When it comes to deathcore, few bands have reached the level that Whitechapel has. After all, this proud Knoxville, Tennessee outfit helped build and shape this relatively new genre of metal. Gaining momentum quickly with their unique style, Phil Bozeman‘s one of a kind vocals, and an intense live show, Whitechapel became a household name among deathcore fans pretty quickly. If you’re a fan of these guys, you don’t need me to tell you that Whitechapel‘s musical direction has evolved into something else over their last couple albums. This is especially evident on 2014’s Our Endless War. While their new sound upset a lot of “purists,” I welcomed the change despite my personal taste leaning more towards their older material. It’s a sign of musician maturity. The music becomes stale when you box yourself into that deathcore formula everyone expects you to follow. You can only write so many interesting songs with constant breakdowns and blast beats before it becomes repetitive. If you can’t experiment, venture off the beaten path and do what you want as a musician, then it really misses the whole point of writing music, to express yourself. Of course, I also understand the flip side to that coin. Their old sound is what got them the fan base and the name in the first place, so some fans feel betrayed because the band they fell in love with is changing. Personally, I like where they are going musically, not as much as I like their old stuff but I like it. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s unpredictable, but overall it’s still Whitechapel.
Whitechapel‘s brand new album, Mark Of The Blade marks the sixth full-length in the band’s catalogue and takes a step even further into their ever evolving sound. Along with the highly anticipated (or dreaded) “clean vocals,” they also added some keyboards and acoustic guitars on some tracks for atmospheric purposes and to add melodic dynamics. They’ve just taken a more open-minded approach to writing in general. Their style has become more progressive and groovy. Mark Of The Blade marks the third album in a row that Whitechapel has made with producer Mark Lewis and it’s fairly obvious why. The production, like the last two albums, is top-notch, it sounds absolutely stellar. Every instrument is distinguishable and crystal clear. Mark did a fantastic job capturing the band and giving them that tight, bass heavy, deathcore sound. The lineup on Mark Of The Blade is the same as it’s been since 2011. Phil Bozeman on vocals, Ben Savage, Alex Wade and Zach Householder on guitars, Gabe Crisp on bass, and Ben Harclerode on drums.
Mark Of The Blade‘s opening track, “The Void,” is a heavy track with a catchy chorus, some bad ass drumming, and neck breaking riffs. The track starts off at a moderate speed and gradually gains speed as the song goes on. It’s a great opening track. While it’s nothing shocking or new, it sets the tone for the rest of the record. The title track, “Mark Of The Blade” has a bit of a different vibe to it. The music has a more groove style, there’s not much complexity to this one. The vocal pattern is definitely catchy but at the same time it’s pretty predictable and left me a little bored, especially with the music being straightforward as well. “Elitist Ones” is another fairly groove heavy song but with more complexity to the music. The vocal pattern is much more appealing on this one as well. However, while the pattern is good, the lyrics come off a little cheesy in my opinion. Still a very enjoyable track, though, it has some really good riffs and a nice flowing structure to it. The guitar solo is pretty slick as well. On “Bring Me Home” we get our first taste of Phil Bozeman‘s highly anticipated “clean” vocals. This track surprised me. If you played this song to me and told me it was Whitechapel I’d call you a liar. It’s not just the vocals either. The music has a Slipknot or Stone Sour “ballad (I use this term loosely)” type feel to it. It sounds a little like the song“Snuff.” Phil even sounds like a mix between Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour) and Maynard James Keenan (Tool). It’s an emotional song that I believe Phil wrote about his father passing away. Even though this track threw me off on the first listen, it’s really good. It feels comfortable for them and it’s a well-composed song, I dig this one a lot.
The second half of Mark Of The Blade picks the pace back up right away with “Tremors.” It’s another rager of a track that is sure to be a hit at Whitechapel‘s intense live shows with its heavy riffs and flowing song structure. It’s another track that doesn’t really bring anything new to their sound but we kind of need that reassurance that we’re still listening to Whitechapel after the shock of “Bring Me Home.” On “A Killing Industry” it almost feels like we’re listening to some sort of Slipknot/Whitechapel hybrid. Ben Harclerode puts on a drum performance that would put a smile on Joey Jordison‘s face. I like this track quite a bit, but it’s definitely not your typical Whitechapel sounding track and it will probably throw you off on the first listen. “Tormented” is another favorite for me on Mark Of The Blade. The music is oddly timed and it has an almost Meshuggah meets Whitechapel feel to it. It’s dark and has a very sinister atmosphere. “Tormented” is followed by an instrumental piece called, “Brotherhood.” This track really shows just how talented this band really is. Not just how efficient each is on their respective instruments, but how great they are at composing compelling music. It also has both an acoustic intro and a keyboard outro which is definitely a first for Whitechapel. “Dwell In The Shadows” keeps things technical and intense with its furious delivery. They pack quite a few riffs into this one and the solo is very shreddy. All the guitar solos on Mark Of The Blade are so diverse and suit the songs so well. “Venomous” is a fast-paced “djentle” kick in the nuts. I really dig this track as well. Phil really brings it on this song, delivering tongue-twisting lyrics in rapid succession. The music is equally impressive and fast paced. Everyone brought their “A” game on this one. Mark Of The Blade closes with another track featuring clean vocals entitled, “Decennium.” It has a very melodic and epic sound. It’s a pretty good closing song, with a cool acoustic outro at the end.
Overall, Mark Of The Blade is a solid record. Whitechapel is not afraid to throw some curve balls our way and for the most part, I think it paid off. The addition of clean vocals and a more groovy and technical base to their established sound is keeping things interesting. Mark Of The Blade was released on June 24th through Metal Blade Records and features eleven skull crushing tracks. You can pick up a copy through the Amazon link in the sidebar. My only complaint would be that they still seem to be in an experimental stage with their new-found freedom in song-writing so the flow of the album is a bit chaotic. Overall though I really enjoyed Mark Of The Blade and with a lot of other deathcore acts adding more diversity and groove to their music it’s nice to see Whitechapel joining in on the evolution of the genre once again. I give Mark Of The Blade, Whitechapel‘s 6th album, 664/666 horns. If you enjoyed Our Endless War you’ll more than likely enjoy Mark Of The Blade as it continues on that sound and takes it a step further on some tracks. It will be interesting to see what Whitechapel does on their next album. Will they fully commit to this new sound with clean vocals? Or will it be a mixture like Mark Of The Blade? Time will tell.
Shawn “Short-Fuse” Carter