REVIEW ROUND-UP: Employed To Serve, The Vaccines, Carcass

Employed To Serve

Conquering

Going through the UK’s suite of hardcore standouts of the past few years, few seem to have made as much of an impression as Employed To Serve. Just from the perspective of bands who’ve leveraged the sea change towards a more authentic style of rock music, you could argue that Employed To Serve were among those leading the pack, and to see them balloon into true paragons of the sound—as well as seeing the bands that have taken cues in their wake—has been truly inspiring, even from an outside perspective. On top of that, there’s also vocalist Justine Jones serving as the founder of Church Road Records and effectively rehousing so many other bands following the mass exodus of Holy Roar Records, a display of scene conservation and preservation that only typifies a profile of leadership even further. Thus, a title like Conquering feels all too appropriate for Employed To Serve right now, going into a new album on arguably their strongest foot to date, and with the sort of backing that a lot of heavy bands just wouldn’t have gotten in the past. Though saying that, the noteworthy retooling that this album has undergone does seem to be spreading its net outwards more explicitly, albeit not so much that it feels like a cynical move. If anything, it’s exactly what one would expect from Employed To Serve, only beefed up to encompass the grandeur and power of American metal and find a new dimension within their sound. They’ve definitely done that lyrically, where there’s a lot of impassioned vitality that’s practically seamless within this bigger sound, and Jones’ vocals retaining their harshness does a lot to keep the band grounded to its hardcore roots. The influences of, say, Killswitch Engage can be felt, but it’s overall more a peripheral attachment that makes Conquering feel that much mightier.

Similarly, it leads to a great sound where the combination of familiarity and freshness is the exact right level to make this really slam. At the far end of the latter, there’s the cliff-carving guitar leads that form We Don’t Need You and Mark Of The Grave that carry such an irresistible metal energy to them, only with the sharper edges of hardcore to boost them even further. Meanwhile, the likes of Twist The Blade and The Mistake make use of chugging hardcore speed and intensity excellently, leaning into a production job that’s so satisfyingly heavy yet nuanced in almost every regard. Guitars, bass and drums all have a crunch and rumble to them without being totally unrelenting, and the shape of metal underneath can be clearly discerned through how these compositions are laid out. There’s definitely something in that to be attributed to their current home at Spinefarm and the means of crafting bigger sounds that that offers, but just in general, there’s a grade of quality that comes from Employed To Serve that’s become unmistakable over the last few years. It’s similar to Svalbard in terms of hardcore that captures such a huge base in its sound without fail, and Conquering really does feel like the band’s most comprehensive display of that to date. This is what hardcore—even the more ‘standard’ variants—should be aiming for, in a sound that has power and expanse but can still satisfy as grade-A mosh fodder whenever it wants. Of course, that latter point is a very reductive description of what Employed To Serve are, but the sentiment still stands overall; Conquering can simultaneously vault over its previous heights and crash down with as much power as necessary, and as a means of solidifying Employed To Serve’s status as a truly special band, it gets there with flying colours.

8/10

For fans of: Palm Reader, Ithaca, Sharptooth

‘Conquering’ by Employed To Serve is released on 17th September on Spinefarm Records.


The Vaccines

Back In Love City

It’s no surprise that The Vaccines have never been able to re-find the fortunes awarded by their debut. They’re a modern indie band after all, a classification that sees them subjected to one of the more fickle branches of the music industry, and the fact they’ve been basically treading water in the background for near enough a decade is all the proof needed against some out-of-nowhere resurgence. To be completely honest they were never that great to begin with, but it’s still easy to empathise when the boom-and-bust culture of modern mainstream indie is so easy to see. That’s led to the customary swathe of forgettable, generally uninspired albums that tend to emerge from such a likely outcome, but Back In Love City does end up surprising for how ready it is to kick that habit. In general, there’s a lightness and energy that benefits The Vaccines greatly, and a pop focus that feels condensed and tight, but also willing to venture outwards more. In the case of the former, there’s a lot of pop lushness and flourish to joyous thrum of Headphones Baby and the torn-up rabble-rousing of XCT, but as an encompassing factor, the neon glow that paints effectively the entire album feels like the refined sophistication that The Vaccines want finally coming to head. It still feels euphoric as an indie-rock album too; Pink Water Pistols has the light-dappled slow burn you’d expect from a closer, but that’s not where the album’s focus lies in execution. It’s more in excitable, full-force momentum, courtesy of Jump Off The Top or Peoples’ Republic Of Desire, or simply a bigger finish to Paranormal Romance. It is worth noting that the changes ultimately means the album succumbs to the lessened guitar and bass presence that’s an inevitability at this point, but it’s not by an awful degree, and when these songs generally sit among the fullest and most personality-filled of The Vaccines’ career, it’s a generally worthwhile sacrifice.

It’s definitely preferable to the run-of-the-mill indie-rock and post-punk revivalism The Vaccines once bore claim to, and it gives what were already their stronger features a decent boost. It’s mainly in the writing, where some more evocative imagery and unorthodox word choices fit a lot more among the wider soundscapes to keep that aforementioned momentum rolling. Digging into that doesn’t reveal much outside the usual indie-rock thematic palate, though there’s a Killers-esque grasp of Americana that’s a welcome addition, albeit twisted on Heart Land to display some more sardonic British-isms which is enjoyable enough. It also means that Back In Love City has more to offer on its more superficial levels, which might seem rather backhanded compared to how much praise that approach has been given, but it’s a sign of The Vaccines being capable of more that they’re not quite living up to yet. This is certainly an improvement on virtually every front, but there’s still a cap there that’s holding them back, whether that’s in a more engaging lyrical set, or the power to ramp up and really go for broke on an anthemic front like their Stateside counterparts. Similarly, Justin Hayward-Young still isn’t the most evocative of a vocal presence, particularly in his style of disaffected, quintessentially English frontman that’s far from novel nowadays. Still, it’s less of a detriment this time, with the overall revamp and galvanisation that The Vaccines have undergone really sinking in deeply and improving what’s here practically across the board. Far be it to assume that this is the major second wind of The Vaccines, but it’s rare that indie bands who’ve well worn out their fifteen minutes step out in this self-assured a manner, with the results being genuinely enjoyable to boot. Particularly for a band who’ve never been all that good, this is a much-needed big win.

7/10

For fans of: The Killers, The Wombats, The Libertines

‘Back In Love City’ by The Vaccines is out now on Super Easy Records.


Carcass

Torn Arteries

Carcass’ presence in metal isn’t something to overlook, no matter how much that might sometimes feel the case. Since transitioning from goregrind into melodic death metal, they’ve become a truly consistent band in that field, so much so that a lot of their work can go unnoticed outside of the obvious touchstone of 1993’s Heartwork. They’re known more for their lyrics and use of scientific lexis rather than the music itself, fielding a situation that encompasses a lot of melodeath, in a reputation that perhaps holds more weight than its individual moments. That definitely seems the case with Torn Arteries, in which Carcass deliver more of the same reliable fare that seems squarely designed to please the diehards, and will most likely do so. That probably sounds a bit too critical for what this ultimately is, because this is a good album and well within Carcass’ usual standard. Jeff Walker remains an impressively visceral vocalist, with his raspy, spit-flicked half-screams that bring in a sinister flavour among the clinical presentation. The lyrics are just as cutting too, rarely deviating from the band’s traditional fare, but being immensely buoyed by how varied and diverse the band’s writing style can be. There’s definitely a more intellectual slant given to the traditional death metal gore, where the shadows of animal rights are so prominent within and they work so well in Carcass’ traditional formula.

And to be clear, this is a formula they’re working with, but as mentioned earlier, it falls into the same bracket of appeal as a lot of melodeath does, where more of the same can easily suffice. Plus, Carcass are really good at what they do, a sentiment fully solidified in the centerpiece Flesh Ripping Torment Limited, where even as an almost-ten-minute lament that errs much further towards subtlety and growing power, it never falls off or feels disengaged. Elsewhere, Carcass make use of their sharper, surgical production style to make their melodies feel tighter and more slicing; it’d be better with a bit more muscle at times, but rarely does Torn Arteries falter at delivering a satisfying melodeath listen. It’s the sort of album that’s very much a reassertion of status, coming around every so often—especially from veteran bands—but they’re almost always welcome they’re examples of how their creators haven’t lost their edge. Carcass certainly haven’t lost theirs, as Torn Arteries exists as a typically potent reminder of how steadfast within melodeath they are, not making bold new strides but seldom retreating into themselves either. In other words, it’s exactly how a Carcass album at this point in their career should sound, so it’s really no wonder it’s good.

7/10

For fans of: Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Autopsy

‘Torn Arteries’ by Carcass is released on 17th September on Nuclear Blast Records.


The Plot In You

Swan Song

Like a lot of metalcore from their era, you can make a sincere argument that The Plot In You have run their course and remain propped up by a scene that just refuses to die. Quite why it does remains unclear, but in the meantime, it’s meant that a whole load of chronically throwaway bands are filling in gaps wherever they can, where they mightn’t be necessarily bad, but they have no business picking up steam in 2021. It’s true that they might be blessed with a more gifted vocalist than they have any right to be in Landon Tewers, but away from that is a band that might as well be metalcore anonymity personified, especially off the back of 2018’s Dispose where the runoff has only become more concentrated on Swan Song. If anything, the disparity has only become wider between where The Plot In You are and where metalcore is going, as breakdowns and guitar crunch will try and mingle with a lumpy alt-pop structure, and neither outcome shines in any conceivable way. It makes for a weird staggered sounding album where it rarely gets going, exacerbated by a total lack of power in the guitars, or really in any instrumental moment that tries to show off something organic. That’s a lost cause from the start, but when the likes of Letters To A Dead Friend or Both To Blame feel devoid of components that could be suitably heavy or anthemic, it feels so smothered and blanketed for no adequate reason. This isn’t a powerful sounding album, nor do The Plot In You work with what they’ve got in a way that could simulate sweeping drama or emotion. It’s just flat and blank across the board, dunked down even further by how deeply unfashionable it is at almost every turn.

It does somewhat water down a pretty decent sentiment overall, but if there’s one area where The Plot In You can swing things around, it probably is here. There isn’t anything tremendously novel about what they’re saying, in terms of ending relationships and some of the therapeutic release that can come from that, but it’s never egregious either, and Tewers does set the bar up a fair bit higher with his contributions. He’s regularly The Plot In You’s best feature, with true, nailed-on standouts being a bit thinner on the ground this time, but really hitting a melodic stride on a track like Too Far Gone and the passion he delivers there. In terms of emotion and vulnerability, he can convey it a lot more than another garden-variety metalcore vocalist, in cleans if nothing else. When it comes to screams, he’s a lot less impactful, but it does say a lot when Swan Song’s strongest turns come from leaning into those cleaner sensibilities. But that’s one part of an entire album that has even the clearest semblance of success, and when The Plot In You will proceed to balance their pile-up of unworkable movements and turns on one performance, it’s ridiculously lopsided from front to back. That’s a fairly common complaint with metalcore of this stripe, where there’s a single lynchpin factor that everything else is draped around in the hope of some residual success, and while there’s a sign of that here, it’d be hard to say even that’s accurate. It’s more a case of a band trying to be experimental within the confines of a very narrow stylistic window, and fumbling succinctly and sincerely at nearly every corner. That’s not to say that wasn’t expected—not for metalcore like this, and not for The Plot In You who’ve never been scene-stealers—but perhaps a bit more could’ve been done to avoid such an obvious imbalance. Or maybe just not make an album like this, that would work too.

4/10

For fans of: The Color Morale, The Word Alive, Like Moths To Flames

‘Swan Song’ by The Plot In You is released on 17th September on Fearless Records.


Alien Weaponry

Tangaroa

It’s not really a surprise that Alien Weaponry have received as much hype as they have; if you’re looking for a metal band that’s something unequivocally new and different, this is definitely it. Outside of being hugely precocious for members of such a young age, their debut was decidedly its own thing, blending thrash and groove-metal with lyrics in te reo Māori for an undeniably unique end product. It’s not the most accessible approach, but it’s also refreshing to see they’ve not dialled it back on Tangaroa either, and despite their increasing profile and success, they’re continuing to barrel forward. And there’s a certain mood around this album especially that just wouldn’t work as well otherwise; there are songs in English here, but they don’t have as deep a connection with their material, where songs about historical figures and legendary beings in Māori culture weave within an anti-colonialist message, even sampling Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 Christmas address from New Zealand to drive that point home. It’s the sort of political messaging that always has roots in metal like this, but never quite feels as connected to its cause as Alien Weaponry are. It also gives the vocal performance a lot more life too, where the mixing and tracking deliberately isn’t as tight and the abundance of chants and backing cries yield that primal feel that Alien Weaponry do so well to cultivate. It’s akin to what Sepultura used to on their earlier work, in how metal is crossbred with distinctive cultural facets and iconography to really stand out and feeling so alive as an entity.

The music, on the other hand, isn’t quite as impressive, but in Alien Weaponry’s defence, it’s hard to really push that up when the theming is so ironclad elsewhere. The more textured backing tones are there but aren’t quite as prominent, and there’s something of a thinness across the board that can affect an album as long as this when the instrumental presence isn’t as big as it should be. That’s not to say it still isn’t solid though, especially in guitar work which pleasingly leans more on the groove aspect, which just feels like a better fit in principle for this sort of heaving statement. Rarely is there something truly execeptional in terms of Alien Weaponry’s sound, but they’re never bad either, and that averages out enough for Tangaroa to generally impress in how expansive it can be in its ideas. The creative force that’s gone into it is definitely noteworthy, and particularly in the first half where the traditional instruments come through more prominently in the mix, the feeling that no other metal is consistently doing this sort of thing is ultimately what boons this album more than anything. Where some will use that approach as accompaniment—or, let’s face it, a gimmick—as a built-in part of Alien Weaponry’s sound and style, and being so intrinsically linked to their identity as a band, there’s far more mileage to be gained from it, and it does feel like the band are pushing in that direction. Despite not being a wholly great experience, Tangaroa isn’t shy of those elements, and getting to the point where they’re assembled in the best possible way doesn’t seem that far off right now. Even now, Alien Weaponry have the benefit of their uniqueness to rest on, and not in a way that diminishes actual skill and thought either. It’s why that hype has been so prominent—as far as ‘traditional’ metal goes, there are few more interesting.

7/10

For fans of: Sepultura, Evile, Killer Be Killed

‘Tangaroa’ by Alien Weaponry is released on 17th September on Napalm Records.


The Band CAMINO

The Band CAMINO

Had The Band CAMINO come around about five or so years ago, they’d probably be a lot bigger than they are now. They’re like The Maine in a lot of ways, chiefly through a cleaner, vibrant pop-rock sound that balances modernity with a 2000s-leaning sound, but where that band have built themselves up over time, The Band CAMINO have launched in without the same run-up, and being unable to replicate it through streams of singles. You really do see it on this self-titled album; it’s not surprising at all that they’ve got fans, but the shades of other bands doing what they do better are hard to escape overall. It’s mostly in the alt-pop slant that The Band CAMINO parade where this is most noticeable, where Know It All has the lumpy percussiveness and Sorry Mom and Help Me Get Over You wear their watery, saccharine intentions plainly in a notably unappealing way. It’s easy to see how 5 Seconds Of Summer and Dan + Shay were their prospective tour partners last years, as The Band CAMINO have a very similar approach to pop sweetness that can really go down the wrong way, and the tart, clipped quality that sometimes afflicts Jeffrey Jordan’s vocals doesn’t help. It becomes all the more baffling when there’s actually a decent pop-rock band buried in there; I Think I Like You feels like an improved overhaul on a LANY song with the fat, frenetic bass groove that the glossier electro-pop is held in place by, and the likes of 1 Last Cigarette and Damage have a pleasingly no-frills approach to pop-rock that can be a bit burlier and more outwardly strong. To their credit, The Band CAMINO do err more on that side on average, but between the blemish-free production and the fact that their wetter moments want to make themselves known so badly, it doesn’t feel as equitable of a balance as it might be.

On top of that, it makes that more sanitised, saccharine facets of The Band CAMINO stick out all the more; pop-rock of this stripe tends to trend young, but the Radio Disney feel of a song like Roses, where swearing is deliberately censored in a song about grabbing a positive outlook on life, can be a bit difficult to stomach. There are ways to hit that space without being so explicitly tailored to it, and though that’s easily the most extreme example the album has, the ethos of hyper-earnest songs that go far past their reasonable boundaries remains. It comes in Jordan’s apologies on Sorry Mom which, in lines like “Sometimes I say ‘Fuck’ / Sometimes I talk about things you don’t like in my songs” that are beyond tame for its downbeat air, or a pining breakup song like Song About You which mars a relatively sweet sentiment by how syrupy it’ll ultimately become. The Band CAMINO aren’t using this album as an opportunity to flex much emotional nuance, and so a song like Know It All about having supposedly moved on post-breakup feels notably petty and passive aggressive at times. Then there’s Look Up, one of the more pointless anti-phone songs in a while, given how its messaging falls in line with kid-skewed air of The Band CAMINO to be a positive influence, and becomes hard to buy given that Jordan is in his mid-20s and the subject is usually tackled just as unsuccessfully by artists at least twice that age. At the same time, it’s all pretty harmless and not worth getting into the stir that the worst pop-rock inspires, but it holds The Band CAMINO back from doing more or ascending to the heights of their peers. Where The Maine have remained musically bold and poppy but have grown up inside it, The Band CAMINO are a lot more noncommittal in that regard, and it leaves them feeling a bit too empty as a result.

5/10

For fans of: The Maine, Bad Suns, lovelytheband

‘The Band CAMINO’ by The Band CAMINO is out now on Elektra Records.


Lurk

Around The Sun

It’s good to have a post-punk band come around who aren’t tied to the cues of Idles, though to simply dub Lurk ‘another post-punk band’ is more reductive than they deserve. There’s a poppiness that carries them a lot further, as well as touches of punk and new wave, and the general feeling that they’re trying to reshape a sound that virtually everyone knows the score with by now. And on Around The Sun, it’s not a revolutionary experience within the genre, but the composite parts come together in a way that’s much more flavourful and engaging. The basslines still have a churning, ever-moving quality, but they aren’t the lynchpin that everything lives or dies upon, instead giving some louder guitars equal weight on Crack A Smile and Fear Loathing, or simply going full alt-rock anthemia on the title track. It’s just much more fleshed-out than the usual motorik motions, and Lurk feel so comfortable in embracing this brighter, bigger version of a sound that, lately, has been anything but. It helps that the album is brisk and fast-moving enough to facilitate that too, and that Lurk generally have enough ways of reshaping their particular structure to keep it sounding fresh throughout.

Similarly, it’s impressive how complete this sounds already; there’s very little tentativeness when it comes to diving into these ideas, even the groaning, distorted Bermuda which might have more in common with ‘regular’ post-punk, but definitely does a bit more with it. Perhaps Lurk aren’t a deft as songwriters just yet, in how the standout lyrics don’t quite come through as readily as others in their extended genre, but seldom do they struggle to capture interest regardless. Kevin Kiley is the sort of vocalist who has the elasticated, wild magnetism that fits so well within a sound like this, and combining that with the freewheeling creative energy of his bandmates results in the sort of deeply enjoyable listen that there’s still so much more to be tapped into. There’s a depth and colour to the approach that Lurk take that’s so exciting to see unfold, and when there’s clearly so much still to offer, it’s such a great feeling to see a band like this barrel headlong into the greatness they’re undoubtedly capable of. Definitely worth a listen, but worth sticking around to see what’s to come even more.

7/10

For fans of: Ramones, Idles, One Step Closer

‘Around The Sun’ by Lurk is released on 17th September on Pure Noise Records.


Dead Reynolds

Breathe With Strangers

You can almost feel bad for Dead Reynolds going into the debut full-length so far on the back foot. Their name gets bandied around here and there but in no huge capacity, and being rooted in the sound of early 2010s Britrock isn’t conducive to much success in the current climate. Just as a prospect, it doesn’t seem very lucrative moving forward, and when Breathe With Strangers is the sort of album that’s so easy to forget the second it’s over, those suspicions are pretty confirmed. On the bright side, it does improve after the first track I Tried, where the drums drown out guitars and bass that already feel immovably capped at a mid-level in the mix, but only in the sense that everything sounds better composed overall. There’s no real grit or heft to speak of, though Dead Reynolds are competent enough at a big melodic hook, even if it doesn’t tend to stick or rise above their clear influences. It’s factors like that that make the ‘local band’ albatross around their necks pretty difficult to get ride of, where even their best ideas remain so inextricably tied to other, bigger acts, and there’s so little about themselves that can be called their own.

That’s the crux of where Dead Reynolds’ problems lie, because otherwise, they’re at least serviceable. As far as straight-down-the-middle alt-rock goes, they could’ve slotted amongst the gaggle of upstarts around 2013, and for those for whom those bands still appeal to nowadays, there is merit to be found here. But it’s impossible to talk about a band like this without considering the greatest context of rock in which they find themselves, and Dead Reynolds stand as so outclassed. They aren’t that interesting or distinct, nor do they have real songwriting flair that extends past the expected limits of their sound; they just hit the right beats with a certain degree of proficiency, and leave it at that. Even then, it’s hard to hold it against them too much, for as new a band as they are, but on this evidence, it’s hard to see how this could be extrapolated into more outside of the hole they’ve practically dug themselves already. It’s the same thing that can be said about a lot of bands whose alt-rock is yet to grow with the times, and that might be the most damning factor of all for Dead Reynolds—they can’t even stand out among a crowd of those struggling to stand out.

5/10

For fans of: Mallory Knox, Lower Than Atlantis, Kids In Glass Houses

‘Breathe With Strangers’ by Dead Reynolds is released on 17th September.


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