Since its inception, heavy metal has evolved as a musical form throughout the decades. This evolution has spawned multiple subgenres that pushed the boundaries of the genre to create new forms of music like Death Metal, Black Metal, and Metalcore. Often, musicians will borrow elements from these subgenres to create a sound unlike any others, as is the case with Whitechapel’s latest release, The Valley.
The Valley is the seventh album by these Deathcore veterans, and is the most diverse and experimental record of their career. Featuring clean singing vocals alongside his death metal growls and screams, vocalist Phil Bozeman dominates the album with his brilliant, varied vocal performances. Several times throughout the album, I was amazed at how Bozeman seamlessly transitioned from a guttural growl to melodic, almost forlorn, singing style. Songs like “When a Demon Defiles a Witch” and “Third Depth” exemplify this style perfectly. Each of these songs features slower tempos for Bozeman to croon over, which then crescendo into faster speeds and more aggressive tones which provide Bozeman the perfect opportunity to unleash his vocal demons onto the listeners. However, the most surprising track on the album is “Hickory Creek,” which features Bozeman’s clean singing style throughout the entirety of the song. This song was such a departure from the rest of the album that I felt as if I was listening to Tool, with only Bozeman’s voice to remind me that this was Whitechapel.
While Phil Bozeman’s singing was a highlight of this album, the rest of the band delivered equally impressive performances. I was surprised to find out that Whitechapel used a session drummer, Navene Kaperweis while recording, as his technical style of playing meshed perfectly with guitarists Ben Savage, Alex Wade, Zach Householder, and bassist Gabe Crisp. Kaperweis’ contributions to the album were both technically proficient and equally decimating. His playing style complimented the speed and aggression of songs like “Forgiveness is Weakness,” and a groove heavy style that would make Pantera proud.
This new approach to the band’s sound was also influenced by album’s theme. Relying mostly on journals and memories from Phil Bozeman’s past, the lyrics focus on the traumatic events surrounding his childhood living with a mentally ill mother and an abusive stepfather, told through the eyes of various observers. This overarching theme extended into the cover art as well, which resembled a horror movie poster that would look right at home at a seedy grindhouse theater.
This type of experimentation and risk taking is what bands should strive for when considering altering their sound. By maintaining the original Deathcore elements that established them, Whitechapel’s ability to weave melodic vocals and groove heavy riffs gave this album the perfect balance between aggression and phrasing.