Just a few years ago, I went to go see Whitechapel live for the first time. I wasn’t the biggest fan of their music at the time, but most of my friends were really into them and they were headlining an Alternative Press-sponsored tour, so I knew they were a big deal. And after seeing them, I understood what this big deal was all about. The metal players worked their destructive musical forces with three punishing guitars, and frontman Phil Bozeman was a complete and utter monster on stage. That a vocalist (and a little dude at that) could power himself in front of three incredibly brutal guitars blew me away. I wasn’t too into super-angry music, but I was hooked on Whitechapel for their unadulterated vigor.
It’s been a few years since I became a big fan, but during that short period the sextet has progressed a fair amount. More or less, too, they’ve grown into the mainstream. On their fifth record, Our Endless War, they don’t necessarily take a departure from this deathcore style but they shift gears a bit. The brutality exists in a more streamlined form, with more influence of bands like Slipknot present than before. And for that 17-year-old kid who was so mesmerized, a little of the initial excitement became underwhelming — even through all of the goodness (or should I say bad-assery) that this album contains.
In addition to the pure, immaculate talent Whitechapel has and has been known for, they create some thick, dastardly vibes on this record, which even further brings the band beyond musicians and more towards an effective unit. But while Our Endless War is obviously another success for the group, there are a few aching problems. First, as the band is progressing their sound and taking lots of outside influence, I can’t help but feel that this is their most colorless effort. Some of the material runs together; just nine songs and an intro keep reliance on the main tracks, and with everything contained in the album, it’s missing that extra oomph the self-titled had.
The first two singles exemplify the new direction these guys are taking, and they’re both good songs. They’re both heavy as balls, and the level of brutality is at its highest thanks to the compact instrumentation and Bozeman’s speedy delivery. “The Saw Is the Law” is a tad uncreative both in the musical and lyrical department, but it’s sure to be a thrilling live track. In “Mono”, the metalcore influence is as prevalent as ever, with Corey Taylor-esque breathing and recklessness that brings early 2000s Lamb of God or As I Lay Dying to mind. Both songs are really energetic and fun, and in that aspect, Whitechapel is as strong as ever.
Some of the other songs really piqued my interest as well, especially “Psychopathy” — another track that works in some old-school metal vibes. The chilling intro is reminiscent of older Killswitch Engage; but then Bozeman and the gang kick things into gear, unleashing fast breakdowns and deep-throated growls. The album’s highs are very much gratifying, whether it’s chunky riffage or overall musical unity keeping this band who they are. The typically-rapid style is toned down a bit through most of the album, though. Some offerings, like “The Saw Is the Law” and the title track are a slow burn, but the faster stuff is what makes Whitechapel unique and exciting. It’s not as much the style as it is the songwriting that leads to the album’s flaws. “Let It Burn” and “How Times Have Changed” are far too monotonous, and a lot of the writing in general has a been-there-done-that feel to it. I hate to use the term ‘generic’, but it makes a good amount of the album easy to pass over.
The new album from Whitechapel is partly a throwback to older metal records, and at the core, it’s still some of the best deathcore the scene has to offer. But it’s hard to feel like this is a complete Whitechapel album. It’s missing something; though it could just be me, I am also thinking perhaps these guys hit their peak with their last two records. Still, the LP is a straight-up jam, and it makes me want to see these guys blast through its material live. Our Endless War may not be the best offering from the Tennessee natives, but it’s still solid: solid anger, solid intensity, and solid fun.
Deathcore | Metal Blade Records