Within the Deathcore genre Whitechapel are one of the true originators of the sound and in 2016 they released an album called Mark Of The Blade (Metal Blade). To say it was a divisive album would be an understatement, in a story which has been told many times before the band chose to broaden their creative horizons with a cleaner production and clean vocals. In some corners new album The Valley (also Metal Blade) is being touted as a turning point.
For a start off this new direction I think has been informed by a far more personal approach to the lyrics penned by frontman Phil Bozeman – case in point being ‘When A Demon Defiles A Witch’ which, on the surface is as a dark a song musically as I can remember from Whitechapel.
The guitars are dripping with that familiar sinister crunch, the drums pound a rhythm straight from the bowels of hell. The lyrical content however is something else, this song is the story of how Bozeman’s mother was plagued by mental illness and visions of a demon that haunted her for years. Bozeman is wrought with emotion throughout and knowing the meaning of the song gives it that much more weight.
In complete juxtaposition to this, ‘Hickory Creek’ features only clean vocals. The idea that something as simple as this would get fans of Whitechapel all riled up again is just baffling to me. Bozeman’s performance is sublime and effortless and main axeman Alex Wade backs up the song with some neat and very different guitar work. In a similar way to how Lamb Of God moved to cleaner vocals on Sturm Und Drang (Nuclear Blast), ‘Hickory Creek’ doesn’t feel forced or out of place at all on such a heavy album.
I also want to give a huge shout out to drummer Navene Kaperweis because my god can this dude ever bash them toms. He has brought back some of that much needed groove that made Whitechapel famous. ‘Brimstone’ is a stunning assault on the senses and will serve as a stark reminder of just how good and how gloriously heavy they can be.
To listen to The Valley is to take a trip through the sometimes extreme personal hell that Bozeman experienced growing up. To simply ignore this and say it is not Deathcore or that Whitechapel $old out is to do a real disservice to a band that was there from the start and has chosen to let their music grow up with them.
Whitechapel has seamlessly moved on from the trappings of Deathcore to produce an album full of light and shade without ever having to comprise the groove and heaviness of those seminal early efforts.
8 / 10