The Valley

Written by: KW on 17/06/2019 22:13:22

After the quite considerable misstep that was 2016’s “Mark of the Blade”, Whitechapel are finally back at it again. In the past, the Knoxville, TN-based outfit has produced some of my all-time favourite deathcore / death metal records with ”A New Era of Corruption” and their self-titled 2012 release but after that, the band kind of seemed to be running out of steam in terms of originality — apart from the couple of fantastic bangers found on the following records. However, the singles leading up to this newest release “The Valley” at least revealed some sounds I had not been expecting to come out of the band in question, in particular some strangely beautiful touches emanating from the belly of the beast himself: lead vocalist Phil Bozeman. So is the new record really as diverse as the singles lead me to believe?

In short: yes, definitely. The first track alone is the perfect example of this, and it actually serves as an exemplary introductory track, setting the tone for the rest of the record and introducing the new sounds present throughout the record. Sure, at first it sounds like your good ol’ blasting Whitechapel with heavy power-chords and intense blastbeat drumming — yet the chorus layers some desperate clean vocals in the back to provide a counterweight to Phil Bozeman’s yet again stellar growls. Bozeman can simply do no wrong when it comes to unclean vocals, and once again, he proves just why he’s one of this generation’s absolutely best vocalists in the game, forcing out one inhumane, insanely powerful, yet also articulate growl after the other. But then that completely stripped back alt-metal section towards the end hits, where Bozeman, on top of atmospherically layered clean guitars, moodily (and quite Maynard James Keenan-esquely) actually sings, and actually does so really well! If you ever told me ten years ago that I would hear this type of emotional singing coming from Whitechapel, I’d have laughed in your face, but it actually works, which is impressive to say the least.

Off to a good start then, and it gets even better with “Forgiveness Is Weakness”, one of the most pissed off and heavy hitting songs the band has produced in a while. The groovy drumming and simple yet effective single-note riffing really melts into Bozeman’s gurgling vocals, as he spurts out some grim yet brilliantly written words of pure hatred:

“We all know you're going to hell

Come back to life, I'll send you myself

Dig the casket from the dirt

You don't deserve to be one with the earth”

I know that the lyrics found on this record are supposed to be really personal to Bozeman’s backstory, and I can only begin to imagine what a person would have had to do in order to deserve this kind of verbal beating — but man is it cathartic to listen to!

Some simpler, mid-tempo songs more in line with what was found on “Mark of the Blade” are also found here — namely “Brimstone” and “Black Bear” — and while I wasn’t convinced with the tunes when they came out as singles before the record’s official release, they seem to work a lot better in the context of the album, delivering some neck-breaking chugging that is sure to work well live at the very least. “Brimstone” is nonetheless one of the weaker tracks on the album, where nothing melodically or rhythmically interesting seems to ever happen. It’s brutal, sure, but also kind of dull. “Black Bear” follows in the same vein, but it is saved by an ever so badass, djenty main riff that makes it impossible to not bob your head along to in approval. “We Are One” sounds like it could’ve come straight off the self-titled record, which is a-okay with me. The tempo is high, with some really cool cymbal play in the drumming and fantastic guitarwork with a sliding-note main riff only let down by a somewhat uninteresting and anticlimactic final breakdown after a long build-up — it’s not nearly as effective as a “(Cult)uralist” or “Section 8” breakdown, that’s for sure.

The clean vocals found on the first track return again on a couple of the songs later on and still sound impressive. “Hickory Creek” is probably the moodiest in this regard, and while I actually dig Whitechapel’s attempt to stray outside of their comfort zone, I feel like this track doesn’t really hit the epic potential that is definitely there, as it never really reaches any notable climax, instead revelling in the same chorus one too many times. On the other hand, I think “Third Depth” pulls this off to a much higher degree by mixing this ethereal singing from Bozeman with brutal growls and down-tuned riffs in the doomy chorus, and it just ends up sounding way more unique.

In the end, Whitechapel have without a doubt created their most diverse record to date, and mostly very successfully. The first half or so definitely leaves a big mark, though sadly the end kind of fizzles out (even if you could argue that Whitechapel have always been best at starting out their records with a bang). As such, if you’re in need of a fix of down-tuned guitars and brutal vocals, and you are not totally opposed to the strange fact that Bozeman is now singing like an angel, then this is definitely the album for you.


Download: When a Demon Defiles a Witch, Forgiveness Is Weakness, Black Bear, We Are One, Third Depth
For the fans of: Thy Art Is Murder, Carnifex, The Acacia Strain, Impending Doom
Listen: Facebook

Release date 29.03.2019
Metal Blade Records

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