Album Review: Justice For The Damned - 'Pain Is Power'

11 June 2020 | 8:36 pm | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

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Justice For The Damned's second album, 'Pain Is Power,' is about precisely what that very title states. Taking something painful, negative, or traumatic and turning it into something powerful, meaningful and positive. Don't be fooled by the excessively angry-as-fuck ten songs found on this new LP or the stupidly heavy songwriting in of itself, there's a silver lining to be had. This is deeply personal, slightly political, and even philosophical stuff.

That "power" can manifest in different ways from a variety of different sources of "pain." Perhaps it's something personal or self-inflicted that you learn from and use as a point of growth in bettering yourself. Maybe it's about removing a toxic person from your life, dealing with their bullshit no more, or no longer being able to stand by a family member when that individual has pushed everyone else away. It could come from the the nebulous teetering brink that our world sits upon or the gross abuses of authority at the expense of the disadvantaged - in all twisted forms - that occur today and have been happening for far too long. Those are but some examples lifted from the meaning of certain songs on 'Pain Is Power,' but whatever it is that applies to you, this album is about taking suffering, turning it inside out, and creating something substantive. Something no longer destructive.

In presenting such a message - that what you choose to do after the shit hits the fans is just as important as that original blow dealt - Justice For The Damned stick firm and true to their new albums ethos. As 'Pain Is Power' sees the Sydney hardcore/metal outfit pinpointing difficult and trying times of their lives and that of the world around them. In doing so, the five-piece funnels all of that frustration, loathing and pain into an indeed powerful, savage-sounding and breakdown-laden album that smacks you over head around for half an hour or so. Ultimately making for a record, that whilst not their greatest work, will undoubtedly push them to that next level of profile within heavy music. In Australia and worldwide.

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One of the most noticeable differences between 'Pain Is Power' and their debut LP, 'Dragged Through The Dirt' (2017), is the production and the mix. That first album sounded like you were being attacked by an angry swarm of bees while a Nails cover band with too many HM-2 pedals watched on in horror but continued to play nonetheless. And it was sick. Personally, I had zero issues with the sonic character of that record, as it fit perfectly with the kind of emotional, disorientating and intense metallic hardcore the band was writing and performing. Produced by Ocean Grove’s Sam Bassal, it all fit the themes and the lyricism of the songs, and vice versa. Though I could also see how some people may have found it too noisy and lacking in definition; that's not unfair to say. On 'Pain Is Power,' though, Justice have never sounded as big, as clear or as polished. Thanks to engineer Will Putney, Justice have transitioned from their hardcore youths and into metal adulthood, with what is their heaviest and cleanest offering so far.

In a similar sense, this clearer and smoother-sounding version of Justice runs from all of the instrumentals and to the tone and projection of frontman, Bobak Rafiee. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the guy has really worked on his vocal technique and 'Pain Is Power' is a great example of his voice's growth. This motherfucker is spitting, or whatever the hell Zoomers are saying now. Not only that, but the rest of the band have also stepped up in the performance department. Everything is much tighter, and that's been increasingly clear over the last year and a bit as the band has performed live at Download Festival and Invasion Fest (for the umpteenth time) and toured beyond Australian borders.

Now, if Justice For The Damned were seen as a hardcore band before, then they're now a metal band with this sophomore LP. As the songwriting is a lot of metallic hardcore, some metalcore, a couple drops of death metal, and a smidgen of black metal all cooked together. To some, that means jack shit (fair), and to others, that means everything about what and where JFTD are pulling from on this impressive second LP. Songs like the demonic 'Final Cataclysm,' 'A Crimson Painting,' and the ferocious 'Machine Of War,' as just three examples, put all of this on intimidating display. The kind of growth that makes their future all the more exciting.

One key criticism I do have regarding 'Pain Is Power' is that there's nothing present on JFTD's second album that quite bests or stands with their finest songs, with maybe the exception of 'Final Cataclysm.' Judging a record on what it's not is poor form, I know, but if you look at each new record from a band in its own little bubble, then of course it's going to be the best thing since the last best thing that you singularly judged within it's own little bubble. Ya feel me? So when I step back from 'Pain Is Power,' as solid as it is, there aren't any songs here on par with some of the band's finest works: 'Please Don't Leave Me,' 'It'll Always Be My Fault,'2019's phenomenally ferocious and blackened 'No Brother, No Friend', or old fan-favourite, 'Deep Rotting Fear.' Don't misunderstand, there's definitely some killer highlights here - 'Machine of War,' the aforementioned 'Final Cataclysm,' 'The House You Built Is Burning' - but we've also received better from the band. (If you think that means I suddenly dislike 'Pain Is Power,' get a grip.)

Elsewhere, let's talk about the karmic opener 'Guidance From The Pain.' Out of the ten songs that Justice having sitting in this album's strong arsenal, this opening fighter is the rustiest of the lot. Other than those awesome "you were one of the few" mosh parts, the song doesn't really go anywhere. It features Matt Honeycutt from Kublai Khan TX, the second time that he's featured on a JFTD track now. (The first being the kick-ass 'Agony' from their first LP; Matt's part starts at 1:08.) I'm not sure if there wasn't enough time on Matt's or the band's end, if schedules didn't align, or if this short-lived guest feature as it came out is what all parties involved were happy with it, but his addition does nothing for the song. Matt just gets two lines. Two fuckin' lines: "Snake, this is the price you have to pay. This is karma, and payback’s a fuckin’ bitch." Which feels like a real waste of his talents given how that vocalist and this band have worked together in the past. After 'Guidance From The Pain,' however, it's all gravy band! I mean, nine good songs and one meh song is still a pretty decent KD ratio.

Right away, there's the second song from which this album shares its name. As I was getting at before, 'Pain Is Power' is exactly what is says: pain turned into sheer power, musically rolled into a crushing, buzzing hardcore-metal track with breakdowns that could end the world if the band's not careful. Now, after all my talk of it, we get to the deadly, apocalyptic-themed 'Final Cataclysm,' which is so apt in what it shares about the end of days. As it very well sounds like the mouth of Hell has breached our world, yet there's no Doom Slayer around to quell the hordes. This insane track rests your neck down on the chopping block, before using a flurry of chain-sawing riffs and frenetic drum-work to bring a Justice-branded blade straight through your exposed skin. Over a slower groove and buzzing, distorted bass-lines, Joe Badolato from Fit For An Autopsy suddenly jumps in, lending his hulking coarse screams to the chaotic fray, helping wrap up this mighty tune  with what is hands down the album's greatest moment.

Martyrdom and iconoclasm are positioned at the forefront of 'No Peace At The Feet Of Your Master,' a tear-it-all-down resistance hardcore piece that is extremely timely. The two-step parts early on and its final, amp-cracking "I will bring you down to your knees" breakdown alone could topple any slave owner's statue. (Priorities, people: don't whinge about statues erected to the cunts of old now being taken down. Let's put them in a museum, educate people on why such people from history don't deserve such monuments, and replace them with a memorial to the very cultures and people that they destroyed.)

While 'No Peace At The Feet Of Your Master' was written over a year ago, as the band recently mentioned, the Black Lives Matter protests we're seeing around the world currently fight the injustices happening to minorities and Indigenous communities globally. Those that happened for so many decades, and those that will tragically continue to occur unless our first world's nations deep racial biases, housing and social inequality, and the methods used by police are all seriously addressed and re-structured to properly aid and serve everyone. This song is for them and it's one hell of a powerful statement.

Barely passing two-minutes on the clock, 'The House You Built Is Burning' caves your head in with its impossible heaviness; from the the titular pit-call halfway through, the discordant and typical metalcore panicked breakdown that follows, and the closing, slower groove section that is just pure violence. It's a stand-offish song for very real stand-offs with those we are tied to but who we can no longer support. Likewise, I imagine that the blast-beast-fuelled and blackened stomper that is 'Machine Of War' is as desolate and harrowing as a ruined battlefield would be; all seemingly a metaphor for people's corrosive behaviour and war-like inter-personal attitudes and how that deeply affects those around them. Truly, the wicked riffs in this bad boy that land like artillery fire from guitarists Kieran Molloy and Nick Adams when the song fully kicks in at 0:38 sound like a JFTD musical war zone. Once you reach the end of this fierce sixth song, as Ben Mirfin lays down a grumbling bass riff, as building drum hits prepare for the next charge, and as sirens wail in the distance, the band unleash a breakdown blitzkrieg. It's tough, fearsome stuff, making an already in-your-face track all the more confronting.

'A Crimson Painting' once again taps into this band's loving mixture of death metal, black metal and hardcore, discussing therapy and loneliness, and the very real sickness of the world around us. As seen through our phones and devices. Instrumentally, this is the band "seeing red" in a sense - going right for the throat - as 'A Crimson Painting' spits musical and lyrical venom from start to end. It's a very typical Justice song by it's design and nature, but I'll be damned if it ain't some solid heavy fun!

With the ride-bell punishment that drummer Chas Levi unleashes during 'Sinking Into The Floor,' I feel sorry for his drum kit and how hard he slams that fucker on this record. (The giant drum tone over the course of these ten songs is hard to overlook, too.) Now would also be a great time to mention just how much Chas pushes these songs forward. His drumming doesn't redefine what we know and hear from this kind of hardcore and metal, but it never needed to. As he's doing what all good drummers should: anchoring the song, moving it forward, and playing for each and every track. From the hardcore punk double-time parts, the slow half-time breakdowns, his cymbal placements, the sick little tom fills he slips in - all of it. Get yourself a drummer who hits like Chas.

Nearing the end, the lethal pick slides and pinch harmonics during the tidal wave of hammering drums and skin-peeling riffs in 'Blister Of The Plague' are all decapitating, with instrumentation so hot it could boil oceans. At this point in the record, the band settle into a nice but familiar pace come these last moments, with things feeling kinda repetitive (though never boring), and that's even with 'Blister Of The Plague' ending on a solemn, darker guitar figure.

As for the album's closer, the rather one-note 'Die By The Fire,' it tackles a relevant theme right now about how "the higher the tower, the thicker the smog" and how silence is violence; how silence is compliance. A theme that we should all get behind in acknowledging, but I shouldn't have to talk about how as a song it's just more of the same from Justice. And if you didn't get that vibe from this album by now, then I'm either shit at my job or you have some weird expectations. (Let's be real, it's probably the former.) Perhaps a little exhausted by this point in the album, 'Die By The Fire' also does feel slightly anti-climactic. While its panned, over-lapping voices during it's fade-out section do fit the larger theme of the song and album, the track itself just never quite felt like the biggest or best send-off for what 'Pain Is Power' required in my eyes.

Nothing on 'Pain is Power' properly matches or topples over what Justice For The Damned have created before now in terms of songwriting, but it is nonetheless a worthy and crushing new record that sees them at their tightest, heaviest and most well-produced. There is no doubt in my mind that 'Pain Is Power' will be the record that elevates the name of Justice For The Damned into being house-hold from this point onward in hardcore and metal. (Or at least, damn near it.) Take from my review and from 'Pain Is Power' itself that you can turn the pain in your own life - whatever that may be - and flip those feelings and emotions into something tangible, something positive, and something powerful. It'll be hard, but it can be. Existence may be suffering, but new Justice is blistering.


Guidance From The Pain

Pain Is Power

Final Cataclysm

No Peace at the Feet of your Masters

The House You Built Is Burning

Machine Of War

A Crimson Painting

Sinking Into The Floor

Blister Of The Plague

Die By The Fire

'Pain Is Power' drops Friday, June 12th: