Employed to Serve make me feel like I did when I was going through a post-hardcore “phase” a few years ago. Back then, I felt like I’d discovered a whole new realm of musical expression; on some level, it spoke to me, but I was too energised by the cataclysmic nature of the music to find out what it was saying. It helped me to express feelings that I otherwise couldn’t, and the Woking quintet are keenly aware of heavy music’s ability to bring out one’s deepest and most basic urges. Their 2014 EP, ‘Change Nothing, Regret Everything’ was an unstoppable force, its six songs hanging around just long enough to make an impression, before its creators, led by their talismanic leader Justine Jones, promptly decamped to the studio to work on the full-length follow-up.
The resulting record, ‘Greyer Than You Remember’, is the most complete statement they have issued thus far, and proves that the EP was no fluke. It’s been eagerly anticipated, and is the work of a band pushing themselves to breaking point. Anyone who has been witness to their live prowess will know that they give their all on stage, and recent singles ‘Watching Films To Forget I Exist’ and ‘Bones To Break’ are merely the tip of the iceberg. Harnessing that live energy was surely no easy task, but with the help of Lewis Johns behind the mixing desk (who’s also worked with recent tourmates Funeral For A Friend), and Brad Boatwright on mastering, they’ve made it seem effortless. Taking influence from various ’-core’-suffixed subgenres, among them post-hardcore, mathcore and even grindcore – does it surprise you to learn that a member of Agoraphobic Nosebleed put out their first two EPs? – the album is full of music that demands your full attention. You don’t listen to it so much as give yourself to it.
This record is shot through with seething rage and almost unrelenting aggression. Lyrically it’s a continuation of their previous EP’s theme: the battle to maintain self-worth and resist giving into an apathetic existence. You’ll need the lyric sheet to decipher the majority of Jones’ harsh vocals, but the vibe is one of turmoil and all-consuming feelings. “There’s no time to surrender! Don’t give in! Don’t give in!” she urges on ‘Tower Mouth’, but the struggle between resistance and submission is what gives the album its backbone. These five individuals write some seriously bleak music, filled with downtuned riffs and alarming changes of tempo and time signature, not to mention scathing and personal lyrics. These songs are liable to change at the drop of a hat, and digesting the album in one sitting is like being trapped in a maelstrom from which there is no escape – aggression channelled into intelligent and powerful music.
If they come close to sounding straightforward, they immediately veer off in another direction, such as when the title track’s relatively conventional opening verses are shredded by bewildering meter changes before the entry of a colossal riff that’s surely due to start pits in venues all over the country. Their music may be focused on heavy sounds and themes, but the brief respite offered on closing track ‘As Cold As The Rest’ displays a more atmospheric side to the band, one that raises the question of how they’ll move on from a record that is sure to establish them as one of the best newcomers in the UK hardcore scene. The truth is that Employed to Serve make their own rules; they may have refined their sound on ‘Greyer Than You Remember’, but as for what’s to come, all bets are off. One thing’s for sure: for a band who deal in violence and darkness, their future looks incredibly bright.
‘Greyer Than You Remember’ by Employed to Serve is out now on Holy Roar.
Words by Gareth O’Malley (@riversidemethod)