Review Summary: Expectations be damned: Ironiclast is an ambitious record from a group of talented and remarkably multi-faceted musicians.
The concept of a music supergroup has always intrigued me. It’s a surreal moment seeing bands or artists from completely different backgrounds come together into one new entity. A Perfect Circle, Audioslave, and Mad Season have been some of my favorites, but The Damned Things have one of the most eclectic collections of musicians that I’ve ever seen. Merging the hook-laden choruses of Fall Out Boy’s Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley, the intricate thrash lines of Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano, and the groove metal works of Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley and Josh Newton, The Damned Things are a solid concoction. It seems like every one of the members are stepping outside their comfort zones on their debut album, but the end result is a riff-driven, groovetastic taste of metal that just feels and sounds new.
The first three songs on the aptly titled Ironiclast are practically bathing in adrenaline. They’re fast-paced insanity that seems perfectly appropriate for rolling down the car window and driving. “Handbook for the Recently Deceased,” has one of the most impacting guitar riffs on the album, which makes it even more shocking as the opener. With lyrics like “the chaos will calm us down,” Buckley’s vocals are a fine line between bellow and clean singing, but it’s hard to divert your attention from the song when the guitar line is so ruggedly solid.
“Bad Blood” is a headbanger’s bluesy dream-come-true. It’s heavy, intense, and quite possibly the best song on the album. The tempo is pure beat, courtesy of Hurley’s great drumming, and the guitars are fist-to-face power. Even the bridge to the chorus is ascendant, finalizing into the band at their absolute peak. If you’re still skeptical about the band members’ diverse origins, or you think that they wouldn’t work together well, “Bad Blood” will kick that thought out the window. Anthemic and perfectly paced, it’s one great reason to check out Ironiclast.
“Friday Night (Going Down in Flames)” is fast and shows the Anthrax crew’s skills at rapid tempo minus true thrash. At its core, it’s a party song that’s perfectly for bobbing your head or dancing to. It’s kind of weird thinking of any of the band members making a full on dance rock track, but I couldn’t help but start grooving a little to this one…okay, grooving a lot.
“We’ve Got a Situation Here” is the first single from The Damned Things. The song has plenty of left turns throughout, starting off with a groove-laden opening that explodes into a revving verse, with Buckley sounding a bit cleaner in the vocals than heard in his main band, Every Time I Die. The song is all about surprises, changing up the keys and tempos fluidly, but unexpectedly. The finishing guitar solo feels germane in the best ways, completing a great way to show the band to the radio-drawn masses. “Black Heart” mixes up the tempo frequently, but has a good amount of hooks throughout, especially in the chorus. It’s not as definitive as other songs, but it’s worth listening to again, at least in between other tracks.
Once the album cracks the halfway mark, it starts to feel a small bit stale. “A Great Reckoning” does have a good blues groove going, but an almost ballad-like chorus feels misplaced on Ironiclast. Straddling the line between an uplifter and a heavy hitter, it just doesn’t feel appropriate after such intense songs that occur in the first half of Ironiclast. Fortunately, “Little Darling” is one of the best songs on the album. A powerful mix of fast-paced bluesy singing from Buckley and a nice tempo riff from guitarists Trohman, Caggiano, and Ian, “Little Darling” is single-worthy, quality metal that really distinguishing itself from many of the adrenaline-pumping rock songs on Ironiclast. The balance is struck so perfectly in “Little Darling,” that the next song “Ironiclast” is bound to feel a bit stripped-down. Hurley’s drum opener sets a solid pace, but the metal grind of the guitars and bass make “Ironiclast” feel more like an Every Time I Die song instead of an eclectic mixture from all of the band members. It’s not the best, but the title track is a good and heavy one. “Graverobber” is a pounding metal cruncher that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. There’s much less groove here outside of Buckley’s vocals, but it has such a heavy, punching vibe that it’s distinctive at the very least.
So much for being subtle, guys, with the blues influence with the closer “The Blues Havin’ Blues.” The last song is full-on blues groove. The Zeppelin trappings are alive here, but the solos are just plain amazing. Buckley’s vocals do feel like the least bluesy element in the song, but the chorus is a unique blend of uplifting vocal tunes and a rising kicker of a guitar line. “I can’t live without the blues,” calls Buckley during the song, and if anything, The Damned Things’ love for Zeppelin-esque grooves is fully alive in “The Blues Havin’ Blues.” It’s a great closer, redeeming the rather stale “Graverobber.”
I had no idea that these guys from obviously different musical backgrounds could merge together so well, but rest assured that The Damned Things are one of the best supergroups to come out in years. Accelerating and refining older tropes from legacy rock while adding just enough elements from their respective acts, The Damned Things have made an album that really can’t be solely placed in “blues,” “alternative rock,” or “heavy metal.” There are so many amazing and definitive pieces brought together in Ironiclast that the only way I can describe the album succinctly is that it is good rock. Damn good rock.