Whitechapel’s lose-lose situation that they’ve been stuck in recently is one that’s been well-documented. Deathcore as a genre could do much if it wasn’t for the constant threat of fan backlash for even daring to try something beyond the absolute basics, and with both Our Endless War and Mark Of The Blade looking to cover some wider ground, the controversy hit in abundance. It’s not like Whitechapel are that one-note band who should just stay in their lane either; they’re fully capable of branching out and embracing more branches of metal that just the one they got their start in, but when there feels like there’s such little appreciation for it, it can be a truly thankless task. Still, it’s good to see that they’ve not let it bring them down, with early indications suggesting that The Valley would continue to integrate more diverse sounds into the mix and undoubtedly piss off a considerable contingent of their fanbase in the process. But as is frequently the case, change can lead to a band achieving their best work, and considering that Whitechapel are continuing to go down that route as deep as seven albums in, there’s plenty of potential here if they can suitably build on their creative instincts.
And with The Valley, it feels like that change was exactly what was needed for Whitechapel hit the watermark they’ve always been capable of hitting. If their last couple of releases could be seen as disappointing, The Valley serves as almost a total rectification, drenched in thick, dense atmosphere and a haunted sense of fear and paranoia that resonates so much deeper than a Whitechapel has in years. It is still a Whitechapel album at the end of the day, and those limitations can shine through occasionally, but overall, this is exactly the shake-up that this band needed to come back on, and the sonic expansion that’s come with it only hits all the harder.
That’s worth pointing out as well, especially since the majority of what could be described as ‘traditional’ deathcore is totally missing from The Valley. That’s hardly a bad thing though, especially when it opens up Whitechapel’s sound to allow the ominous, creeping dread in to a greater extent, and ultimately have a greater impact. It’s clear in the deeper, slower knell of When A Demon Defiles A Witch or Third Depth that weave their deathly guitar through while still allowing for moments of more traditional heft, and while moments like Brimstone that are executed more exclusively like this can lack that extra sense of dimension, on the whole, the burnished, almost rustic approach to metal that Whitechapel take is a good fit for them, and is produced in a way to accentuate those sonic troughs and keep them sounding as sinister as possible. It’s also a surprisingly good fit for the vocals; as far as execution goes, Phil Bozeman hasn’t really changed his screaming technique to any great degree, but the depth and portentous weight is an excellent fit on a track like Black Bear, and especially on Hickory Creek that’s entirely cleanly sung in the vein of a Slipknot track, the freshness and borderline emotionality that it brings to the formula has enormous benefits overall. Sure, it’s largely an outlier as far as performance style goes, but its presence alone brings a sense of breadth to Whitechapel’s formula that, both in their previous material and compared to so many other deathcore bands, has gone largely unparalleled.
It’s done with good reason as well, as a brand of slow-burning heaviness that suits the material more than typical blunt thuds would. Here, Bozeman examines his own childhood living with his schizophrenic, alcoholic mother and his stepfather that enabled her, and the lasting effects that have prevailed since. It’s a bleak picture that matches its presentation, and even if it can be easy to link the more explicit focuses on death and religion on Forgiveness Is Weakness and Third Depth to less-inspired deathcore material, Bozeman’s own contempt for his stepfather’s actions can always been seen as a percolating factor, and how those actions have stuck with him over the years on Doom Woods. Probably the most stark moment, though, comes on We Are One, detailing his mother’s inner turmoil with tormented pain and grief with a level of explicit bleakness that could really only come from a musical evolution and growth of this calibre.
Because this is, without a doubt, Whitechapel’s best album in years, not only in its greater levels of progression but with a tangible darkness that moves away from deathcore banality and into its own thing entirely. There are definitely moments that haven’t advanced quite as far, but generally, it’s hard to complain about an album like this, especially when Whitechapel have hit such a mark when it comes to creative fruition. Whether The Valley will have the same effect on their existing fanbase who haven’t taken too kindly to change remains to be seen, but a move as bold as this that’s turned out as well as it has deserves all the praise it gets.
For fans of: Slipknot, Parkway Drive, Suicide Silence
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Valley’ by Whitechapel is out now on Metal Blade Records.