Witnessing the evolution of a genre shifting to its next stylistic phase is somewhat entertaining. It's like watching paint dry off a well-crafted piece of art. The process is slow, but in the end, worth it. Deathcore has been stuck in the same trenches for quite awhile, yet are finally beginning to reach and climb its way out. Pushing through the breakdowns and blast beats mold, a majority of these acts have changed a focus towards groove and melodic dynamics. With After the Burial and Fit for an Autopsy previously making a shift towards a progressive side of the genre, Whitechapel is the next to follow suit.
I'll go out in the open and say the group's early albums weren't my favorite. Sure, they may be essential to the diehard deathcore fan's playlist, but personally they seemed to lack the memorable substance that the more recent LPs have held. The self-titled record and Our Endless War hinted at the djent/groovy musical style that is more prominently presented in Mark of the Blade. If you were one to favor such production and writing, you will likely be on board with this release as the expansion of said sound is delivered beside the six-piece's continuation of their relationship with producer Mark Lewis who handled their last two records.
"The Void" has a followable melody and an appropriate amount of heaviness. I wouldn't say it brings anything new to the table, but does its job in opening the album with guns blazing. Similarly, the title track is more of the same while giving off an overall flat and boring aftertaste. For "Elitist Ones," the melody becomes a bit more apparent and impressive, yet still has the staleness from the prior two tracks. There may be a bit of negative controversy following this song, however I believe the social commentary has a greater significance and impact than the abstract edginess of the previous two pieces. The same can be said for "A Killing Industry," which everyone's comparing to Slipknot and I can't disagree all too much.
And then we come to "Bring Me Home" and holy #$%@, I did not see that coming. Bozeman's clean vocals are spot on and very Tool's Maynard-esque. To top it off the piece ends with a modern take on a David Gilmour guitar solo. "Tremors" displays the direction that I expected of this release. The traditional Whitechapel characteristics are there, however there seems to be a more mature pacing and in all honestly, it's the first stand-out song on here that I look forward to hearing live. "Brotherhood" is simply a beautiful instrumental and layers acoustic guitar and piano into the band's palette. The remainder of the album is mostly typical, yet the LP is closed out well with more cleans on "Decennium."
My beef with this release is not in regards to the enjoyability factor of all eleven of these tracks. I could listen to this all the way through and feel satisfied. The aspect that I find to be a bit of a disappointment is when I look at the intent. The tracks that seem to be intended to be the heavy-hitters, especially in a live setting, don't nearly have the impact as past "The Saw is the Law" or "I, Dementia" classics.
Most of all though, I respect the band's choices in this album. The clean vocals, introspective lyrics, and groove-laden direction is what I would consider a proper maturation. In the end, Whitechapel takes one step back and two steps forward. I found a select few monotonous and cliche moments while other bits served to be quite compelling. The progression hinted at in Mark of the Blade is exactly what I'd hope for from Whitechapel this far in their career, I just wish they went full force with it instead of teasing it on some of the tracks.