The debut album of The Damned Things, Ironiclast, came seemingly out of left-field in December of 2010. A hard-rock album with a hefty blues influence that included instrumental backing from members of Fall Out Boy (Joe Trohman & Andy Hurley), Anthrax (Scott Ian), ex-Anthrax (Rob Caggiano, currently of Volbeat) and From Autumn to Ashes (Josh Newton, ex-Every Time I Die) topped off with vocals from Keith Buckley, also of Every Time I Die. It sounds absurd writing it all down, but in practice they produced a phenomenal debut album. The supergroup did some touring through 2011 into 2012 and then for years radio silence followed. As of 2019, the group is back minus Rob Caggiano and Josh Newton, but having added a member of Alkaline Trio, Dan Andriano. With this new addition comes their 2nd full-length album High Crimes, which is laid before us, begging to be investigated.
Ironiclast was an album that effectively combined the backgrounds of each member into a tight package with crossover appeal for days. It accomplished its mission to bring the diverse musical backgrounds of the musicians it contains under one banner. High Crimes is the perfect follow-up because it sees the band digging in and showing us who they are as a group, rather than having us look at the music as the sum of each individual contributor. It’s a bit more playful and willing to experiment, peppering in effects, synthesizers and the occasional cheer about friends going to hell. Everything that was present on the debut album is still here, it’s just been passed down to the younger brother who has a mischievous streak running through them.
These new additions are truthfully just the icing on the delicious, well-crafted hard rock cake. As enjoyable as the cheering is on “Something Good”, it would be nothing without the solid foundation of a kick-ass song. To be plain and simple: these guys know how to write infectious, interesting songs that are a pleasure to listen to. They’ll be toying with punk speed and energy one moment on “Carry a Brick”, move to the haunted, blues-y and synthed out swagger of “Storm Charmer” then end up locked into the emotional groove of the transcendent “Keep Crawling” without batting an eye. The variety is outstanding and welcome, but those elements don’t carry the music by any means. Few things can beat a tight band writing and operating effectively as a unit and that’s all that The Damned Things seem to know how to do.
The only area where High Crimes seemingly falls short is in the way the music is presented. Ironiclast had a sound that was clear, yet gritty that saw everything reaching out to grab you. This album has a grit and grime to it that ultimately flattens the impact of the music. The songs are still fantastic of course and at times the sound works to pronounce some of the new elements, it just doesn’t excel as a blanket sound for the record. Thankfully this is more of a minor gripe than a major setback for the material.
Ultimately, the eight year wait between albums has paid off. There are a lot of bands that make hard rock, but no band does it quite like The Damned Things. The musicianship and writing skills are unique, engaging and virtually unmatched in a field where it is beyond easy to just have a cookie cutter, crowd-pleasing sound that can sell festival tickets. The fact that they’ve added new elements to their sound makes them even more dangerous. With a return rate of this magnitude and quality, these high crimes are worth committing.