Evolution is the change in characteristics of populations over successive generations; the expressions of genes passed on from parent to offspring during reproduction. Music, like biology, must constantly look forward to grow.
Heavy metal is a genre stuck between a rock and a hard place in the evolutionary process. Legacy acts remain as poster boys years on from their golden days as fans stare at change with a face of fear while newer, experimental bands languish in potential purgatory. As heavy metal reaches its breaking point, Woking’s Employed To Serve look to lead the charge in metal’s next evolution.
“Look at Metallica, they’re dads; they’re pushing almost sixty! They’re going to have to retire at some point. At the end of the day they’re only human, they will stop being in a band at some point in their lives, and we have to come to terms with that.”
Frontwoman Justine Jones preaches the words no metal fan wishes to come to terms with, but for the genre to continue to evolve, it must accept it and rediscover the passion that brought those old bands to new heights once more.
“Who wants metal to die? No one does – it’s so special, it’s such a unifying genre of music because it’s like supporting the underdog football team, it’s the fifth division team that does well. People have so much passion for it; I think people are cottoning on to the fact that they need to champion these young bands to go through the ranks and replace the legacy acts.”
It’s more than just holding on to the past glories of a genre that fuels the fire in Employed To Serve’s bellies; the maintenance of the authenticity that metal has built itself on for decades plays a part.
“I feel like if artists continue to do it past their sell-by date, in terms of if they’re not enjoying it or fulfilling themselves anymore, people see through that,” she explains. “They know when it’s not your 100% album; they know you’re not feeling it because they’re not stupid. They have a lot of context and other artists that they listen to.
“I’m not bringing age into it, because there are plenty of older artists who are bringing out amazing music, but there are a lot who aren’t as young and as angry as they were, and people see it when it becomes like more of a career, more of an agenda than pure passion.”
Passion and evolution are two of Employed To Serve’s key ingredients. Throw in some technical death metal and alt-metal vibes a la Gojira, Meshuggah and Deftones, and you’ve got one of Britain’s heaviest bands in years, and on their third album ‘Eternal Forward Motion’, they’re using the natural process of evolution as a person to evolve as a band.
“I feel like as people we’re still finding our way in life,” reflects Justine, “and we’re still very much growing up. I’m at this age where you believe you’re not finished growing up until your mid-thirties; I’m in a constant internal struggle with who I want to be, and it reflects in how we want to be as a band. We’ve been finding our sound.”
2017’s ‘Warmth Of A Dying Sun’ was a critically-acclaimed album-of-the-year second effort that catapulted Justine, guitarists Sammy Urwin and James Jackson, bassist Jamie Venning and drummer Robbie Back to the front of the new breed of British metal’s pack. ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ takes their nasty hardcore formula, upscales the technical wizardry we’ve come to expect from them and opened the floodgates with songs that are at once their heaviest yet their most accessible.
“At the end of the day, if you spend a lot of time doing things, the end goal is to have more people listening to you, and it wasn’t in a contrived way where we set out to write a song everyone can listen to, it was just an entirely natural thing.
“When you have a straighter, chorus-oriented song, like ‘Harsh Truth’, it helps achieve that, and it’s the direction we’re going in as a band; we’re becoming more accessible. All of the songs I love have strong choruses – we wanted to write a song like ‘My Own Summer’ by Deftones. That’s the impact we want to have.”
As a wise comic-strip superhero was once told, with great power comes great responsibility, and the pressure put on the band in the wake of critical acclaim meant their songwriting practices were put under a microscope for thorough analysis and investigation. It’s a process which paid off tenfold in producing ‘Eternal Forward Motion”s high impact hardcore.
“As a band, we’re quite good at being insular and concentrating on what we can do better in ourselves rather than attempt to meet everyone else’s expectations – we’re very self-aware of when we’re cutting things short.
“We’ve spent a lot more time vetting our songs on this album than on any other; we were a lot more cutthroat on what we felt we could do better. There were certain songs that we literally cut in half and took certain aspects of and put them into other songs. We had a Frankenstein thing going on, ‘this bit works well but everything around it is weak in comparison, what else fits?'”
‘Eternal Forward Motion’ is a record born not only out of passion, but out of pain. Rising from the ashes of a year of personal hell, Employed To Serve reincarnate the negatives of their personal lives into messages of positivity, channelling their out-of-the-studio anger into on-record aggression. The resulting force is as a band at their most visceral. That aggression, as Justine explains, comes from a place of reflection rather than resentment.
“I’ve not had a very good year. Sure, professionally, I’ve had the best year of my life but at the same time a lot of personal stuff happened, and I just haven’t been in a good place, especially when we were recording ‘Eternal Forward Motion’, and it’s been the same for a couple of other band members.
“I feel like it’s definitely shown through in the songs. Everyone always thinks we’re having a really good time and everything’s going great, and yeah, you’re right, it is, but it’s not without its struggles, and it’s not without its bad times.”
Single ‘Harsh Truth’, like much of ‘Eternal Forward Motion”s sonic makeup, is defined by its dynamics. Built around Justine’s aggressive vocals, the band slowly blends in bit-by-bit, like puzzle pieces connecting to form a bigger picture. A bigger picture brought about by the band’s own personal experiences that are as much a reflection of their lives as they are a social commentary of the state of modern Britain.
Encapsulating the struggles we face as humans every single day, a struggle we often choose to run away from, hiding behind a fake veil of positivity, is a thought process Justine echoes. “‘There’s a harsh truth in plain view’ – it’s this elephant in the room that nobody is talking about that everyone is struggling, but they’re shrouding it behind big nights out, positive PMA social media posts.
“No one wants to be the downer. We’re trying to highlight the fact that it’s okay to not be feeling great – it’s a normal human feeling to not feel great all of the time, and we always forget that.”
‘Eternal Forward Motion’ is Employed To Serve’s call-to-arms, a blistering attack of positivity on the negativity of our society, brought about, but not dictated, by the everchanging perils of social media.
“This album isn’t about social media as such, but I feel like it touches upon the fact that anything like it disconnects people from each other and it makes us feel like we don’t need basic human needs like human interaction.
“This sounds really lame, and very ‘youth camp’ but this record exists to bring people together and for us to be okay to say ‘I’ve not been really good just lately but writing this has helped me, and hopefully it might help you’ – like, we’re all in this shit together.”
The concept our society has developed of it not being okay to admit you’re not okay is becoming a detriment to what is otherwise a forward-thinking generation, and inadvertently it’s become something Employed To Serve simply can’t sit silently about any longer.
“It’s one of those things everyone is thinking where everyone is hiding behind this veil of bravado. It’s this social media bravado that everything is great and if you’re negative, it’s your fault, and everyone has to be happy all of the time.
“As much as I love social media – it’s an amazing tool, and I’ve discovered a lot of brilliant bands and all these places you can get free food because of it – at the end of the day, it’s harming people’s actual feelings. Social media, for a lot of people, is quite new, and people are still adapting how to use it, and they’re so intent on appearing as the person they want to be rather than being realistic about their lives, they’re cherry-picking the best parts in to tricking people into thinking they’ve got the full picture.”
From the vivid and imaginative artwork to the music itself, ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ is an album with cavernous levels of depth that’ll require your undivided attention on more than one occasion. Every aspect of it has layers which represent the very meaning of the album itself.
“So each of the cogs are different aspects of your life that keep you moving forward, and all of the biological plant-life are all of the beautiful aspects that keep you moving through. It’s this idea of constantly moving forward and that you’re like a machine in the sense that you’re a conveyor belt because time does move forward, and life does go on. That’s the positive message of this album: through negative events can positive outcomes be reached.”
“We try to be as metaphorical as possible – we don’t want to outwardly say this is the torment of my life right now because that’s just too personal to put out in public. At the same time, we wanted something that people from all walks of life could relate to in some way, even if it’s just a single feeling.”
As much as ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ acts as Employed To Serve’s secret weapon, a statement of intent armed with incendiary social and political bullets, Justine hopes it’ll be received with a more personal touch than that.
“I’d like to think that there are different friends for every situation in your life and I feel like there are different albums for every situation in your life. For me, Hatebreed’s ‘Perseverance’ is my go-to when I need to light a fire to get me going to do something active, and I’d love to think that ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ is that fire that someone needs to take action, that urgency to change something for the positive.”
The process of change and evolution is a necessary process, and as both the frontwoman of Employed To Serve and a Label Manager for Holy Roar Records, Justine has been thrust into pole position as an advocate, flagbearer and role model in the ongoing struggle for evolution within the industry. While lesser personalities would crumble with such responsibility, Justine is humbled however honest in admitting that she’s never done anything in her life for anyone else and never will, role model or otherwise.
“In a very selfish way, I do everything for me. If you’re doing it for anyone else, it’s a very dangerous territory to get in. At the end of the day, you need to look out for your own health. If things aren’t going the way you want them to be or you’re not ‘vibing it’ anymore, then I think you should start winding it down.
“It’s not very healthy, this 100% gunning it attitude of ‘I’m going to tour, then work full-time, then tour again’. It has to come from a place of really wanting to do it, and I definitely check myself. I don’t want to constantly be negative on social media because that’s the last thing people need right now; they need positive people to be around but it’s definitely a selfish view of enjoying it and living it, and if it gets to the point where it isn’t, I probably wouldn’t do it.”
While being a role model has never been part of the plan, being a comfort for others has. Much like Deftones and Hatebreed have for them, Employed To Serve are beginning to come accustomed to their fans finding solace in their music.
“As much as I say I do things for myself, inadvertently it does a lot of things for other people. So many artists that I’ve listened to have always done it for themselves, but it’s ended up helping me, too.
“It started with a few people, but now at shows, we seem to have really struck a chord with people – it’s like this self-fulfilling prophecy of paying back all of the artists who’ve helped me by helping out other people by just being selfish and being me.”
Progression is and will always be at the heart of Employed To Serve’s mission. Since the moment Justine was a part of Employed To Serve, her life with the band and her life as a Label Manager at Holy Roar have always been intertwined. As both the band and the label increased in popularity and size throughout 2018, it was time for the two to be pulled apart to ensure the survival and sanity of both, especially when Spinefarm Records came calling.
“Holy Roar has been doing really well, and I’m really proud of it and so have the band. It’s got to the point where I wanted separate time to channel my energy into both. I’d put unnecessary pressure on myself; I started to disregard ETS things for Holy Roar bands because I love our bands and I want them to do well, so I wouldn’t post about ETS on Holy Roar social media so that we didn’t seem bias. Splitting the two has allowed me to put my full energy into both aspects at different times. Spinefarm has a bigger general reach than Holy Roar currently. It makes sense logically, but I was very nervous at first as it felt like I was leaving home for the first time.”
It wasn’t as simple for Justine as it was for her bandmates to take Employed To Serve to the next logical step, even though she knew it was the only move to make in their evolutionary game of chess.
“I have a big issue with trusting people with things that I love. This entire time I’ve been in this band we’ve been on Holy Roar, I’ve been my own label manager, and I’ve just gone and had discussions in the mirror about things. That’s been really easy because I can just make decisions and go and do things immediately, but it’s something I’ve struggled with. Moving labels has helped me develop as a person.”
The decision took a lot of soul-searching, but ultimately comes at a time when Employed To Serve are poised to break from underground heroes to the face of British metal’s next generation. With festival slots at this year’s Glastonbury and Bring Me The Horizon’s crossover All Points East bill, they’re part of a wider invasion of alternative music on the mainstream, they’re the ones breaking the barriers and boundaries of musical influence.
“I listen to a lot of hip-hop and a lot of pop music, but metal will always number one for me, and combining all three of those into this massive festival where a lot of people are potentially going to watch metal for the first time, I’m a massive advocate for that.
“The idea of some younger version of me stumbling across this really chaotic band and falling in love with them for the first time brings me so much joy, because that’s what happened to me, I accidentally fell in love with this kind of music, and us playing Glastonbury allows that process of discovery and evolution to continue.”
‘Eternal Forward Motion’ is a metaphorical collection of monologues on evolution set across a backdrop of social media, human interaction, and mental health. Employed To Serve, as creators, are ready to progress through their next phase of evolution with an album that’s the heaviest and most honest they’ve ever been.
Taken from the June issue of Upset. Employed To Serve’s album ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ is out now.