Employed to Serve – ‘Conquering’

By Ash Bebbington

Over the last half-decade, Employed to Serve has become one of the most revered acts in the UK metal undergeround. Their two most recent records in particular, 2017’s ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’ and 2019’s ‘Eternal Forward Motion’, were released to much critical fanfare, with the former nailing down the coveted top spot on Kerrang’s album of the year list in 2017. All of this is to say, Employed to Serve are damn good at what they do. Which makes it all the more incredible that with ‘Conquering’, they are releasing their best record to date.

The band made their name by delivering dense slabs of metallic hardcore with frenetic and catchy riffing, overlaid with equally chaotic shrieked vocals. All of those elements are still present here – especially on tracks such as ‘Exist’ and ‘The Mistake’ – but Employed to Serve also make some bold strides in different directions. On ‘Conquering’, they have added a more traditional metal edge to the formula, throwing in cleaner vocals, melodic intros and even guitar solos.

Vocalist Justine Jones and guitarist and vocalist Sammy Urwin toyed with cleaner vocal lines on the previous record, ‘Eternal Forward Motion’, but on ‘Conquering’ these are now pushed to the forefront. Many of the tracks on this record have clean vocals in some form or another, whether it’s present in a large chunk of the song or simply added as a flourish. The best example is ‘Twist the Blade’ which features Urwin singing clean on the verses, while Jones offers a much harsher vocal line in the choruses. A similar dynamic is at play on ‘Mark of the Grave’, in which Urwin’s cleans and Jones’ harsh vocals play off one another.

For the first time, Employed to Serve also make use of glitchy electronics to an additional dimension to their musical canvas. This is becoming fairly common practice in heavy music and with good reason. Tracks such as ‘Sun Up to Sun Down’ and ‘Twist the Blade’ are elevated to a new level by the use of these electronic sounds.

The band also explore some of the more expansive sounds that they hinted at on ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’. The final track ‘Stand Alone’ sounds completely different to anything the band have ever done, with a non-distorted, melodic intro that gives way to an absolute barrage of metallic hardcore. It shows how versatile this band is, and gives a tantalising glimpse into where they could go in future.

At its heart though, this is a record that makes you want to get in the pit. There’s plenty of songs on here that will be great fun in a live environment, and more huge singalong moments than you’d typically expect from an Employed to Serve record. The standout song in this regard is ‘We Don’t Need You’. The riff sounds like something you might hear on a Trivium record, while the gang vocals are sure to be one of the big singalongs of any future Employed to Serve show.

Finally, production-wise, this is perhaps the best the band have ever sounded. This record sounds unbelievable, and some serious props have to be given to producer Lewis Johns for making these songs sound as great as possible.

‘Conquering’ is a record that still fundamentally sounds like Employed to Serve, but with enough new ideas to markedly set it aside from its predecessors. And after all, a truly great band is one that can reinvent itself while still keeping its core sound intact. For the uninitiated, if heavy and uncompromising music that makes you want to bop your head is what does it for you, you’ll have a lot of fun with this record. Employed to Serve are one of the best metal acts on the planet, and ‘Conquering’ is one of the best heavy releases of 2021.

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