Whitechapel continues to be one of my favorite bands from high school to now. Admittedly, their last two releases, 2016’s Mark of the Blade and 2014’s Our Endless War, fell short in some areas compared to the rest of their material. Now the ex-deathcore group throws that banner away and figures out the right way to execute their new-found melodic metal sound after some misses on some previous releases.
The entire album has a central lyrical theme, something that has not been heard from them since their debut release Somatic Defilement, but instead of butchering prostitutes, vocalist Phil Bozeman lays out his childhood traumas for the world to see. He touches on these issues in almost every album, but here he details the story with a mix of great detail and thought-provoking symbolism about the death of his mother and his abusive stepfather.
The Valley sets the tone with its first track When a Demon Defiles a Witch by its ominous acoustic intro then lashes out into one of the heavier openings on the record. The song does not shy away from dangerous sounding riffs along with brutal vocals to accompany the instrumentation. The bridge also shows its fearlessness differently by introducing the clean vocals that will feature across the 10 track landscape. Unlike bands in Whitechapel’s circle, Bozeman knocks it out with his beautifully haunting voice.
Old school fans who want the most life-threatening riffs imaginable will still find plenty of gems that have that new age Whitechapel sound along with some familiar elements. Brimstone, Forgiveness is Weakness, The Other Side, and We Are One are some of the heaviest tracks the Tennessee natives have produces in years. Pummeling drums, brutally low tuned riffs and the iconic voice of Bozeman will make any fan bang their head until they lose consciousness.
Hickory Creek and Third Depth land as the most somber tunes that put the clean vocals in the spotlight. Hickory starts with an ominous, melodic introduction then going into Bozeman’s singing. The few screams heard are precisely placed for contrast and leading into a vicious solo. Third Depth thrashes back and forth between soft verses and furious choruses that work wonderfully. The verses represent his past feelings at that time when sitting in his basement along and the choruses express his emotions about the future. Both tracks stand out as some of the most unique in the group’s entire discovery.
Much of the instrumentation continues to evolve with more melody and fewer breakdowns. The breakdowns featured changed compared to previous albums, in the best way possible that flow together with the more melodic beats. Ben Savage has the best solos in his career in songs like We Are One and When a Demon Defiles a Witch. Each solo is fast-paced, yet intelligently orchestrated from the lead guitarist.
Phil enhances his lyrical abilities further with some of the most touching and disturbing words he has ever written. While much of it comes from his experiences and creativity, a lot of his inspiration comes directly from his mother’s journal. Due to her mental health, she would write about her haunting experiences, many times coming from her other personalities. Songs like When a Demon Defiles a Witch has lines inspired by her writings like, “Burn the bed, burn everything / It’s a lie anyway.” Bozeman dives into some of his best writing in the band’s history.
The Valley outshines most of Whitechapel’s previous work, even the best of it. Each song has its own personality that stands out with no duds to be heard. While not a perfect album, some of the guitar and bass tones sound too reminiscent of other songs. Bozeman’s cleans provide some variety, but he does not utilize any range when singing. Thankfully his commanding voice on heavier parts saves the day from nothing going stale.
People might not like the band’s new sound, but it is worth to give a try with an open mind since now these Tennessee metalheads figured out what was wrong with previous releases and were able to fine-tune their new sound into something spectacular.
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Image via Metal Blade Records