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“The sun reflected off the windows of the buildings, and made it look like the town was plated with gold. But I still knew that underneath, they were nothing more than prison cells bathing in a dying sun. I knew from this moment on I was stuck here. I felt the roots of my life grow deeper into the earth, and begin to intertwine with the roots of the trees that have died. The roots then began to drag me beneath the surface until I began to suffocate. I became another dead tree in a forest of thousands.”
These are the chilling spoken words which open the title track to ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun,’ the second full-length album from UK metalcore crew Employed To Serve. Over a dial-tone interlude and intermittent electronic buzzing – both recalling and subverting the eerie mysticism found on the now-classic At The Drive In track, ‘Enfilade’ – a hollow voice describes a sense of alienation with the modern world, manifested in crippling loneliness, discontent and asphyxia.
At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself: ‘Come on Owen. Spoken word sections on a metalcore album? Really? They’re about as ubiquitous as telegraphed breakdowns, running-on-the-spot stances and saccharine clean choruses.’ And look, apart from having an extremely erudite inner monologue, you’d also be entirely correct. However, this reviewer would argue that Employed To Serve include this spoken word dialogue, not to satisfy or indulge in metalcore tropes, but because it adds a substantial amount of thematic resonance to their intense music and overall message.
Now, while that previous paragraph might strike you as nothing more than pretentious, journalistic wank, let us instead cut right to the chase of this review: ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’ is a fantastic and dynamic heavy record! If there is truly any justice in this Trump-enabling, post-truth, self-obsessed, alternative-factotum world we live in, Employed To Serve are a band that you will be hearing a lot more of in the future.
Building off of the framework set by their debut full-length, ‘Greyer Than You Remember,’ the Woking quintet – rounded out by guitarists Richard Jacobs and Sammy Urwin, lead vocalist Justine Jones, drummer Robbie Back and bassist Jamie Venning – dropped pre-release singles ‘Good For Nothing’ and the crushing ‘I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away)’ in anticipation of their second full-length, which showcased their penchant for abrasive and frenetic metallic hardcore, tempered by subterranean, drop G#-tuned grooves.
The last time that we last checked in with Employed To Serve, it was for our review for their 2015 split with Adelaide hardcore outfit A Ghost Orchestra (whose recent album ‘Blood’ should also be right up your alley if you’re actually bothering to read this), which our former editor, Kane Hunkin, described as taking “us back to a blissful period, let’s say 10 – 12 years ago, when Norma Jean’s ‘Bless The Martyr & Kiss The Child’ signalled a new era for discordant hardcore, ‘Jane Doe’ was still relatively fresh and bands like Botch, while defunct, were still the guiding rule.” And much like recent releases from their UK peers in Renounced and xRepentancex, ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’ furthers this style by adding a distinctive, late-90s flavour to its tectonic metalcore rhythms. It’s certainly an explosive mix and one that has more in common with legendary genre purveyors like Coalesce and Converge, than the style’s current mainstays such as Memphis May Fire or While She Sleeps.
Now, as cliché as it may be to say that a band is a ‘melting pot’ of influences, Employed To Serve exemplify this truism better than most. Across the ten tracks ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’ offers up, various musical threads are frantically intertwined into a rich and engaging tapestry: Meshuggah’s earthmoving and destructive bottom-end (opener ‘Void Ambition’); the melodic undercurrent of Architects (‘Lethargy’); the raw primal energy of Old Wounds (‘Church of Mirrors’); and the predatory, stop-start pounce which makes a Code Orange track feel like a fight-or-flight response (‘Never Falls Far’).
However, what separates Employed To Serve from the rest of the dissonant, time-signature savvy metalcore pack, isn’t their devastating grooves or vicious snarl. Instead, it’s something far more subtle and powerful: restraint. This is because ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’ works best when the listener is allowed a brief respite from the band’s torturous, full-throttle sonic palette, and given room to breathe.
There are moments of real brevity and melody on the record – the shimmering, choral interlude that boldens the first half of ‘Lethargy’; the delicate, melodic lick that surfaces towards the end of ‘I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away)’ – that feel almost euphoric, like the first, deep inhalation you’d take after struggling to kick to the surface from some seemingly insurmountable ocean depth. Against such pervasive, all-encompassing heaviness, this delicate balance of nuance and juxtaposition allows the record’s meatier sections – like the jackhammer breakdowns on ‘Void Ambition’ or the flirtations with sludge and drone on the title track – to crash into the listener’s ears like a high-speed car pile-up.
And just when you thought you knew what made Employed To Serve tick, they deliver a sonic about-face with the brilliant and gut-wrenching closer, ‘Apple Tree’.
Starting with a simplistic yet captivating chord progression, that gradually deepens alongside Urwin’s soft, melancholic sung vocals, this six-minute post-hardcore epic sounds like hefty Deftones or Underoath worship, passed through the touring rig for any ‘insert-name-here’ Run For Cover Records band. “I started writing Apple Tree about someone I knew at school who had a parent that took their own life,” says Urwin, in an interview with Independent magazine. “I was trying to perceive how incredibly difficult that must be to deal with; a person who is your role model, someone who you look up to has effectively said, ‘I can’t deal with life anymore.’” It’s this ode to loss, mental health and the fragility of life, that speaks directly to the spoken word section which starts the album’s eponymous track and this very review. By allowing the blazing aggression, anger and anxiety of the album’s nine previous tracks, to be snuffed out like a flickering dead star, ‘Apple Tree’ lends this killer album a neat and purposeful resonance.
In the prologue to his novel, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche made the following claim: “I tell you: one must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.” Notions of astronomy aside, it would be fair to say that chaotic music – such as this record – is not for everyone. By its own admission, the genre is deliberately abrasive, visceral and disjointed, which doesn’t necessarily make for the most cohesive listening experience. However, if you can parse the strands of ephemeral order among the waves of harsh noise, there’s a rare beauty and even musical poignancy to be found in the most discordant of tunes.
For on ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun,’ Employed To Serve have essentially levelled up as a band. The songwriting is tighter, the intensity is barely self-contained, and any nods to their influences are sincere and respectfully executed. It’s a veritable masterclass in the how to create the perfect follow-up album. This shit will break you in half, and you will enjoy the fleeting, transient moment of your own destruction.
- Void Ambition
- Good for Nothing
- Platform 89
- I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away)
- Never Falls Far
- The Warmth of a Dying Sun
- Church of Mirrors
- Half Life
- Apple Tree
‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’ is out now through Holy Roar Records/Shock Records, and you can purchase the album in various formats, here. If you’re still not convinced on how sick this record and/or band are, then may I present to you, Employed To Serve completely fucking nailing a cover of a Norma Jean classic: