In terms of modern British Metal, it’s hard to find a more inspired export than Employed To Serve. As their sludgy metalcore/post-hardcore album The Warmth of a Dying Sun in 2017 clarifies, this band has the nuance, catchiness and proficiency to super-charge their raw aggression. But where followup Eternal Forward Motion in 2019 hinted at more “metal” and less “core,” the band’s latest album Conquering fully embraces the tenets of NWOAM bands like Lamb Of God and Machine Head. While being able to name check massive bands that easily might belie an originality problem, Employed To Serve imbues its arena-ready metal with the thoughtful chops that first made them noteworthy.
The haunting, quasi-orchestral intro of “Universal Chokehold” sets a tone for a more robust and bombastic take on Employed To Serve, and my god… those riffs. It’s quite alright to recall 2000s groove metal if you’re doing it better than most of its luminaries currently are. It also feels like a natural extension of the band’s sound, rather than a shallow attempt to become festival headliners. “Exist” might recall some of Code Orange's more infectious selections with its stomping drums and skronky guitar strains, while “Mark of the Grave” spotlights a particularly strong chorus and a knack for shifting tempos and juggling distinct feels.
Those who remember classic Employed To Serve songs like “I Spend My Days” might yearn for that raw dirtiness amid Conquering’s lethal precision, but they’ll find solace in the string bendin’ hard-groovin’ romp of “Sun Up To Sun Down.” It’s the only overt throwback to a simpler time in the band’s career, repeating a riff for all of its worth. When deeper cuts like “World Ender” only center on a few ideas, guitarists Sammy Urwin and David Porter find ways to push themselves as musicians. Their ideas maintain a foundation of grit while offering memorable leads and deep chord progressions over the solid rhythmic foundation of bassist Nathan Pryor and drummer Casey McHale.
Having Urwin to sing and growl alongside frontwoman Justine Jones gives cuts like “Twist the Blade” the push from good to great. As if the song’s chaotic guitar licks and unrelenting percussion weren't enough, the variety of vocal styles does wonders for its staying power. The two vocalists also emphasize the break-neck switch-ups of “The Mistake,” as it bridges the gap between technical thrash metal and hardcore two-steps. Employed To Serve did well to build to Conquering with simpler music, as they sound like an absolute unit whether they’re taking a trip to shred town or caving in skulls with a barbaric breakdown.
Never content with the meat and potatoes, Employed To Serve always find ways to spice up their arrangements. Whether it’s the Lamb Of God “Laid To Rest” steeze of “We Don’t Need You” or the old As I Lay Dying vibes of “Set in Stone,” Employed To Serve embodies the best aspects of that era (the tightness, the hooks) with a ferocious tenacity more akin to metalcore’s new bread. It’s a welcome throwback to when metalcore bands were essentially playing metal with a savage emotional quotient. The title track encapsulates this balance swimmingly, crossing gnarly mosh parts and caveman grooves with polished licks and rousing modulations for some truly cathartic moments.
Closing cut “Stand Alone” shows just how far Employed To Serve have come with Conquering. It’s no small feat to progress from atmospheric singing to rampaging melo-death in less than a minute without losing coherency, but the real send-off comes in the form of an absolutely devastating breakdown. The fact Employed To Serve had the self-control to save one of their heaviest riffs ever for the end of the entire record displays a deeper sense of artistry than most would associate with metal bands in this style.
No one expected a British band to revitalize the New Wave of American Metal, but Conquering puts Employed To Serve in the upper echelon of big ticket groove metal. The album is a prime example of a band retaining their hardcore roots while flexing their songwriting chops. Not only that, but it proves that all a style of metal needs to endure is a band that’s pushing themselves to become the best they can be. Employed To Serve sounds like they’re playing the music they’ve always wanted to write, and it’s hard not to love them for it.