Rough Justice – Faith in Vain


Sheffield hardcore crew, Rough Justice, are legends in their home city but unknown to many outside the UK hardcore scene. They produced their first demo as early as 2012 and spent most of the last decade sharpening their live show and spreading their message via word-of-mouth. Things accelerated last year when their pals in Malevolence added them to their MLVLTD label and gave them a platform to pull up their socks and dust off a debut record that they’ve been threatening to release since 2013. Their long-time fans will know most of the cuts on Faith in Vain, but those of us outside the inner circle will find much to dissect in this new anthology.

It makes sense to start their debut LP with a new song, and ‘Coward’ does not disappoint. Here, a Bolt Thrower riff warms up the listener like a car heater on a frosty Sunday morning as the drummer finds a groove to navigate through the dexterous guitar rhythms. Chief aggro vocalist, Jimmy, single-tracks his masculine roars to ward off any accusations of digital manipulation at the mixing desk. Listen to the crisp output of the guitars as they rip through pick scrapes, dissonant chords, violent palm-mutes, and tremolo fills like a top-class metal band. The breakdown at 02:46 is heavier than the roof of a collapsing cathedral.

They follow this with ‘Overruled’ from their 2012 Mind’s Eye EP. You can hear a clear Machine Head influence in the faster parts, but it stays within the bicep curls of a mid-tempo groove. Rough Justice eschew simple verse-chorus structures the way a pro bono solicitor sacrifices a quick payday. The Queensrӱche arpeggio in the intro of the title-track will leave you stroking your chin with raised eyebrows. This is an unusual way to launch into the main chug riff. The chorus sounds like early Korn with a baritone voice at the higher end of the range and backing vocals producing the melody. Six-stringers, Elliot and Ed, love to use the natural harmonic techniques to enhance the screeching effect of their instruments. Rough Justice relish the beatdown part of a song with the alacrity of an astronaut returning to earth.

It’s refreshing to hear an instrumental mood piece at track four (see ‘Rusting’). Semi-clean guitars embrace slow downstrokes as their author watches the slow traffic pass by and the rain patter against his windowpane. Rough Justice refuse to be limited to one narrow paradigm. The opening sludge metal riff spits at the listener like molten tar in ‘When it Comes’. Play it again and you’ll appreciate the call and response effect of the main riff as the hissing chords talk to each other. “How do I break the cycle? / Run from lies at every single turn / When will I ever fucking learn?”

A humbling self-reflection aches with a latent sense of loathing throughout this record. Religious agnosticism haunts it at other turns. “The black cloud cast by a heaven that I’ll never know / God knows, but he kept it from me,” roars, Jimmy, in ‘Faith in Vain’. Rough Justice deal in the school of hard truths but can take the hard knocks that come with it.

The only potential for disappointment here is the paltry running length of twenty-three minutes for an album that contains three songs from 2012. Inevitably, ‘Boa Constrictor’, from their first demo, is the closest they come to an old-school hardcore sound with punk foundations. ‘Mind’s Eye’ conjures images of falling towers caught up in a tsunami, and it would have been the opener to this record if they hadn’t already unleashed it over a decade ago. The slam pit appetiser sandwiched in between these two oldies (see ‘Backwards Mask’) coordinates an earth-shaking groove for the first verse, but it needs to be longer to achieve its full potential.

We should be grateful that Rough Justice have delivered a debut album after so many years, but the serious part of their career starts here. Let’s hope they can produce album number two before the end of this decade.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 12/01/2024

Record Label: MLVLTD

Standout tracks: Coward, When it Comes, Backwards Mask

Suggested Further Listening: Malevolence – Reign of Suffering (2013), Bailer – Disposable Youth (2021), Guilt Trip – Severance (2023)