Live Review : Employed To Serve + Raging Speedhorn + Loathe @ Rebellion, Manchester on March 29th 2019

Liverpool’s Loathe explode onto the stage in a whirlwind of limbs and tight taught riffs. They feel like an animal released from captivity and as this is their first show of the year that is totally understandable. Their music is awash with short sharp minimalistic guitar lines, but what makes them so interesting is the way that songs suddenly stop or change shape. This is metalcore but with a massive dollop of experimentation and Loathe seem intent on pushing the boundaries of this usually very conservative musical form. They have duel vocalists in the shape of firebrand Kadeem France and lead guitarist Erik Bickerstaffe and they trade lines with passion, pace and furious intent. Loathe are also a highly charged livewire of a live proposition and there are several moments where The Dillinger Escape Plan at their finest are brought to mind. They slam around the stage with untamed energy and Kadeem leaves it altogether for the last three tracks, screaming his lines back at Erik from the back of the swirling pit. They are really infectious in their riotous chaotic splendour and find myself very much a convert. As their set reaches a tempestuous conclusion new material is promised (as well as big up for the new Lotus Eaters EP) and they exit to a reception usually reserved for headliners.

There is a real change of guard upfront between Loathe and Raging Speedhorn as the young bucks with their energetic arm-flaying hardcore dancing are replaced by an older and distinctly more hefty crowd. For me, Raging Speedhorn always bring to mind Marlon Brando’s impassioned ‘I could have been a contender’ speech from ‘On the Waterfront’ in that in the early noughties they were on the cusp of being huge and seemed to have mainstream acclaim and festival headline slots within their grasp and then along came the Lost Prophets (the less said about them the better) and completely stole their thunder and here we are just under twenty years later and they are not even top billing at Rebellion. It also should be pointed that like Trigger’s broom there is very little of that original Raging Speedhorn left. By my reckoning (believe me I could be and probably am wrong) with John Loughlin on enforced sick leave, Frank Regan is the only one of the classic line up on display tonight. All this preamble may sound like I have come to bury not praise Raging Speedhorn, but tonight they are absolutely excellent and the most incendiary and explosive that I have seen them in year’s and they certainly wiped clear the memories of a highly disappointing Bloodstock appearance in 2015. Their scuzzy sludgy sound is a complete contrast to the clean crisp angular riffs of Loathe but tonight it completely works as I and the huddle of old bastards up front get lost in the wonder of tracks such as 'Motorhead’, 'Fuck the Voodoo Man' and ‘The Hate Song’. With John really ill, Raging Speedhorn seem to be in a no comprise mood, determined to prove that the show does go on. There is such a drive and momentum to them this evening and they feel heavier and more corrosive than ever. Super-sub Dan Cook manages to more than adequately fill John’s substantial boots. I really can’t stress enough how good they are tonight and as they march off stage I find my love for Raging Speedhorn that I thought long extinguished has been well and truly reignited!

The youthful followers of Loathe and us, middle aged ‘I was moshing when you were in frickin diapers’ Raging Speedhorn devotees merge together as Employed to Serve hit the stage and you can taste the expectation in the air. You see, Employed to Serve are undoubtedly a band on the verge of something quite special, they are taking the tech metal of Meshuggah and merging it with the guttural primal venom of bands like Neurosis and Converge. 2017’s “Warmth of a Dying Sun” was a highly politicised treatise on the ills of modern society and the forthcoming “Eternal Forward Motion” promises more of the same. Tonight’s one-off show is the very first stage of that record’s album cycle and Employed to Serve come across as coolly confident and very comfortable in their own skins. They give off the aura of a band that are very happy with what they have produced and just can’t wait to share it with the rest of us. However patience is a virtue and we only get three tracks from the new album (a unnamed opener, the juttery stop-start magnificence of 'Force Fed' and a live debut for 'Harsh Truth’). Whilst tracks from “Warmth of a Dying Sun” (which makes up the rest of the set) still sound muscular and dominate, there is a noticeable sonic shift in the new material. They are still passionate and searing in their intensity, but they feel more intricate and mature in their complexity, now that Employed to Serve are comfortable in their sound they seem more confident to experiment and push their own boundaries.

Live, Employed to Serve are also now finding their own individual voice, the ‘uniforms’ of identical ES branded jackets gives the whole show a much more regimented and professional look and there seems to be in general to be a much more reserved and controlled feel about them, it is like they have discovered that intensity is not necessary about careering all around the joint. Justine is very much the focal point and in-line with the rest of the band you can visibly see her growth in confidence with her role as spokesperson for a disenfranchised generation. We get few words from her between songs, but she sure as hell lets her vocal performance do the talking, screaming out her anguish about all the shit she sees around her. The show is support act short, and that is even with an encore that is heartfeltingly called for, and I get the distinct feeling that they are keeping the rest of “Eternal Forward Motion” tightly under wraps in preparation for its May release.  However even though they only tease us with their next step forward they are utterly magnificent tonight (infact the whole evening is a testimony to the power and the emotion of extreme music) and to top it all I’m back home before eleven.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Paul Nash of Rebel Rock Photography