Album Review: Justice For The Damned - 'Dragged Through The Dirt'

7 August 2017 | 4:13 pm | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

Justice, now and forever.

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For our Invasion Fest 2016 review, former writer Nick Dominko said of Justice For The Damned's set-of-the-day that "whenever JFTD drop a full-length album, it is going to be a massive deal for the hardcore scene in this country". Oh, Nicky boy, if you only knew how right you were with those words, my friend. For with their much-anticipated debut LP, 'Dragged Through The Dirt', Justice For The Damned have not only lived up to the local scene's lofty hype placed upon them, but they've crushed every single inch of it beneath an incredibly aggressive wall-of-sound.

Throughout the 40 or so minute runtime of 'Dragged Through The Dirt', JFTD do just that to any and all listeners that pass through the HM-2 built gates of their long-awaited record. Across this pummeling full-length, the Sydney quintet drags you kicking and screaming through a brutal muck of filthy guitars, crippling emotional lows, tortured lyrics, and unrelenting hardcore that continually pushes you deeper and deeper into the proverbial dirt. Once more capturing the gritty aesthetic and bleak sound that made 'Deep Rotting Fear' such a standout tune, and in working with Ocean Grove's Sam Bassal (instead of the perhaps obvious choice of Converge's Kurt Ballou), this NSW five-piece has delivered an album that lays waste to much of their peers and competition. Both here in Australia and abroad.

From the grid-rigid, chaotic drumming to the chainsaw, scooped-mid riffage of the guitars that sound like they're at their sheer breaking point due to how much bloody distortion has been soaked into them; from the band's genuinely impactful and well-placed breakdowns to frontman Bobak Rafiee's distorted, buzzing screams and savage pit calls - 'Dragged Through The Dirt' isn't here to fuck spiders.

The quintet's instrumentals and vocals swing hard like a ten-tonne hammer and the lyrics strike just as hard and just as painfully deep. The 11-track release takes zero prisoners in its gloriously heavy process of grinding from song to song, all of which are well instrumentally balanced pieces whose production is fittingly raw and abrasive in its "messy" sonic makeup. While some may consider the sonics of this record near-unlistenable, toneless, or lacking in clarity (which wouldn't be totally inaccurate to be fair), it's a sonic dressing that presents Justice's sound at its purest and most vehement form possible. As the sound and tone of 'Dragged Through The Dirt' just wouldn't work as well if Bassal had approached it like he would an Ocean Grove record, or if there was instead a Will Putney-like shine to this mix.

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[caption id="attachment_1093450" align="alignnone" width="760"]Justice, 2k17. Justice For The Damned, 2k17.[/caption]

Now, as you can probably guess, 'Dragged Through The Dirt' isn't a diverse nor contrast-heavy listening experience.

The only moments of reprieve one receives are: the darkened, dual melodic guitars in the first half of the Biblically mammoth 'Beyond The Pale', the rise and fall ambient effects at the end of early game stand out 'Demon', the random electronic drum/trap section at the end of 'It Will Always Be My Fault' (it's only on the album version as an FYI), the odd-little piano track that is 'For Your Eyes Only' (performed by guitarist Nathan Kershaw), and the quiet lull of the non-distorted guitars and creeping ambience that wraps up album closer, 'Bearing The Crown Of Lies'. Yet I'd argue that this record's lack of musical variety is exactly why it's just so fuckin' solid and consistent, as up until 'For Your Eyes Only', you've got eight balls-to-the-walls bangers. Your new gym playlist, these songs surely are! And even with these brief retreats into shelter from the fuzzy sonic violence, Justice's music does operate at its strongest when the band are driving full-throttle through their immense hardcore sandstorm and I know that the band knows this.

Besides, if you're coming to a record like 'Dragged Through The Dirt' looking for vast instrumental and melodic variation, then I must say that you've done fucked up, son, and I award you no points.

I also think that Justice is keenly aware of which songs in their repertoire are the go-to cuts, as the album's pre-release single history hints at. What with the blistering, blackened tale of domestic abuse that is the harrowing 'Please Don't Leave Me', the menacing breakdown riffs and Kublai Khan-beatdown worship in the self-loathing centred 'It Will Always Be My Fault', as well as the blasting, groovy bleakness of the emotionally betrayed 'No Flowers On Your Grave'. (The latter of which also features a sick back-and-forth guest vocal spot from Cursed Earth's Jazmine Luders, which would be a truly epic sight to see live. God, could you even imagine how awesome a co-headline tour featuring Justice and Cursed would be?!). These three singles were and still are terrific tracks that are indicative of this almighty record's overall quality.

Outside of that damn fine trio, I have my own personal favourites, namely that of the short and vile title track, as well as the upper-tier duo of 'Demon' and 'Agony'. Seriously the former's unrelenting, hectic pace and it's short yet wicked pit call of "I have been slipping through the cracks" and the latter's bouncy madness and solid guest feature from Kublai Khan's own Matt Honeycutt get me each and every time I swing by for a captivating listen. Many close friends of mine will tell you that I don't pit at all these days but Jesus H. Christ, tracks like 'Demon' and 'Agony' make me want to come out of mosh retirement early!

However, for just how goddamn impressive this record is, the final two songs, 'Lilac' and 'Bearing The Crown Of Lies', are actually two of its weaker songs I feel. Now, don't go out and misquote me like a dingleberry; this pair are not bad songs - not at all. They're fine, but after the brutal metallic hardcore roller coaster of unforgettable moments you experience up until these two arrive, the overall thrill and impact is somewhat lessened as the band retreads the start of the record in familiar yet simpler forms. As for the latter, more-metalcore-inclined song, I think that mainly comes down to it merely being a re-recording of an older Justice song of the same name (suss the older, inferior version here). But with the band digging, back up 'Bearing The Crown Of Lies', giving it a new lick of paint, and adding in a more spacious and melodic outro, they still haven't quite fixed or ironed out how abrupt this song's finale is. However! Even if the final pair of tracks don't hit you in the same way that their prior siblings do, much like myself, just know that 'Dragged Through The Dirt' is still one of the better heavy records you'll hear from an Australian band in 2017.

Out of the six Greyscale Records releases that the Aussie label has put thus far, my personal favourite is still Belle Haven's 'You, Me, & Everything In Between'. - an album that I love dearly and will be one of my favourite releases of 2017 by far come the end of this year. But sweet merciful shit, Justice For The Damned have come goddamned close to topping that aforementioned release with their hype-killing debut LP, 'Dragged Through The Dirt'. And I do not say that lightly. Looking back on the 'Blacklisted' days of their lifespan, Justice have made real, noticeable strides as a band, namely in cultivating their impactful songwriting and creating a far more streamlined song flow that cuts away the filler. Yet what's truly awesome and exciting about this group and their no-bullshit album is that they're still such a young band, meaning that the sky really is the fucking limit from here on in. In short, 'Dragged Through The Dirt' is a depressive, scathing, brutal, and at times emotionally unpleasant record, but it's one you need to hear nonetheless.

Today, Australia. Tomorrow, the world.

Just you watch.

1. Dragged Through The Dirt

2. Please Don't Leave

3. Those Eyes

4. Demon

5. No Flowers On Your Grave

6. Beyond The Pale

7. It Always Will Be My Fault

8. Agony

9. For Your Eyes Only

10. Lilac

11. Bearing The Crown Of Lies

‘Dragged Through The Dirt’ is out Friday, August 11th via Greyscale Records. Get whatever pre-order bundles haven't been gobbled up yet over here. You can also read my recent interview with JFTD guitarist/songwriter Nick Adams right here.