Given the spate of tour cancellations due to the ever worsening global pandemic it’s a wonder this show happened at all - especially since days later Employed To Serve announced they’d be suspending the remainder of the tour. There’s a somewhat subdued atmosphere in the bar area before the bands come on, a rarity for a hardcore show, but fortunately it’s in no way indicative of the night to come.
Openers Cruelty (7) are all rage and vitriol, stalking the stage and tearing through a short but sweet thirty minute set that does wonders to warm up the gradually-swelling crowd. The band have plenty of energy and conviction and the vitriol they spew forth is palpable. The band stalk the stage, the energy not lost on the crowd and they’ve definitely made a few new fans tonight.
Next up is Palm Reader (8) who are a somewhat different proposition; the menace is occasionally more subdued with moments of clarity and ethereal clean passages that only serve to make the rage they intersperse that much more impactful. The band cheerily announce they’ve just finished work on a new record, the follow up to their brilliant Braille, and play a new cut to a raucous reception from the assembled throng.The band are one of the most exciting prospects in UK hardcore and tonight it’s easy to see why, pits opening and their presence is huge.
Really though, tonight is all about Employed To Serve (10) who are simply incapable of putting on a bad show. Opening to a thunderous ‘Eternal Forward Motion’ to a now heaving crowd, the band waste no time in tearing The Underworld a brand new one. It’s easy to think we’re living through the collapse of modern society and Employed To Serve provide the soundtrack, all jagged riffs and vicious beatdowns capped off by Justine Jones' monstrous, pissed-off howls. They’ve built themselves a reputation as one of the most exciting live acts and it’s abundantly clear tonight why that is - a circle pit opens right at the start and doesn’t actually let up for the entirety of the set and the band actively encourage stage diving. It’s ‘Harsh Truth’, though that takes the powder keg and sets it off tonight, turning the crowd from merely rowdy to completely wild and totally in the palm of Employed To Serve's collective hands.
Hardcore was absolutely meant for venues like The Underworld, its cramped space and lack of stage barriers truly allowing the bands onstage to connect with the crowd, bringing everyone together, and despite the vicious nature of the music is a thoroughly cathartic and life-affirming experience. It’s made even more special tonight by the ongoing pandemic and cancellations that are affecting so many bands - and bands like these will be some of the worst affected - a harsh reminder of the state of the industry where touring and merch sales really are the only way for a band to keep afloat. This was a standout example of the power of heavy music to bring people together but given that this might not happen again for some time - if you can, please support bands by buying their merch, or even just leaving Spotify open and muted if you have to.