Employed To Serve/Palm Reader/Cruelty @Think Tank, Newcastle upon Tyne, March 13, 2020

In a week where every metalhead’s Facebook feed delivered news of cancelled tours, it was no surprise to hear that Employed To Serve had been forced to postpone their upcoming dates in mainland Europe.

But in the UK, the show went on. And Woking’s ragers descended on Think Tank intent on making every second count.

The last time they hit Newcastle, Employed To Serve gave US hardcore stars Code Orange a run for their money, but they’ve sharpened their stagecraft even further since then.

Riding high on the success of 2019’s breakout album Eternal Forward Motion and a new record deal with Spinefarm, the quintet are a more confident, focused and taught unit nowadays. They’re a band who’ve emerged from the UK underground as part of the Holy Roar family to wreak havoc across the globe, an act whose intelligent, high energy blend of hardcore and metal resonates across sub-scenes and generations.

Last night they proved one again why the hype is justified.

The quintet delivered with frightening intensity. They never let up.

And while vocalists Justine Jones and Sammy Urwin were natural focal points, Employed To Serve performed as one (even down to the matching windbreakers).

The emphasis was on blasting through frantic tunes like Dull Ache Behind The Eyes with precision and power, or bringing all of the lurching, tectonic groove of Harsh Truth into glorious life. Good For Nothing swept Think Tank along to a wave of abrasive, urban riffery. Void Ambition, with its lacerating, Converge-style flourishes, ratcheted Employed To Serve’s assault up to total sonic annihilation. This show felt cathartic – and not just because it bookended a troubling week.

Friday was also a demonstration of the strength of the UK underground.

Midlands outfit Cruelty made use of their early slot by spitting caustic HC all over Think Tank, while Nottingham’s Palm Reader, now three albums and a split into their career, ripped into the venue with their unique take on angular, technical and emotive hardcore.

Singer Josh Mckeown gave everything he had on Swarm. His bandmates were a joy to watch. Coalesce soared from trickling melodies to heart stopping crescendos. Palm Reader should be far bigger than they are. Maybe their fourth album, due to hit his year, will give the five-piece the status they richly deserve.

So, while the future of the live scene hangs in the balance and when the dreams of many bands – desperately reliant on touring – could soon be shattered, this bill reminded us of the importance of shared experience… and the role of alternative and extreme music in building communities.

Tough times lie ahead. Let’s support our music wherever – and in whatever way – we can.

Rich Holmes