Whitechapel has certainly become, in my opinion, one of the more unique metal bands still making music today. The name Whitechapel still evokes the heavy chugging days of This Is Exile, in the height of deathcore’s popularity, and yet nowadays they strayed very much away from the formulaic and perhaps cliché days of deathcore’s past and have truly evolved into a band of their own choosing and sound. This is not a new revelation—their past releases, including their previous release, Mark of the Blade, clearly shows a change in style. Whitechapel’s newest release, The Valley, demonstrates the uniqueness and musicianship of the band’s evolution in the best ways possible.
The Valley is Whitechapel’s most emotional, thought-provoking, progressive, melodic, complex, and perhaps artistic release to date. It is certainly a very personal endeavor of vocalist Phil Bozeman as well. The name, The Valley is a reference to his childhood town, Hardin Valley, Tennessee. The lyrics and subject matter of the album come from Bozeman’s childhood experiences and tribulations that he encountered. Some lyrics come straight from his mother’s journals outlining her own troubled life as well.
The overall mood of The Valley perfectly compliments the personal nature of the lyrical subjects by which is, in a word, melancholy. It’s most explicitly conveyed by the tempos, which are very much on the slower side. Very seldom are rapid-fire blast beats or fierce tremolo picking to be heard on any of these songs. One of the few tracks is “When a Demon Defiles a Witch.” And even then, the song transitions very quickly into slower feels, melodies, and clean vocals separated entirely from the frenetic beginnings of the song.
Clean vocals are an extremely common occurrence in The Valley as well. “Hickory Creek” is possibly the biggest departure for the band in terms of their sound. It’s quite slow, contains a vast majority of clean vocals and clean guitars, incredibly atmospheric, and an argument could even be made for it sounding a little doom-like as well. The album’s closer, “Doom Woods,” is another example where these elements virtually make up the entire song. In fact, these elements present themselves several times throughout the album, even if it doesn’t define the overall feel of the entire song. If you were, for instance, begging for more Whitechapel heaviness to come your way, the song “We Are One” is definitely one of their more aggressive songs on the album. And yet, the last section of the song breaks down into an atmospheric section which leads into the next song.
If someone who was unfamiliar with band entirely were to compare The Valley to This Is Exile, it would be similar yet all-together different. Clearly, the band is shifting and evolving to have more of these melodic and perhaps could even be described as “gentler” ingredients to their sound over the past few releases. It’s a bit of a risk, especially for the metal community. But The Valley may very well be the full realization of the band’s shift in sound, and it makes for a giant breath of fresh air in the metal, and perhaps even the deathcore community. The variety of their sound gives lots of freshness and variety when listening to the album giving songs a lot more memorability, contributing to an overall very strong album.
It’s very difficult to say whether or not this is Whitechapel’s best album to date, given how much the band has progressed from the beginning days. To be honest, it’s even difficult to predict how the fanbase will react to it. It shouldn’t be a shock, as the band has not been shy in teasing this album. But all I can say is that this is definitely one of the most well-written metal albums I have heard in quite some time. The interplay of the heavy and the melancholy is done beautifully and makes you want to continue listening to the album all the way through, and not just want to skip to other parts. I’m not saying that Whitechapel is the only band to have this interplay, but I am saying that they have done it very successfully on The Valley.