Whitechapel have become synonymous with deathcore. Just by mentioning their name, you are mentioning a band that has made one of the greatest records in the genre in This Is Exile, with a couple others high up on the list as well. Over the years, especially since A New Era Of Corruption, the band has worked a lot more death metal into their sound, fully embracing it with Whitechapel and continuing it, to the dismay of some, on Our Endless War. However, Whitechapel’s 6th studio album is set to release today, and quite frankly, this album not only marks the biggest change in recent memory for the band, but also brings with it a bevy of expectations that they must reach in order to please their fans. So, do they do it? Do they reach the bar they set back in 2007 while working on This is Exile, or do they take the path most do down the line, which is churn out music as if it’s on an assembly line?
Let’s start from the beginning, which would be the first couple of songs. The band have clearly decided to include far more death metal in their sound than ever before, which they have shown they can do well with songs such as “Faces”, “Hate Creation”, “Single File To Dehumanization”, and even “A Process So Familiar”, a bonus track from Our Endless War. However, this time around, the band opts for a more slow, brooding sound than they’re used to. The record is filled with songs that move at a slower pace, churning like toxic waters in a poisonous lake. This is common for bands that have been around for a good period of time. We all age, and therefore not every song needs to be all fast all the time, and it’s understandable. However, the key to making slower songs is making them memorable, giving them something a little bit extra that makes us want to come back for more and jam, headbang, and mosh. Cannibal Corpse are a great example of a band that does this rather well, and by looking at their discography (and seeing them on recent tours), it’s not hard to notice that the slower songs are just as good, if not better, than the fast ones. The trick that they use is always writing interesting music with killer riffs. Whitechapel seem to have stepped in the wrong direction, writing slower songs that are unmemorable, and leave you thirsty for something else.
There’s also two noticeable changes on this record. First, there’s a fully instrumental track with the song “Brotherhood”. The band has experimented with this a bit on past releases, namely This Is Exile, but they served more as segue tracks than anything else. If you notice, they use them live for segues between songs so they can change equipment, retune, and get set up for the next few songs. This instrumental track has some cool keyboard parts, and is one of the better tracks on the record. Now, for something that many fans will not like: clean vocals. The song “Bring Me Home” has cleans on it, and they’re actually done rather well. However, the song itself is quite unspectacular, and the cleans are the only thing saving a quick “skip” over an otherwise uneventful piece. While some fans might be turned off by the cleans, they’re actually performed very well, and it’s clear that Phil Bozeman has worked hard on them for the song in question. It’s his commitment that really saves that song from descending into mediocrity.
Once again, the band has also written a record with a song that shows their true potential as musicians being reached with the song “Dwell In The Shadows”. It’s far and away the best track on the record, and has some very cool melodic guitar harmonies within it. It even has a kick ass solo that breathes life back into the record. Had the band written songs more like this, the record would far and away be better than anything the band has ever done before, but after it ends, you’re swept right back into the type of songs that occupy this record, which is not going to be enough to keep you coming back to the record. This also shows Phil’s range as a vocalist and has some very cool lyrics to go along with it, which is something the rest of the record lacks. Many of the lyrics on this song feel uninspired, tepid, and done to death. Listening to the lyrics of songs such as “Tremors” will make it hard to focus on the actual song itself, as the lyrics smell of angst and the archetypal “metal lyric” mentality. “Venomous” is another song that shines brighter than almost all of the rest, and has some pretty solid grooves in it, with another cool solo and some rad harmonies within it. It also has one of Phil’s best vocal performances on it, and leads back to the original question: if the band is capable of writing music as good as this, then why not make an entire album like this?
Perhaps it has to do with the band growing older, or perhaps it’s simply an mid-life crisis the band is going through, but in all honesty, this record may not even appeal to Whitechapel fans. It’s become evident the band has chosen a different direction that they are in love with, but their fans will surely be a bit wary about. It’s hard when a band that is recognized as one of the best deathcore bands of all time tries to meet expectations while still simultaneously doing what they want to do. This review by no means is trying to diminish their hard work they put into this record, nor is it an attempt to pull an “old man yells at cloud” mentality by telling you to this record is not as good as their older stuff. On the contrary, it is attempting to find an answer to a simple question: why is such a heavy, talented band writing music that is well below their potential? It could be simply because they are trying to expand their horizons and appeal to more people, or it could be that they just feel this direction is better suited for them. Whatever the case, it’s become clear that the band is sticking to this new direction for the foreseeable future, and while that might not appeal to some, it appeals to them, and they probably don’t care if you enjoy it or not at the end of the day.
To sum things up, this album does its job and serves as a decent deathcore record, but rarely does it go beyond that. While the clean vocals are a cool addition, this record sadly does not live up to expectations that the band has set themselves. When you raise the bar so high, you must either stay at the same level, or be unlucky enough to fall below the bar you’ve set. Whitechapel can definitely write some great music; that much is clear. This record could have easily been a “return to form” with the band as they embraced where they started from by writing another killer record that would change the game, or at the very least, show everyone that they still got it. However, it appears that the band has given us a record that will not win over any new fans, and will likely keep listeners going back in time to revisit when the band was writing more inspired, heartfelt material.