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Justice For The Damned: The infinite potential of power

I distinctly remember the first time I saw Justice For The Damned play live. It was an early evening in 2013, and they were the second band on at a free micro-festival held as part of NSW Youth Week. Polaris were on before them. 

The gig was held inside a church, with trucks out front doling out free cans of Monster Energy. It was a cool, albeit kind of weird vibe – thanks in no short part to the fact it was a metal gig for kids held inside a church. At face value, the whole thing sounds pretty fucked. My friends and I had gone solely because it was free, and we had vaguely heard of headliners In Hearts Wake – then riding the high of their debut album, Divination – by proxy of our obsession with fellow Byron natives Parkway Drive.

These kinds of shows, absolutely fucking abundant in the early 2010s, weren’t exactly renowned for their quality. At face value, they were little more than opportunities for burgeoning metalcore bands to spending a night honing their skills in a room full of the peers, with the slim potential of a stranger rocking up to check out the racket. Nobody goes to one of them expecting to have their minds blown by an act they’d eventually call one of their favourite bands. But there was one particular corner of Sydney’s heavy scene that did, against all odds, wind up breaking the mold – a small legion of incomparably talented bands that cracked through the underground and, today, are revered as some of Australia’s best.

Justice For The Damned were part of that legion. And that night they played to no more than 30 apathetic tweens, at least half of whom were lured in by the free Monster, the band actually played a pretty goddamn wicked set. It was clear from the moment Bobak Rafiee’s first harrowing guttural burst forth from the church PA that if Justice For The Damned itself wouldn’t stand the test of time, its individual constituents certainly had a future in heavy music. The show was sick – and then when I saw them the next time, a few months later in, plot twist, a different fucking church, they were even better. And then when I saw them towards that year’s end, they’d improved even more… There was a trend going on.

Eight years later, Justice For The Damned haven’t stopped improving with every show they play. That’s why they’re not only still around, but now one of the most revered metal bands in Australia. Their second album, last June’s cataclysmic Pain Is Power, cracked the ARIA Top 20 – a rather incredible feat for any deathcore band, let alone one dropping heat in the peak of a pandemic. And although they couldn’t tour off the back of it (y’know, because of that same pandemic), their rise continued, and their eventual return to the stage was marked by career-defining sets played in sold-out venues – and, like, actual venues, not community church halls.

Now, the band are gearing up for one their biggest shows yet, set to see them play in an actual castle at the inaugural Knight & Day festival – which Polaris is co-headining, side by side with Parkway Drive (in case you doubted my anecdote about the potential of Sydney’s underground circa ’13). Ahead of the show – tickets for which go on sale this week, by the way – BLUNT caught up with Justice For The Damned frontman Bobak Rafiee to vibe on what we can expect from their set, what the future holds for he and his rag-tag crew of shred-obsessed maniacs, and why the pandemic has actually been a blessing in disguise for today’s generation of burgeoning moshlords.

The whole concept of Knight & Day is just fucking insane. Was it an easy one to get Justice onboard for?
Yeah. As soon as you say the words “Parkway Drive”, it’s like, “Alright, we’re in.”

Other than Parkway, who are you most keen to see at the festival?
I’m actually heaps keen to see all the newer bands, like The Gloom In The Corner. I’m keen to see the bands that have gotten their first opportunity to play, like, a big festival – the kind of festival that has Soundwave vibes. Because it’s a blessing in disguise; usually festivals like this would have some international bands, and it would only be the big-dick, y’know, whoever’s trending in Australia right now. But because beggars can’t be choosers and all the borders are locked down, we have to choose Australian bands, and a lot of those up-and-coming bands are getting more recognition. So that’s actually what I’m most keen for. I can’t wait to see all of them, because it’s like… I don’t know, it’s interesting. Are they gonna nail it? Are they gonna get out there and start freaking out? I love that shit, because it reminds me of, like, me. And at the same time, I love encouraging younger bands. They’re the most important bands on the lineup, y’know what I mean?

So you guys did the Pain Is Power tour earlier this year… I know you didn’t get to finish it for obvious reasons, which sucks, but those shows you did get to play – what were the highlights?
It was crazy. The general rule of practice with touring is that you release new music, you tour, then you tour as a support act for someone else, and then you release new music. And it’s like a gradual graph that goes up, right? But because of COVID, we didn’t have that cycle. We released the album mid-COVID, and the last thing we did before that was a European tour. So we did that tour, then we released the album, and then we had, like, a whole year and a half off. So then when we did the headline tour, it was crazy, because we had all forgotten where we were at. We were like, “What the fuck is going on!?” We just couldn’t believe it.

How did you find that the songs from Pain Is Power translated to the stage?
People like the Pain Is Power songs more. It’s so weird. A lot of the time when you’re playing a show, your oldies are the bangers, y’know what I mean? But on that tour, all the new stuff just went off. It’s like, of course the older catalog is always going to be the backbone – people are nostalgic for it and it gets them all hyped up and stuff – but all the new songs went off harder on that tour.

Is the live show something you’re always thinking about when you write and record?
Yeah, for sure. For sure. All the songs are looked over in that context. We have a process where we’ll write, whether it be just the instrumental or just a melody, and then we’ll all look over it. There’s usually seven or eight of us in a room, and we’ll continuously critique the song until it’s done. And one of the critiques is: “How’s that going to translate live?” A lot of the conversation is always, “Okay, we’ll do this in the recording, and then live, we’ll play it slower.” Because if we played it slower in the recording, it might come off as lame. So they’re the same songs, but some of the slower parts might be a little bit slower to add some ‘oomph’ to the show. A lot of bands do that.

So does there exist a box of demos that you can’t play because they’re just too insane?
Nah, Chas [Levi, drums] is pretty fucked, he can play anything. Sometimes me and Nic [Adams, guitar], when we’re writing together and no one else is around, we’ll make a fucked drum fill and be like, “Nah, he’s fine, let’s keep it.” And then we’ll play it and Chas will be like, “Alright boys, let’s get to it,” and we’re just like, “Yep, you got it mate.” And he’ll just play it. Yeah, Chas is fucked. I feel like I’m allowed to say that, too, because we asked Chas to join the band in 2015 – 2014 or 2015 – and we were a fan of him long before he joined the band. We knew he was a legend. So I’m still his fan – I’m his fan first, and then he’s in Justice, y’know what I mean? We’re all each other’s biggest fans. We all suck each other off all the time. 

“I don’t really care about being the biggest band in the world – I don’t care if we don’t become the next Metallica – I just want to be the best I can be.”

Do you ever look back and think about how far you’ve come as a band?
All the time. All the time. That’s what fuels the energy.

What are your ambitions for the future of Justice For The Damned?
I think everyone’s ambition is to be, like, the best band that you can be. To say you want to be the biggest band in the world is like such a beige thing, because everyone wants to be the biggest band in the world. But, like, I like the niche that we play in, and therefore I want to be the best band that we can be in that niche. I don’t really care about being the biggest band in the world – I don’t care if we don’t become the next Metallica – I just want to be the best I can be. I just want to keep going. It gets a little bit political sometimes, because when we were younger – I’m sure you remember as well – there was like that five-year period where UNFD was the monopoly, and if you signed to UNFD, your band had made it. 

Of course there was Resist Records, but they weren’t really doing anything in the metalcore world – if you signed to Resist, you didn’t feel like you had “made it” all of a sudden. But UNFD had Hand Of Mercy, In Hearts Wake, Northlane… And so you look at them and you’re like, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.” But we grew up always being given the short end of the stick. We were always on the back end of everything. So we just kept hustling – we finished high school and went to Melbourne for the first time straight away, and that was what fuelled everything for the future. 

But yeah, to answer your question, I don’t really know. I’d like to be financially stable, where [the band] pays all our of bills. Like the band as a business makes a lot of money, but it’d be nice to get to the point where we just don’t have to care anymore, and we can just make art for the sake of making art because the revenue is there. You can be like, “Alright, let’s just make music and only think about that”. I would love to just sit and write music for 12 months in a year. That’s where I want to be – but y’know, it’s all subjective.

So on that note, what have you been up to since Pain Is Power came out?
Lots of recording. We write all the time. Nic, Chas and Rudzy [Jack Rudder] – Rudzy is our photographer, but he’s pretty much in the band. Our crew is like our entourage, y’know what I mean? There’s like eight or nine of us, and we’re always together. So Nic, Chas and Rudzy all play in Whatever, Forever, so they’ve been doing that as well. And then yeah, we just write the time.

Do you have any sort of vision for what the next record could sound like?
Every time we do something, the saying is: “Let’s just do that again, but on steroids.” So we’ve done Pain Is Power, and now it’s like, “Alright, let’s try to do that, but even harder.”

>> KEEP READING: Parkway Drive: A royal return to the stage <<

Knight & Day 2021

Parkway Drive
Alex Lahey
Bakers Eddy
Diamond Construct
Hellions (performing Opera Oblivia in full)
Justice For The Damned
Make Them Suffer
The Beautiful Monument
The Chats
The Getaway Plan (performing Other Voices, Other Rooms in full)
The Gloom In The Corner
To The Grave
Trophy Eyes
Void Of Vision

Thursday December 30th – Friday December 31st
Kryal Castle, Ballarat VIC
Tickets: Official website