‘If something burns your soul with purpose and desire
It’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it’
Employed to Serve, one of the UK’s finest progenitors of feral, untamed technical hardcore are back with the release of their sophomore album, The Warmth of a Dying Sun. The album broadens the band’s sound beyond the frenetic freak-outs they primarily dealt in on 2015 debut Greyer Than You Remember, taking them into hitherto unexplored territories. The record is released through Holy Roar Records on 19th May and is available to stream a week before its official release below.
The roots of Employed to Serve stem from vocalist Justine Jones and guitarist Sammy Urwin who started the band as a bedroom project in 2011 predominantly influenced by the straight-ahead drum-machine grindcore of bands like Agoraphobic Nosebleed. ‘I used to have a very elitist mentality when I was younger’ says Urwin looking back to his earlier days. ‘I was very much in the mindset of ‘death metal or die’ but I think we got to a point where we realised that there was a whole other world of music out there that we had yet to explore.'
The catalyst for this broadening in scope was a trip to the 2012 edition of the now sadly defunct Hevy Fest which featured an enviable line-up of bands that went on to influence the young couple, including Converge, Rolo Tomassi, The Chariot, Veils and Brotherhood of the Lake, as well as bands such as Glassjaw and Meshuggah, who had a less prominent direct impact but made an impression all the same. ‘We were opened up to all these bands,’ says Jones ‘it was like being in a toy store. Seeing the crowd respond with so much energy, going absolutely crazy was a remarkable difference to the death-metal crowds we were used to.’
Seeing these post-hardcore influences mixed with genres that were already familiar tot hem motivated the duo to take the band out of the bedroom and make it a live project. Record labels such as Big Scary Monsters and Tangled Talk opened their eyes to a wealth of bands but it was the ethos and roster of Holy Roar Records which really captured their imaginations. ‘Our initial goals were to put together a live band and that quickly turned into wanting to get on Holy Roar’ says Jones. By 2014, they’d achieved both those goals, releasing their first full band EP Change Nothing, Regret Everything and debut album Greyer Than You Remember on the burgeoning independent label.
At just 10 tracks in a little over 31 minutes, Greyer Than You Remember was a frenetic, snarling pitbull of a record that mixed extraordinary technical prowess with Jones’s savage frenzied vocals. It was an incredibly assured hardcore debut and was highly praised by the underground but this Woking quintet have ambitions way beyond merely repeating their past success. ‘We're always looking to see how we can keep things fresh but also how we can keep playing music for as long as possible’ says Urwin. ‘I think you just need to be mindful if you want to do this for a long time. I think we'll still be making music in some capacity forever but I feel this type of music, as horrible as it sounds, is a young person's game. Sometimes the beauty of extreme music is when it is just a moment in time.’
Before you add 2 and 2 to get 5, don’t panic; Employed to Serve haven’t gone soft on us. In fact, in some respects, they’re heavier than ever, taking in much more doom-laden influences and adding a high dose of infectious grooves to their already multi-faceted palate. But their awareness and desire to expand beyond the formula of their debut has paid dividends with The Warmth of a Dying Sun. ‘We were very much conscious that we really didn't want to write Greyer... Part 2’ says Urwin. ‘We wanted it to stand apart and be its own entity. It’s hard to write slower songs when you come from a background of writing furious, fast-paced stuff because there's always a fear that what you’re working on is boring. That was a big worry for us; we actually had an additional slower paced song for this record that we ended up scrapping because we didn’t feel there was a hook or any parts that kept it interesting enough. I think the key to writing this kind of material was realising that it's not necessarily the guitar that should be the main focal point but the vocals. I feel it was important for us to retain the frantic elements we’re already known for as well though, otherwise there would be no dynamics; it only works because we’ve got a bit of both.’
‘I worked my vocal range on this record so I could mix things up a bit more’ says Jones of adapting her vocals to these tracks. ‘I favoured the lower end a bit more on this one just because the more scatty songs suited a higher range but I felt like I needed to complement the drawn-out sludgy material with a deeper resonance. It was a fun challenge though; it kept me on my toes.’ ‘There’s not a whole lot of melody on this album’ Urwin chimes in, ‘but there's definitely more than there was on Greyer... It is hard when you've got something really dissonant to then try and fit a melodic element into it but we were conscious of wanting to add a little bit in there, just to explore a different avenue if nothing else. Sometimes it’s good to try flexing a different musical muscle.’
It’s in our nature to respond to groove (come on, even your Nan likes 5 Minutes Alone) although Jones and Urwin don’t put this new found fondness for decelerated rhythms down to a calculated decision, but rather due to their love of Deftones and Will Haven having as much of an influence on this album as the bands they first discovered at Hevy 2012. Experimenting with different tunings also helped to put them in a different head-space when constructing the bare bones and riffs to the songs. ‘We’re in Drop G#’ says Urwin, ‘which just happens to be the same tuning that (final song on Greyer Than You Remember) As Cold As The Rest is in; it’s a silly tuning really! It may not seem that drastic a change but it gives you new ideas sometimes and I think having it dropped down that much maybe spurred on some of the more sludgy material.’
Lyrically, the album is just as potent as the band’s previous material and covers a breadth of significant themes. The final two tracks on the record, Half Life and Apple Tree share a common thread. Both deliberate over mental health issues, the former attempting to convey how those who suffer from depression feel and the latter looking at how mental illness can be hereditary, being passed on through the gene pool from parent to adolescent. ‘It seems like a very English quality to be polite and quietly move on from difficult issues’ says Jones. ‘It’s definitely an elephant in the room, particularly among men who aren’t really known for talking openly about their feelings. I think that mentality is exacerbated by this ‘man-up’ attitude or ‘grow a pair’; there's loads of studies that have concluded that suicide is the number one male killer. I think a lot of those people feel worthless, like a part of them is missing and we shouldn’t dismiss people who feel like that.’
Neither Jones nor Urwin suffer from depression but both have people close to them who do. The compassion they show in these two songs for people who are affected is heart-warming and highlights the importance of standing up for loved ones and colleagues when they may not have the courage or strength to stand up for themselves. ‘I started writing Apple Tree about someone I knew at school who had a parent that took their own life,’ says Urwin. ‘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.' We both have people in our family who've suffered with depression and we know it can be heredity. We're very fortunate that we’ve not picked up the symptoms as of yet. To be honest it’s not a subject that we've wanted to cover in the past because you don’t want to come off as seeming disrespectful. But through writing about this other person's experience, we realised that we do have a perspective that is close to home on the subject.’
A standout moment on the new album is the self-titled track, the longest song in Employed to Serve’s repertoire to date. Managing to capture several styles in six and a half minutes, the song serves as a lyrical ode to the band itself, a plea to follow ones passion, even if it seems unattainable and damn any naysayers that get in your way. ‘I see the warmth as a metaphor for being on-stage and feeling like this is where I belong, where I’ve always wanted to be since I was a kid,' says Jones 'and the dying sun represents self-doubt, the voice in the back of your head that reminds you that one day you're going to be too old to do this or one day you're going to have to give this up to start a family or pay your bills ... things like that. Essentially, I think everyone should have a passion for something the fills them with a sense of purpose and the song is about the relentless pursuit of that passion.’ The dogged determination that Urwin and Jones show in Employed to Serve is testament that The Warmth of a Dying Sun is no mere empty rhetoric.
The Warmth of a Dying Sun is released through Holy Roar Records on Friday 19th May and is available to pre-order in the UK and US now. Employed to Serve begin a UK and European tour on the 19th May in London.
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