(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by Australia’s Justice for the Damned, which is being released today by Greyscale Records.)
Even though I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to write reviews over the past couple of weeks, I’ve still had a fair bit of time to think about reviews – particularly why, how, and who we write for.
Let’s face it, a lot of what’s out there is little more than a regurgitated press release masquerading as a review. Either that, or so mindblowingly generic that you could cut and paste in a different band name and neither the overall content nor context of the review would really change all that much…
This latter issue is particularly prevalent on the more “brutal” end of the spectrum, as there’s only so many ways you can write about a band’s “sick gutturals” or “killer riffs” before it basically turns into a game of Extreme Metal mad-libs where the formula never changes, even if the names do.
So when it came time to write a few words about Pain Is Power, the new album from Aussie bruisers Justice for the Damned, I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to say, and exactly how I wanted to say it.
If you’re looking for deep insight into the state of the modern world, or a commentary on how this album reflects the zeitgeist of the current age, you’re going to be disappointed.
If there’s any major statement this record, and this review, sets out to make it’s that, while many people may have written off Deathcore as a genre with nothing left to offer, and even less to say, when it’s done right, with heart and conviction and an eye for a killer hook (or ten), there’s still some serious life in the dumb beast yet.
In fact, in many ways Pain Is Power is practically the platonic ideal of what a Deathcore album could/should be – sublimely simple, mercilessly efficient, and utterly unpretentious, and totally confident in its ability to both wreck necks and punish eardrums with the very best of them.
But what really makes it work are the subtle dynamic differences between the tracks, demonstrating that the band are smart enough to know that you can’t just keep hitting the same spot over and over again, or else your victim audience will quickly grow numb and your efforts will lose their impact.
Take the opening triptych of “Guidance From the Pain”, “Pain Is Power”, and “Final Cataclysm”, for example.
The former leans hard on the band’s Hardcore roots, all chundering, chug-heavy guitars and lumbering, brute-force rhythms, while the latter employs a series of sharper, spikier riffs and spitfire blast sections to drag things in a much more Death Metal influenced direction.
Between them, you have the furiously punchy title-track, which balances elements of both styles (with an added dash of moody melody) in a manner reminiscent of Fit For An Autopsy at their most intense (which, I suppose, is fitting, considering that FfaA’s Will Putney handled production here, while the band’s singer turns in some guttural guest vocals on “Final Cataclsym”).
It’s this attention to detail, the subtle deviations and differentiations between different tracks, which ensures that the album retains its dynamic momentum without ever straying too far from its core foundation.
And the importance of this only becomes more apparent as the album progresses, especially during songs like the surprisingly technical “Machine of War”, the brutish, yet brooding, “Sinking Into the Floor”, and absolutely crushing, doom-laden closer “Die By The Fire”, where the band’s deft melodic and atmospheric embellishments help each track stand out even more.
Heck, even the quartet’s judicious use of breakdowns (“No Peace At The Feet Of Your Master”, for example, has two absolutely massive ones) feels less like a crutch to compensate for weak songwriting (as is the case with a lot of bands) and more like a conscious attempt to provide each track with an extra focal point, an added anchor, to build from, or towards, in order to increase and enhance the dynamic impact of the music.
I’ll grant you that nothing here really breaks the mould or reinvents the wheel, and it’s definitely not going to convince anyone ideologically opposed to the very idea of Deathcore to give the style a second chance, but it does serve both as a welcome reminder of just why – long before so many of its early proponents became obsessed with mainstream acceptance – it grabbed so many people’s attention in the first place, and as undeniable proof that rumours of the genre’s demise have been greatly exaggerated!