How Employed To Serve’s Eternal Forward Motion Took Metal Forward In 2019
Time waits for no slave. In 2019, every passing moment feels like a slide further down the slope of oblivion. It only seems to be accelerating, too. There are no brakes on the human experience, no pause button to recalculate or indulgently self-commiserate. There is, however, a steering-wheel, and it’s up to this generation to stiffen their grip on it, twist back on track and reclaim control of our own ever-unspooling narrative. There is no fate but what we make.
In 2017, Employed To Serve were already keenly aware of these facts. Crashing out of the underground and into the wider rock consciousness with blistering second LP The Warmth Of A Dying Sun, they channelled the sound of a generational quarter-life crisis. With the gravitational force of an imploding star, those 10 tracks felt like the thrilling distillation of the frustration, fury and existential doubt of a youth enduring today’s socioeconomic shitstorm of someone else’s making. Honest, relevant and delivered with a serrated cutting-edge, it set the bar for a whole generation of fast-rising contemporaries and deservedly claimed Kerrang!’s Album Of The Year.
Following up was always going to be a daunting ask. Continuing a campaign of relentless live showings and signing with major-label subsidiary Spinefarm, expectations only spiralled upwards. A new tact would have to be found – a new energy harnessed – to maintain momentum. Fittingly, Eternal Forward Motion managed to actually escalate the attack. Rather than raging against the ‘what?’ and ‘why?’ of our current societal ills, there is more purpose and strength to be tapped in the ‘how?’ of setting them right. Empowerment and honest self-appraisal would be required; hearts and minds set to task.
Vocalist Justine Jones came to her personal epiphany while processing personal issues away from the spotlight. “I had the worst year I’d ever had,” she would reveal in our March cover story prior to the record’s release. “[But] that’s no-one’s business. It got me thinking about Instagram, and how you don’t see everything – just the best bits of someone’s life. There’s always stuff going on behind the scenes that nobody knows about.
“It’s not good to be comparing yourself to other people all the time, people you don’t know. It makes people more worried about what they aren’t and what they don’t have than actually focussing on and being happy about where they are and what they’re actually doing.”
There is an ever-increasing disconnect between perception and reality. In personal life, the performative nature of digital presence and social media – that ever-more artificial keeping-up-with-the-Joneses focus – has loosened people’s grip on hard realities of their personal situation and undercut self-worth. On a broader societal scale, it has undermined that crucial interpersonal connection of everyday living and lowered barriers against mass-media bias and fake news.
“More than ever I feel that there’s an unobtainable PMA attitude thrown at you,’” guitarist Sammy Urwin hammered the point. “I’ll tell you what: it doesn’t work.”
“It’s about leaning [instead] into the pain and leaning into the struggle and letting that churn out something real inside you,” drummer Robbie Back would expand. “And in that there is growth and overcoming things. We’re not old, but we’re not childish. We have some mid ground for understanding going through dark times can build some real thick skin.”
Accordingly, Eternal Forward Motion isn’t a wallow. It’s a war-cry. Maintaining so much of their trademark uncompromising severity, the sound (rounded out by guitarist Richard Jacobs and then-bassist Marcus Gooda, who would depart following the album’s release) is swollen with elements of the grinding alt and nu-metal bombast on which these players were raised. The rawness, aggression and sheer overwhelming violence of early Slipknot has been a common point of comparison, but there are shades of the groovy insidiousness of Korn and even Deftones’ textural dexterity, too.
There is enough blunt-force quality for ETS to hold their own with transatlantic contemporaries like Code Orange, Knocked Loose and Vein, but also enough undiluted British humility for them to stand apart. Crucially, there is a broad streak of positivity running through the album’s core: acknowledgement and empathy for those going through dark times, but encouragement, too, that the power to make them better is never out of reach.
“We wanted to make music that wasn’t just focusing solely on the negatives,” Sammy continued. “It’s acknowledging the negative stuff, but saying ‘channel that into something more positive’. I’m not saying that’s an easy thing to do, but it’s a worthwhile thing to do.
“I want people to get from it the same thing as I get when I listen to Strength Beyond Strength by Pantera – I want it to give people a sense of self-empowerment. I want it to get people pumped up and to make them feel good. I want to be that angry, aggressive record you put on that makes people want to do something positive, rather than wallowing in dirge and misery.”
Aggression, intelligence and compassion for Employed To Serve have never been mutually-exclusive qualities. Their rage is not a destructive force, but an empowering one. Their indignation isn’t clouded by red mist, but drawn with righteous lucidity. Their darkness is not there to be drowned in but to reflect back the common struggle of being alive.
Amongst the sheer savagery of the title-track, there is encouragement for the directionless to reach out for a guiding hand. The pit-rending brutality of Force Fed instructs listeners not just to throw down but to think for themselves. Harsh Truth fearlessly grasps the everyday actuality of depression (‘Well I’m not going to draw my curtains today / No I’m not going to force a grin today…’) but entreats listeners to find their way through. Brilliantly, album-closer Bare Bones On A Blue Sky drops curtain with the buoyant promise that ‘There’s hope for tomorrow…’
Indeed, that brighter future hinges only on good people putting their weight behind good things. Having already put so many modern wrongs in their stranglehold, Eternal Forward Motion is, ultimately, the sound of Employed To Serve deploying a warmer – albeit no less impassioned – embrace.
“We’re that friend that’s supposed to make you feel good and energised and worthy,” Justine concludes. “There are other albums to make you feel sad and embrace that, and that’s great, but we’re here to make you feel good. We’re the friend to give you that good advice.”
We’d be all the poorer without them.
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