Greyer than ever before.
"As the thrill of life begins to leave me, like a wound slowly bleeding my body dry, I begin to take comfort in a not so distant past that was no better than my present. I fantasise over this dead reality to distract me from the world that surrounds me. The world that tells me that I'm worthless. The world that tells me that I don't fit the norm. The world that tells me my life isn't good enough. I wonder if there'll be a day when I don't listen to the world and I listen to myself instead. 1st of January, 2019, nothing's changed."
Over a hellish, lo-fi soundscape of distorted sounds, the above paragraph is the bleak opening statement of 'Reality Filter', the ninth track from Employed To Serve's fierce new LP, 'Eternal Forward Motion'. Those introductory words of longing, spoken by guitarist/backing vocalist Sammy Irwin - words that precede a harsh flurry of chaotic percussion, slicing guitar riffs, and hefty vocals - detail the ethos behind this U.K. wrecking-crew's latest batch of informed, lethal metallic hardcore. It's message is that even the most vibrant of existences, even the most colourful of lives, can become horribly grey. Whether it be due to personal matters, global issues one cannot escape, or a mixture of the pair. It's those depressive moments, when the rust and cobwebs threaten to overwhelm us, that define our character the most.
Nothing exemplifies this more than the album's cover; equally simple and complex in it's finer details of cogs and machinery turning despite age and decay. Created by Bite Radius Designs, it's an art piece that isn't just straightforward or just complicated; much like the very lives that it depicts.
The concepts that help turn the mighty gears of Employed To Serve's hectic new creation are the lenses that we place over our perspectives and how others do so too, thus creating a cacophonous dialogue of sorts. An external and internal conversation that skews everyone's reality in some way, shape or form. It's a record deeply concerned with seeking happiness, burnout, mental health, FOMO, self-worth, the current generation booming alongside social media, days becoming a blur, not buying anyone else's bullshit, and looking out for numero uno: you. 'Eternal Forward Motion' is without a doubt Employed To Serve at their lyrical darkest; at their emotionally greyest; but also them still firing on all cylinders musically.
[caption id="attachment_1105634" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Employed To Serve, 2019. [/caption]
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Employed To Serve have really come a long way since since 2015's debut LP, 'Greyer Than You Remember', as they've fully honed themselves. The songwriting, the execution, the production, the lyricism - it's all grown vastly stronger in the last couple years. And it's been such a joyous rush to witness that exciting growth occur. As the very name of this LP suggests, they aren't slowing down or even letting off a little bit of steam from their engines anytime soon. That kind of aggression and drive is what's gotten the band here, and it's that passion that'll push them head-long into the future.
Following up 2017's most excellent second LP, the grim yet ferocious 'The Warmth Of A Dying Sun' (which we raved about upon release), Employed To Serve possess the holy trinity of what all good metalcore and hardcore bands need: awesome breakdowns, sick riffs, and a solid sense of melody. It just so happens that this album contains such an important trio, but it doesn't end there. The band expertly know how to combine these three elements cohesively. Not only that, it all comes armed to the teeth with real and important messages interwoven in the dark but personal and (sometimes) hopeful lyrical content. Oh, and a super ripe bass tone, like the one that broods all over this thing, never hurt anyone either.
There's plenty of inspirations and influences that ETS heavily pull from, such as the likes of Norma Jean, Botch, and Coalesce, but it's a sound that they, for the most part, almost make entirely their own. You'll also see some brief flashes of bands like Deftones and Will Haven, as will you also notice sonic savagery akin to groups like Old Woulds or even Converge. Inspired, yeah, but never once lazy, dull or flat-out imitation. Basically, if you loved 'The Warmth Of A Dying Sun', then you're gonna sweat 'Eternal Forward Motion' to the very ends of the Earth. (That says more about me than anything else.)
It'd be an understatement to say that ETS love their alt-metal grooves, dissonant intervals, drawn-out pick slides, wailing yet controlled feedback, discordant leads, and pinch harmonics. For all of these songs are prime examples of such cues! The U.K. group also love their distorted spoken words to maximise that eerie factor; just as they love having Sammy track lower screams or pitched vocals alongside Justine's always impressive, hair-raising screams. They adore wicked counter-rhythms and off-kilter breakdowns, and their love of creating very real tension that's soon relieved via gloomy, thinly-melodic guitar lines that puncture their metallic hardcore atmosphere knows no bounds here. Hell, they're as effective as ever!
Each of these songwriting tricks are found all over LP #3, from the rapid-fire dissonance of 'Beneath It All', the bruising and larger-scoped 'We Forgot You', to the apocalyptic and doomy deep-cut of 'Suspended In Emptiness'. In fact, the aforementioned 'Reality Filter' is a perfect example of how all of those ideas are brought together into a single jaw-dropping track. Breakdowns, riffs, vehement vocals, defeated lyricism, pinches, and melodic motifs breathing light in through the grey-clouds - again, it's got everything. Yet these elements are never done so in a reductive or even limiting way. Definitely familiar, yes, but if anything, there's been a louder amplification of what makes Employed To Serve, well... Employed To Serve. It's absolutely refined, immensely satisfying and re-playable too. Things aren't jaded yet.
This album's title often summarises the tone and intent of what's found within it's half-hour run time. If not least the killer drumming that just surges onward like a goddamn locomotive. Or like the discordant and speedy old-school nature of 'Dull Ache Behind My Eyes', which has a scary level of urgency in how it's paced; skin-crawling feedback and all. You just cannot teach this particular brand of seething rage, high riff output, and kinetic songwriting. And if there's one thing that you take away from my review, please let it be that 'Eternal Forward Motion' just goes bloody HARD.
The title track kicks the album's door right down with stomping grooves and head-banging riff combos that are downright deadly. Of course, it stills finds time to wrap seismic instrumentals and a thick layer of melodic guitars around Justine's venomous screams of "ETERNAL FORWARD MOTION!" for it's powerful outro. Both singles, 'Force Fed' and 'Harsh Truth', also contain some pissed-off vocal performances from Justine that are just so confronting (2:13 and 3:41, respectively). However, it's on 'Owed Zero' - a song so frenetic that it could turn any venue into a front-line rush during wartime with ease - that she sounds like a woman possessed. Across the album's penultimate and perhaps most violent cut, Justine delivers the heaviest vocals that she's tracked so far for any of the band's releases. 'Owed Zero' itself is also one of the bounciest, riffiest tunes of the whole damn lot; there is such an incredible flow. An utter barn-burner of hardcore, humility, and personal resilience.
Even when things technically do slow down in tempo or relinquish in terms of busy instrumentals, things never stagnate or meander in terms of emotion or sound. For instance, take the intro of 'Harsh Truth'. With the room-miked drum loops and Justine's raw screams, it may lack distorted guitars at first yet that beginning is always arresting until the rest of the song kicks in your teeth mere seconds later. Even the album's sole instrumental interlude, 'Sore Tooth Twin', doesn't break the pace. It gels with the wider record so well, a record that it helps bridge together nicely, nailing that classic melodic-dissonant contrast ETS pull off better than most other acts. Even that creeping melodic intro that lifts up 'We Forgot You' only bequeaths an explosive hardcore eruption.
Closer 'Bare Bones On A Blue Sky' is a shining example of not only this band's push-and-pull musical dynamic, but also this album's thematic contrast between personal self-destruction and optimism. During what is the album's longest take, Sammy's softly spoken words about having "hope for tomorrow" float over swaying melodic leads and over-saturated guitars as Justine then roars above sluggish, hulking instrumentals. At times, this final track is the closest ETS have ever come to sounding like an alternative-rock band, but it's not an identity crisis; it's actually quite fitting. For it feels like the real, proper finale. And when those booming guitar chugs come back around near the end, and as the vocals rise in intensity - decrying to "open your eyes" - along with those weighty grooves picking up, it's clear this band knows exactly who they are. They sure sound pretty fucking comfortable in their own skin here! And when they're creating music as good as 'Eternal Forward Motion', Employed To Serve don't need to be anyone else.
Album number three is both a mission statement of iron-will for Employed To Serve's rising career, and for the five band members themselves. It's the chaotic, dissonant-yet-melodic metallic hardcore equivalent of "keep calm and carry on."; that the sun will shine again; to keep looking forward and never once look back (despite the older bands and scenes that this band pull from, that is.) This ideal will surely be the U.K. band's burning drive forward through this upcoming album cycle and unto their bright future, but it's also a war-cry to remember that those dark and grey times in our lives will depart and the ache behind our eyes will one day dissipate.
Of their three records, 'The Warmth Of A Dying Sun' is still my personal favourite album - it's just peak ETS - but this new beast comes pretty damn close to that coveted top spot. Heavy, riffy yet melodic-tinged and well-balanced tracks like 'Owed Zero', 'Beneath It All', 'Reality Filter', the titular cut and 'Force Fed' are all the proof you need. 'Eternal Forward Motion' is a powerful continuation and refinement of what Employed To Serve's last record so gracefully achieved. I just only hope that this doesn't breed complacency in this band's trademark sound. Currently, however, Employed To Serve are one of hardcore and metalcore's modern greats.
'Eternal Forward Motion' is out Friday, May 10th, 2019.