The decades-old relationship between hardcore and heavy metal hasn't always run smoothly. But while there are countless examples of bands that blurred the lines between the genres and ended up producing unforgivably awful music, there are also bands like the UK's EMPLOYED TO SERVE. The overall aesthetic and clunky band name are hardcore to the bone, of course, but everything else about "Conquering" (and, indeed, its predecessors) screams the irrefutable truth that this band are making music that defies cynicism and smashes as hard as anything else out there. There's a touch of genius in EMPLOYED TO SERVE's sound: it's fervently modern but rooted in old-school notions of heaviness; it's unapologetic in its debt to a post-SLIPKNOT metal mentality, but still refreshingly devoid of contemporary cliché. And, most important of all, it underscores some seriously great songs that will briskly pin most listeners to the nearest wall.
For once, the much-abused term "modern metal" seems appropriate. EMPLOYED TO SERVE wield the same sort of crushing sonic power that we expect from genuinely heavy metal, and from epic opener "Universal Chokehold" onwards, its impact is self-evident. Justine Jones's scabrous vocals are a strong anchor to the hardcore world, and plainly this band have hungrily consumed the CONVERGE back catalogue. But "Universal Chokehold" slams and slays with doggedly metallic intent, right down to its dissonant but weirdly stirring chorus.
Time and again on "Conquering", discerning listeners will find themselves compelled to shriek "The riffs!" The straightforwardly punishing "Exist" begins at an almost PRONG-like clip, before speeding up and heading straight for the death 'n' roll jugular. This band's understanding of 30 years of heavy and extreme music is more than apparent, but it's the way they wring fresh ideas from all of that noise that makes this such a joyous piece of work. Even "Twist the Blade", with its cheerful nods to nu-metal and the days of grunge morbidity, does its job with a killer riff strike rate that should strike fear into the hearts of the half-hearted everywhere. It is followed by "Sun Up To Sun Down", which is as remorseless and stirring as its title suggests and then the utterly berserk "The Mistake", wherein snotty blastbeats, serrated-edge thrashcore beatdowns and several tons of bilious chug collide. EMPLOYED TO SERVE sustain the quality and intensity, too. From "We Don't Need You", a monstrous slab of doomy crossover, to the rampaging, tech-death textures of the title track, "Conquering" is fresh, fiery and fiercely original to the bitter, bruising end. The hybrid is steel-plated and unerring, the songs are uniformly strong, and the end result will shatter your skull. If this is metalcore, maybe it's not such a bad thing after all.