Written by: Brooklyn Artemis
Releasing your first album after over ten years as a band and four years after your last EP isn’t exactly orthodox. But then, you couldn’t call Rough Justice an orthodox band either. Releasing their first demo in early 2012, there were only sporadic releases across the 2010's as members’ attention remained divided. Vocalist James Tippetthas described the band as more of a ‘passion project’ and ‘outlet’ in an interview given to Knotfest. This only became more of an issue when drummer Josh Baines’ other band began gaining more traction and success in the British, then global scene. That band is Malevolence. But after signing to Malevolence’s label, MLVLTD, the Sheffield stalwarts have reached a major milestone.
Rough Justice, one of the bands credited with the creation of the current wave of British hardcore, has finally dropped their first full length, and Faith in Vain is everything I hoped for and more. After seeing them a couple of years ago, and eagerly awaiting new material since, these eight tracks have thoroughly scratched that itch. The album feels like a victory lap--an acknowledgment of the band’s raw roots in demos and EPs still only available on Bandcamp, combined with a more polished sound which takes cues from the scene that has sprung up around them. It is bruising, intense, thoughtful at times, and a very strong start to 2024 from the British hardcore scene. In other words, it fucking rips.
Faith in Vain is short for an LP, running for under 24 minutes, but there’s a lot packed in. For long time fans, the most notable inclusions will be three rerecorded songs from their early releases over ten years ago. “Overruled” and “Mind’s Eye” appeared on the Mind’s Eye EP released in 2012, while “Boa Constrictor” was on that and their first demo. When I first heard them, I was actually caught off guard--the sound of the tracks was more expansive than I thought they would be, and the production more refined. Pinch harmonics and guitar scratches now cut through the tracks, and the layers of guitars and bass are clearly audible in the mix, as is Baines’ drumming. This, for some, may take away from the uncompromising nature of their early work. But I think these new versions maintain most if not all of that intensity, despite the distinct lack of rawness, and I like them--I’ve had "Overruled" on loop while writing this.
The four original heavy tracks on the album more resemble the current wave of British heavy and metallic hardcore. “Coward,” “When It Comes,” and the lead single “Backwards Mask” are slower and bruising affairs, and the more technical guitar work really comes out in parts. The title track and second single is similar in that respect, but sets itself apart with an almost anthemic chorus, rare and deep clean vocals articulating the difficulties that come with faith, or a lack of it. If videos from the album listening party held in Sheffield are anything to go by, this divergence from form is a welcome one. though again, a chorus like that surprised me, I have no complaints.
Maybe the most interesting track on the album to discuss is the acoustic instrumental "Rusting." It won’t make its way onto many hardcore playlists or compilations, but the track adds wonderfully to the atmosphere of the album, following on from the heavy topics and heavier instrumentals of Faith in Vain. "Rusting" combines what appear to be sounds of the inner city with an almost morose acoustic guitar. The sounds combined with the title bring to mind scenes of post-industrial decline, which heavily affected Sheffield and the surrounding areas after the closing of the steelworks, mines, and collieries that coloured working class life in the region for generations. In terms of its sound, the track reminds me more of interlude tracks on doom and black metal albums, like Bell Witch’s Beneath the Mask or Dragged Into Sunlight’s Widowmaker Pt. 1, than anything I’ve heard on a hardcore record. "Rusting" is an interesting addition, and really adds to the album when listened to as a whole.
What’s notable about the record as a whole is the influence it has picked up from other parts of the British hardcore scene. Faith in Vain bears resemblance to fellow MLVLTD band Guilt Trip’s recent sophomore full length Severance--an album which Tippett features on, sharing a guest slot with Malevolence’s Alex Taylor on "The Gates." Guilt Trip’s guitar work has become progressively more complex as their career has progressed, and they have been steadily been incorporating more and more clean vocals, whether it be from Guilt Trip’s own Jay Valentine or in features from the likes of Mike Duce, formerly of Lower Than Atlantis. The album also saw the inclusion of an acoustic instrumental track, "Reaching Paradise." Guilt Trip are still recognisably a hardcore band, but have steadily expanded and progressed their sound, and it appears Rough Justice are heading down a similar path. In this way, you can see the beginning and the current states of the burgeoning hardcore scenes in Sheffield and Britain as a whole in eight tracks.
Overall, anyone with an interest in hardcore should enjoy this, particularly if you lean towards a more metallic sound. It’s an album that pleasantly surprised me in a few ways, but was still able to satisfy my craving for new material that is recognisably Rough Justice. However, if you prefer your hardcore with a less polished sound, this album might not hit the spot in quite the same way.
Rough Justice - Faith In Vain was released Jan. 12th, 2024 via MLVLTD. Find it here!
Shortly before the publication of this review, Miles from Sheffield based hardcore band T.S. Warspite was involved in a serious car accident that left him in an induced coma. I would like to offer my love to his friends and family as well as my hope for a full recovery. A GoFundMe has been created for Miles’ family, linked here.
Author's Bio: Brooklyn is an student from the UK who listens to a wide range of heavy music from hardcore to doom. She can be found on twitter here.
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