Published Apr 23, 2019As excitement builds for the release of their second album, High Crimes, it's easy to forget that for heavy super group the Damned Things — comprised of members of Fall Out Boy, Anthrax, Every Time I Die and Alkaline Trio — there almost wasn't a second album.
"I didn't really know; I think everything was left open ended," explains Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman in an Exclaim! interview. "I thought if it ever happened, it would happen somehow out of some sort of kismet."
It seemed unlikely.
The band enjoyed a sporadic but successful run after forming in 2009, when Trohman began meeting with thrash metal icon Scott Ian (Anthrax) and wrote, then recorded, debut album Ironiclast with Andy Hurley (Fall Out Boy), Rob Caggiano (Anthrax) and Every Time I Die's Keith Buckley and Josh Newton. Within a year, the band were in full swing, headlining shows, performing at Download Festival and releasing Ironiclast in 2010, but when the Damned Things ultimately disbanded in 2012, given each member's underlying commitment to their respective group, it was unclear whether or not the group would ever reunite.
"I knew that [the return] was going to have to be a different incarnation of it. As it was when it ended, I would not personally do again," asserts frontman Keith Buckley. "But conditions changed and things sort of aligned."
The Damned Things announced their return in February of 2019, unveiling a slightly different line-up. Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio was added to the band in lieu of Josh Newton, and the departure of Rob Caggiano left the band with two guitarists. The group dropped a new single, offered some detail regarding High Crimes, and announced a supporting tour across the United States.
The whole thing took many fans by surprise.
Since the band's initial conclusion, Buckley published two novels, got married, and had a daughter, all while remaining consistently active with Every Time I Die — a band notorious for its unrelenting touring schedule.
"I was panic-stricken about it at first and I realized that all those old panic attacks I used to have whenever the schedules would conflict were about to happen again," admits Buckley. "It sounds terrible to say, but when you don't have a child and you're just married or you just have a girlfriend, you take every tour you can because you're both adults and you have to understand that's how this world sort of works. You need to make money and pay the bills. But when you have a child, you can't just get in the van anymore."
Despite being as busy as ever, each of the musicians made time for the Damned Things, suggesting the band's creative significance to its members.
"It's nice to be in a band where the guitar is much more front and centre. I think with Fall Out Boy, because we've crossed over into radio, a lot of pop-style stuff is expected from us and guitars sort of, unfortunately, take a back seat," acknowledges Trohman.
"When I sit down to write the Damned Things stuff, the first thing I think about is melody, which is completely the opposite for Every Time I Die," adds Buckley, who's well known for his idiosyncratic screams. "It definitely scratches that creative itch, and Every Time I Die fans are probably thankful for that too, because I'm not shoehorning in anything to prove that I have a singing voice."
With a unified interest, the Damned Things rematerialized, but the approach was considerably different this time around given each member's jam-packed schedule. While Ironiclast was the product of classic rock'n'roll jam sessions — a fact very much reflected in the final product — Trohman, the band's primary songwriter, says High Crimes was largely written at the computer, bouncing ideas back and forth over email.
"With Ironiclast, I think some of the best songs on that record were formed by jamming out in a rehearsal space in Chicago… but what can you do when everyone is across the country? I have a studio at home, [so] I enjoy the process of writing and recording and mapping out the songs that way."
The more modern approach to writing and recording High Crimes had a distinct influence on the album sonically, resulting in a much more nuanced sound. High Crimes is distinctly the Damned Things; as far as Keith Buckley is concerned, it's more memorable.
"Going back and forth made us consider the timelessness of it a little more. We were a little less prone to being too carried away by the immediate mood that we were in. We had more time to think about it and piece together songs that will hopefully last a little longer in people's brains than just a quick burst of energy and then gone, we lose the connection to them."
High Crimes covers the full spectrum of rock'n'roll, including elements reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, Black Flag and, of course, Fall Out Boy. But instead of sounding like an homage to rock or a rehash of other bands, the result is surprisingly fresh and distinct.
Typically, when a band returns from a prolonged hiatus, their return feels nostalgic; in contrast, this new rendition of the Damned Things sounds and feels very much like a contemporized version of its former self. The group of grizzled veterans has never sounded so young and vital.
High Crimes is out April 26 courtesy of Nuclear Blast Records.