Whitechapel released its seventh studio album, “The Valley,” on March 29, and it seems the Tennessee-based metal band has finally refined its new sound.
Starting as a deathcore band writing violent songs that you need to listen to five times to understand one verse, Whitechapel began the transition to a more mainstream heavy metal sound on the politically tinged “Our Endless War.” The follow-up, “The Mark of the Blade,” continued this trend, but the band seemed to struggle to find where it wanted to go with this new sound.
All those struggles have been cast aside in “The Valley.”
Its most emotionally raw project to date, Whitechapel has finally hit its stride and found a way to blend clean melodic vocals with visceral low screams, as well as the hard-hitting, ferocious instrumentation, giving the record more depth.
The first song to feature clean vocals came on “The Mark of the Blade,” a dark, emotional song about the death of lead vocalist Phil Bozeman’s father, and how he dealt with this loss at the age of 10. That was the standout on the album, and “The Valley” followed suit by creating a whole album from these experiences, showing the biggest sign of growth in its lyrics.
The album, which the band calls a “personal concept album,” is based on the true story of Bozeman’s childhood, much of it dealing with trauma. Many of the lyrics draw direct inspiration from journals kept by Bozeman’s mother, whose battle with mental illness shaped much of his childhood. These deeply personal lyrics are a complete divergence from the band’s previous works, which is why the new sound flourishes.
With themes like the death of close family members, suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety, the album digs deeper into the depth of personal trauma than any other record the band has released. While the album showcases Bozeman’s clean singing, it also allows him to return to his roots with deep guttural growls on other tracks.
The opening song “When a Demon Defiles a Witch” takes the listener on a sonic journey of the loss of a mother. Its opening starts with a gentle, somewhat ominous guitar, then continues into a driving verse, followed by melodic, sing-along style chorus. The bridge allows Bozeman to sing softly over that same, emotional guitar, before throwing you back into the punishing riff of the next verse.
The entire album holds this same erratic, somewhat chaotic energy, switching from brutal yells to gentle singing, and right back, seamlessly. The fear that Whitechapel was finished making “heavy” music after introducing clean vocals in 2016 is instantly proved wrong with songs like “Brimstone” and “Black Bear.” Both are just as emotional and threatening as any of the clean songs, and have the crushing breakdowns and riffs that put the band on the map.
With “The Valley,” Whitechapel shows how well a band can grow and mature, while still staying true to its roots.