything that is on it. Fans who enjoyed any part of Blink-182’s career will find something on here to satisfy them. Though I love the joke songs (“Built This Pool”, “Brohemian Rhapsody”), they don’t flow as well with the larger picture the way that “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” did.

If there is one critique of the album that I have, it is that Skiba and Hoppus sound identical at times. I took me several listens to be able to differentiate them from time to time from certain songs (“Bored to Death”, “Sober”) but it may just be me writing when I should be paying attention. Mark Hoppus has always been my favorite member of the Blink team, but the lack of high pitch vocals made me realize how much I missed Tom’s voice. When Skiba hits the higher notes, it makes it all the more pronounced. That said. I wish that Skiba got more solo songs with Hoppus taking backing vocals.

California is a welcome return to form for a band that has seemed lost for a years. Without the infighting and drama, this is easily the best work Blink-182 have put out in over a decade. It’s cohesive, memorable in an instant, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a reminder of how damn much I’ve missed  Blink-182 at the highlight of their career. It is the reason why the band has refused to give up, but why we as fans have clamored for more releases for years. California is the sound of a band rediscovering itself, and the promise of what the future holds for a group that most believed were trapped in the past.

To new beginnings.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and got into pop punk because of Blink-182. He has spun Enema of the State more times than he’s told his mother he loves her.

Most Anticipated of 2016: #1 The Rebirth of Blink-182

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The Rock Show

This has been the talk of the pop punk world for over a year at this point. We’ve heard rumors of a new Blink-182 record almost every year for half a decade, with only one LP and an EP to show for it. But this is a new Blink-182, and they’re just as anxious as we are.

It actually feels like it’s happening this time. Ever since the departure of Tom DeLonge last year and the addition of Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba as guitarist, the band has been active and vocal, with updates every couple of months in regards to songwriting for the new album. It’s been way too long since we’ve heard anything from Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, and from the interviews over the last year, they sound more energized and enthusiastic about what comes next for Blink than they have for years.

It really is impossible to know what to expect from this new form of Blink-182. Will it be the polished, mature and artsy pop punk of the last few albums? Will it be a return of the ungodly catchy skate punk and dick jokes that launched the pop punk age of the early 2000s? Or will it be something else entirely, since we’re dealing with a new Blink-182?

The only thing standing in the way is expectation. New Blink-182 music has been perched high among the most anticipated lists every year since 2009, with very little to show for it. Blink-182 is beloved. Fans have had their hopes raised before only to be disappointed. But this time, we know it’s on the way. This is arguably the most anticipated pop punk event of the decade, and there are many, many ways that it won’t live up to the expectations thrust upon it (Neighborhoods, anyone?).

But we haven’t seen Blink-182 this excited to be making music since Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker are excited. Matt Skiba is excited. And each musician has very, very rarely put out anything disappointing, regardless of project.

Whatever the outcome, this does feel like the year of Blink-182’s rebirth. With a new album, a tour is undoubtedly to follow, hopefully carrying the same energy required to put the album together. With the tumultuous path Blink-182 has tread over the last decade, seeing the trio with a newfound spirit is sure to the biggest event in punk rock this year.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and was introduced to pop punk by Blink-182. No matter what, new Blink-182 is a much needed prospect.