It doesn’t seem all that strange or out of the ordinary that The Damned Things haven’t released anything since 2010. As much as many would like to believe that these vaunted supergroups are going to be keeping pace in tandem with each member’s main project, that’s not a viable expectation to have in the slightest, especially when those other bands are already huge names in their own right. It’s always been the reason why any discourse surrounding Them Crooked Vultures releasing new music has always felt enormously misguided; sure, that album mightn’t have been great, but in a band comprised of Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones, they can hardly just churn out something else on the fly. Of course, The Damned Things don’t quite have that level of influence and ubiquity within rock, but the same still applies, especially when Every Time I Die are still riding high, Fall Out Boy are arguably bigger than they’ve ever been, and Anthrax are continually riding off their legend status to this day. But while The Damned Things not releasing music before now doesn’t come as that much of a surprise, the fact that they’re going for it now is a bit more unexpected, not to mention recruiting Alkaline Trio’s Dan Andriano on bass to make their particular supergroup tag even more super. And given that the lead singles have hinted that they’ve barely missed a beat despite not regrouping in almost a decade, High Crimes being a ‘lightning strikes twice’ moment would be the most perfect way possible for The Damned Things to reintroduce themselves.
But that’s not quite the case here. Whether purposefully done or the product of unfortunate coincidence, High Crimes definitely feels more like a side project than Ironiclast, sanding back the heaviest metal edges from that album and generally feeling looser and lighter in execution. And while that would be extremely disappointing in most other cases, here, that’s not really the case, mostly because, at the end of the day, The Damned Things is a side project. It’s not like those nine years have been spent slaving away on this album, and for what was only intended as an EP in the first place, High Crimes is a perfectly serviceable rock album that, for everything that The Damned Things want from it, hits those marks perfectly well.
For some, however, that still won’t be enough, and to be as balanced as possible, it’s easy to see where those gripes would lie. In general, southern rock has definitely taken a prime spot in the mix over metal, and while the primal thrill of a teeth-rattling guitar tone is definitely missed, High Crimes at its best knows how to channel a lean, mean swagger that, with Keith Buckley at the helm, sounds like the most natural thing in the world. Cells is the clearest reference point with its big boogie-rock swing leading into Joe Trohman’s rubbery guitar flourishes, but the handclaps and cowbell on Something Good and the scrappier, almost punk-flavoured thrashing of The Fire Is Cold highlight just how much having fun is the primary motive. There are definitely moments that could benefit from something a bit heavier like the mid-paced chugs of Invincible and Omen (though even that probably wouldn’t be enough to save the leaden Storm Charmer from being some serious dead weight), but for the most part, High Crimes is efficient enough at producing high-octane hard rock that it’s generally hard to complain.
What’s also a nice touch is that this doesn’t feel like a throwaway endeavour either. It mightn’t offer that much lyrically, but there’s a certain calibre of musicianship that, with a lineup as stacked as this, one would come to expect, and that pays off rather well. There’s a definite malleability to tracks like Carry A Brick and Young Hearts that provides a welcome shift from more rote hard rock tropes, though it feels firm enough to make for a snappy enough listen regardless. When this album wants to hit hard, it aims with pinpoint precision, giving Scott Ian the room to allow his riffs to snarl, and Andriano the opportunity to lay down a firm foundation in his bass work. Tracks like Cells and Something Good make fantastic use of their tightness, and even if a bit more crunch wouldn’t go amiss, it’s a testament to The Damned Things’ overall synergy that they can launch straight into even just a handful of unreservedly great songs after so long away.
And that’s arguably where High Crimes finds its strongest footing. It mightn’t totally live up to either The Damned Things’ pedigree or their past material, but when that’s divorced from the actual output, there’s plenty here to dive into and enjoy. It’s definitely simple, but that’s ultimately used to its advantage, and when funnelled through a hard rock lens that has a good sense of fun and excitement, High Crimes definitely sticks the landing more than it doesn’t. Go in with expectations that aren’t based around who’s in the band, what they’ve previously done or what’s expected to come after nine years, and this can be an absolute riot.
For fans of: Every Time I Die, Cancer Bats, He Is Legend
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘High Crimes’ by The Damned Things is out now on Nuclear Blast Records.