The UK metal masters Employed To Serve have returned, and trust me, you’re not ready for what they’ve brought with them. All I can say is if you listen to it at home, make sure your furniture is sturdy because you’re probably going to want to throw it into the next postcode with all the aggression you’re going to feel. Their fourth full-length album, “Conquering”, is an atomic bomb, and it’s safe to say that the you’re going to feel as if the bomb was dropped from directly above you.
“Conquering” is, simply put, a top-tier performance from the 5-piece. Sonically, it’s a new direction, yet it remains on the same path that the band has always been on. It builds on the hardcore and metalcore themes that were introduced in the previous two albums. The evolution of the band since the debut album, “Greyer Than You Remember” has been steady and ever so promising. That album was a berserk assault on the listener. It was a hugely entertaining mathcore-centric release and an impressive performance for a debut full-length, but by the time the 11th track comes around, you’re completely exhausted. Only a couple of years later, and the band’s sound began to appear as a more distilled, more focused aggression. Once “Eternal Forward Motion” came out, Employed To Serve had figured it out. An exquisite balance between all-out animosity and superbly catchy riffs was struck.
This new release plays around with various metal, mosh and hardcore sounds, with bands like Machine Head, The Acacia Strain, Terror, Knocked Loose and Lamb of God appearing to me as some similar sounding artists. It’s well-rounded in terms of how it moves through all of these sounds and styles, and there are some well-placed melodies spread throughout the tracks. One thing I felt about this album was that the band seems to be incredibly comfortable with where they are, sound-wise. “Conquering”, despite its raging bull attitude, has some really fun songs in there. “Exist”, the first single released from the album, has this awesome driving beat that will get anyone’s head bopping, but there is still that standard Employed To Serve ferocity. It’d be like seeing Ronda Rousey winning an arm wrestling match at a bar. She doesn’t always have to be fighting at the top level, sometimes she just wants to have fun… whilst still dominating.
The lyrics have always been staggeringly heavy, especially in the earlier albums. There was this ‘scribbled in a notebook during an existential crisis’ feeling I got from “Greyer Than You Remember”. They’re even written in that kind of jotted-down style. Even though they were incredibly dark, the lyrics were always well-written. Vocalist Justine Jones’ ability to write has further evolved as time has gone on, with only the themes of morbid self-introspection becoming less prevalent. There is a more self-empowering concept that has been recognizable since “Eternal Forward Motion”, as well as concepts that don’t originate from looking only inwards. The lyrics through “Conquering” are more about being the demon than being tormented by one, as well as cutting the bad people out of one’s life and moving forward. Phrases like “I am the murderer. I twist the blade,” come to mind as an example, but there is a plethora of memorable punchlines throughout this record worthy of an anthem-like response from a live crowd.
Even though each track deserves praise, some specific tracks stood out to me after a few listens. The album begins with “Universal Chokehold”, a gentle, yet melancholy melody that suddenly bursts in an explosion of heavy sound. The drums soon show you kind of aggression that you’re in for, and from then on you’re barely allowed to rest until the album finishes, a good 50 minutes later. “Sun Up to Sun Down” is an oppressive mosh marathon that will surely leave your neck feeling sore and stiff. The ending voice clip of this track reminds me a lot of the beginning of “Forever” the gnarly opening track for Code Orange’s album of the same name back in 2017.
Coming in at number 9, “World Ender” is a colossal track. The guitars march along with unrelenting dominance, and a darkly beautiful clean-vocal melody is present towards the end of the track also. It ends with a brutal slamming sequence in which the snare is accompanied by a sharp metallic ‘ping’ that brightens up the otherwise bass-laden mix at that point. The ping reminds me a lot of something as far back (2000 really is kinda far back now…) as “Papercut” by Linkin Park, where in the bridge the snare has a similar ping over the top of it. This technique has been used by other bands more recently, like in the 2018 track “Hostage” by Chelsea Grin, for example, and it’s a simple little addition that can really expand the atmosphere, as well as adding a slightly different personality to the drums for a moment. “The Conquering” follows immediately after “World Ender”, and I can see why the album would share the same name. It’s a monstrous performance that emanates nothing but raw power and conviction. The beginning of the track immediately takes me back to the mid 2000’s, with songs like “Angry Mob Justice” from The Acacia Strain immediately resurfacing in my memory.
The production of “Conquering” is massive. Employed To Serve returned to Lewis Johns at The Ranch Production House, and it seems that he knew how to turn it up to another level and build on the already powerful sound that came through in “Eternal Forward Motion”. You’re definitely going to want headphones for this record, because there are some sneaky things that are layered into the tracks that thicken up the atmosphere in great ways. One example is the final breakdown for “We Don’t Need You”, a track that summons that wonderful late 2000’s Lamb of God grooviness. It has a subtle yet deeply heavy bass tone (not from the guitar), that drones throughout the ending, so even when the instruments choke up during the chugs, the sense of heaviness remains completely uninterrupted.
The drums are produced with such a powerful sound, yet they don’t stand out obnoxiously in the mix. The snare drum is more of a punch in the face than it is an actual piece of kit, and that’s just the way it should be. It’s also a good moment to praise Casey McHale for his performance on this album. The incorporation of some incredible fills and technical little rhythms into the standard yet powerful hardcore and thrash beats was highly entertaining to listen to. He doesn’t steal the limelight with incessant over-the-top fills, but instead just continues to apply pressure to the listener from start to finish.
The guitars have been produced with a solid clarity and strength within them. They chug with a lucidness that allows you still appreciate the melody played during a bone-snapping breakdown or thrash sequence. Both Sammy Urwin and David Porter have contributed greatly to the attitude of this album. There are some downright filthy yet wonderful solos, and the layering of catchy backing melodies in the background enhance the overall sound to be bigger and better. “Stand Alone”, the final epic track, has some of their best work in my view. There is a heap of versatility and the transitions to each new section are well executed, whether it’s an abrupt change of pace, or a smooth weaving of ideas.
Whilst Nathan Pryor’s bass abilities aren’t necessarily highlighted throughout the album, the weight of his instrument certainly adds to the heaviness of the sound. All of the breakdowns and sludgy rhythms are truly cranked up in density due to the incredible tone of the bass and the performance from Pryor.
There is much to say about the vocal performance in “Conquering”. Firstly, Jones’ vocals are explosive, and they have improved with every single album release. That shrill chaotic scream from the band’s early days is still there, but there’s more variance now. Jones utilizes lower pitched screams more frequently, and it brings a refreshing element to her performance on this record. There is a similarity to Knocked Loose vocalist Bryan Garris, but ultimately her sound is hers alone. When I was first introduced to the band’s music, Jones quickly became one of my favorite vocalists in the metal scene. The first song I heard was “Harsh Truth” from “Eternal Forward Motion”, and when she yells “watch it as it all falls down”, I was completely hooked. That ferocity has been pushed further in “Conquering”, a level that is thankfully matched by the power the rest of the band puts out.
Urwin’s voice is a great contrast to Jones, providing an insanely gritty growl through the tracks. His vocals also possess a great deal of variance, so much so that they may well be the top feature of this record. At one point, he will be belting out some solid hardcore phrases in tracks like “Exist” with a voice that could be described as a mix between Scott Vogel of Terror and Robb Flynn of Machine Head. At another point, he could be sliding his way through a melody in “Mark of the Grave” which reminded me immediately of the groovy yet metallic voice of the late Layne Staley from Alice in Chains. By the way, if you were concerned that these clean melodies wouldn’t get stuck in your head immediately, then worry no more… “Twist the Blade” features a seriously catchy clean melody that will be hanging in the front of your mind for a while.
All in all, it’s hard to raise any issues whatsoever with “Conquering”. From start to finish, each track absolutely deserves to have a spot on this record, there are no fillers or ‘meh’ tracks. The performance of all members of the band is spot on; incredibly tight, full of energy, and highly entertaining. The aggression is constant, but the use of some new sounds and musical themes brings a refreshing and engaging aspect to a band that already deserves everyone’s attention. If this isn’t the album that catapults them into the foreground of the metal scene, alongside the big league players, then I don’t know what is.
Releasing On: September 17th, 2021
Released By: Spinefarm Records
- Justine Jones / Vocals
- Sammy Urwin / Guitar/Vocals
- David Porter / Guitar
- Nathan Pryor / Bass
- Casey McHale / Drums
- Universal Chokehold
- Twist The Blade
- Sun Up To Sun Down
- The Mistake
- We Don’t Need You
- Set In Stone
- Mark Of The Grave
- World Ender
- The Conquering
- Stand Alone
Be sure to have time to be able to listen through this album on repeat, undisturbed. Employed To Serve have created something truly dominating in ‘Conquering’. It’s 50 minutes of powerful and competent songwriting, drawing from a handful of areas of metal. It grabs you at the beginning, and absolutely refuses to let go until the end. Each member has brought the best version of themselves to perform on this record, and the result is a huge step up from their previous release which was, in itself, a high-set bar. Employed To Serve should certainly begin to be seen as one of the giants of the metal scene.