Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Whitechapel - "Whitechapel"

I've noticed that a lot of bands tend to resist genre labels. At first I thought it was due to some pretentious desire to be unique, or to be somehow "undefinable." But as I've gotten older I've come to realize that it's probably because most bands get pigeonholed way too early by their fans into a specific genre, and any experimentation they do outside of that genre is usually met with a less-than-ecstatic fan response. And that's not on the band really, that has more to do with people's resistance to change. Personally, I love slapping genre labels on bands, specifically because I like to see how they can bend those rules or mix elements of this subgenre with that subgenre, etc. Genre labels are part of what I find fun about listening to different kinds of music. But as I've mentioned time and time again on this blog, when it comes to subgenres in metal, a lot of metalheads behave as if they've just heard the summons of war. Mistake a metalcore band for a deathcore band and pay the iron price. Compare Black Veil Brides (who totally sucks by the way) to As I Lay Dying (who is totally awesome) and prepare to have your head mounted above the gates. Misunderstand the difference between melodic death metal and technical death metal...hell hath no fury.


My hesitation to call Whitechapel a deathcore band right out of the gates, for a couple of reasons. First, I'd say few would object to calling Whitechapel's early work deathcore. In fact, that album really set the bar for a lot of other deathcore bands in my estimation - so what if it's more death- than -core? But through their discography they've grown to reach beyond the simple definitions of deathcore; possibly to the point that it's not entirely accurate to label them as such as any more. And this is where our story begins...


Most bands prefer to do the whole self-titled album thing pretty early on in their discography. Whitechapel went the opposite route and decided that their fourth studio album, released on June 19th, would be titled Whitechapel. I kept up with the pre-release buzz around the album via their website and Facebook page so my hopes were pretty high for the album after I heard "Hate Creation" and "I, Dementia" and I am quite pleased - as usual - to say that the album lived up to and exceeded all my expectations.

This little silver disc with a buzz saw emblazoned on its display side begins with a subdued piano melody on the track "Make it Bleed." Instantly I was intrigued, because I was expecting the ear-splitting explosion of 7-string guitars and crashing cymbals. That moment was to come, but not before the track made it clear that this album isn't out to fit into the mold set for it. About a minute or so later the familiar collision of soundwave with eardrum burst forth and we were back in familiar territory again.

In keeping with their deathcore roots, Phil Bozeman's vocals are aggressive and animalistic as ever. Bozeman is definitely one of the most consistent and recognizable voices in the deathcore scene in my estimation and he brings his signature vitriol - in force - to this album.

"I, Dementia" is one of my favorite tracks from "Whitechapel." In place of blast beats and chaos is a very controlled but ferocious pacing. The song lumbers along like a great beast in slow motion, leaving a trail of carnage in its wake. Another part of what makes extreme metal fun to listen to for me are more violent lyrics. "Faces" takes that signature violence to the political arena with phrases like "If you dare step on this pedestal and promise us change, we'll change the features on your face....we will not live in one nation under hypocrisy."

Part of Whitechapel's evolution involves slowly incorporating more groove-like elements into their music. This was most pronounced on a good majority of their second-most recent album New Era of Corruption or in tracks like "Possession" from This is Exile. That evolution continues to feature prominently on Whitechapel and I was all the more enamored with the album because of it; check out "The Night Remains" for a great example of what I'm talking about. Also featured more heavily on this album are a lot of harmonic minor/melodic minor/North African modalities in the leads and solos.


I honestly can't think of any, personally.


A part of me thinks that this album might continue to polarize their fan base, but I see that as a good thing. I know a good deal of their "fans" were not pleased with their Recorrupted EP; 3 remixes, and an acoustic cover of "End of Flesh"??? *dramatic flourish* What IS death metal coming to??? But personally I love a band that has the balls to experiment with their own sound. And where most metal bands will issue a statement (a gesture I respect) in an attempt to quell the rising butthurt, Whitechapel hasn't really seen the need to. I know they have a great respect for their fans, but in the end they do what they want and I respect them all the more as musicians for it.

So where the piano motif that both opens and closes the album (I'm a sucker for symmetry) might drive some listeners to violent keyboard-pounding, comment-posting, and poor grammar-spewing - I found it absolutely delicious. Don't get me wrong, this album is still heavy and brutal and in your face and violent and everything one would expect from a band of Whitechapel's caliber. But it's also not afraid to eschew those things occasionally in favor of some light experimentation and Whitechapel is all the stronger for it.

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