Album: The Valley
Whitechapel are frankly a band that need no cute “introduction.” They have a lofty reputation as one of contemporary deathcore’s archetypal bands—you clicked on this review knowing that and don’t need an artistic first few sentences making that connection for you. However, Whitechapel also stand as one of the first of the “big” deathcore acts to take a drastic change in direction, sonically. The leap from their first two full-length records to the sound employed on Mark of the Blade and Our Endless War is marked, highlighting their ability to change with the times. The question becomes this: was it a good move? Whitechapel’s iconic era—The Somatic Defilement et al—is widely heralded as some of the greatest all-around deathcore the genre has seen; even when those records were objectively monotonous and a tedious chore to sit through in their entirety. However, as the 2000s gave way to the 2010s, the act traded out gratuitous overuse of try-hard lyricism and the blastbeat-to-breakdown formula for “maturity” which made most lovers of their previously raw and gritty nature cringe.
Anyways, back to the matter at hand—where does The Valley stack up?
Well, it isn’t a bad record. Let’s establish that from the get-go (and this is coming from someone with an outspoken disdain for the band’s back catalogue). That said, the only thing about The Valley that really stands out is that it was written by Whitechapel. A collection of “safe” and tame atmospheric moments toggled off of throwback-style heaviness (which is just as “safe,” even if in a different way) defines the band’s latest record, giving listeners a couple solid tracks amid a sea of take-it-or-leave-it filler.
The Valley is, instrumentally, the most dynamic Whitechapel have ever been—with songs like “When a Demon Defiles a Witch” serving as a one-track sampler of the styles and sounds employed throughout the record. The pros? Whitechapel definitely do have some different styles and sounds, and “When a Demon Defiles a Witch” ends up being one of the album’s best tracks because of its diversity. The cons? The myriad styles employed by the band are all, for the most part, half-assed. Take “Brimstone,” for example—a scathing salvo of riffs and pummeling breakdowns defines the track, however, none of them truly leave any lasting impression on the listener, each one fading away and leaving little to be remembered by. “The Other Side” is similar, even with its more anthemic leads during the chorus, the only thing truly memorable about the song is how cringe-worthy the lyrics manage to be. Both of the previously mentioned tracks simply feel like a band content with playing it safe and riding off of their name—sure, they aren’t bad songs, but they’re bland, flavorless akin to an overcooked steak that one would almost certainly return to the kitchen if it were served. Standard-fare drumming blends thoroughly throughout the release with fretwork that impresses rarely, but more often than not simply is. The ambient, acquired-taste cut “Third Depth” is just as guilty of this, a stale attempt at radio-friendly, Sirius-XM digestible metal. However, there are some cuts—“Black Bear” and the aforementioned “When a Demon Defiles a Witch” among them—that impress in their originality and authenticity, serving as examples of the band’s ability to get relentlessly heavy and experimental (respectively) without sounding complacent or contrived.
As much as I would like to be that guy that finds something to rip on about Whitechapel’s vocalist, Phil Bozeman, I really can’t. Bozeman is a household name among heavy music enthusiasts for a reason—his low bellows and grisly, visceral roars never fail to impress, even when the rest of The Valley certainly does. “Black Bear” is a brilliant example of this—and even his roars on the otherwise Stone Sour reject cut “Third Depth” are excellent. His tone and energy is second to none, and his ability to soar over any track he graces his presence with is, fittingly, legendary. True enough—his lyricism needs work—but this has been true since the band’s inception, and anyone just catching wind of that is either uninitiated in the band’s material or woefully ignorant.
For the first time in their lengthy career, Whitechapel have crafted a record that didn’t make me want to turn it off half way through out of pure disgust—instead, I wanted to turn it off out of pure boredom. Between the predictable song structure, mediocre musicianship and heavy/soft dynamic overrun with complacency, The Valley barely moves the needle when it comes to being able to genuinely pique interest. Will long-time fans of the band condemn me for what reads as a thinly veiled smear piece? Sure. Will The Valley do pretty well because it’s a new Whitechapel record after three long years? Sure. Did I say anywhere here that The Valley is bad? No—because it isn’t. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad, it just is. Solid production and Bozeman’s impressive vocals save it from falling a notch or two below average, but ultimately, Whitechapel’s 2019 offering is a stale follow-up to a slowly faltering discography by a band content with churning out material adherent to a well-established and near-universally adored name.
For Fans Of: Oceano, Suicide Silence, As I Lay Dying, Whatever Sirius XM Liquid Metal plays these days
By: Connor Welsh