Whitechapel – The Valley [Things You Might Have Missed 2019]

Bet you didn’t expect a TYMHM 2019 post just as TYMHM season 2020 begins to pick up, did ya? I also bet you didn’t expect to see AMG’s third- or fourth-best black metal specialist1 piggybacking aboard a relatively popular deathcore album either. Well, it’s 2020, a year jampacked with surprises. So surprise, motherfucker – the Metal Gods work in mysterious ways. I tried to ignore my missed opportunity from *checks watch* a year and seven months ago, but I recently read an interview with Whitechapel’s frontman Phil Bozeman in regard to 2019’s The Valley after hearing the acoustic version of “Hickory Creek.” In response to why the band decided to include clean vocals into its signature deathcore sound, he simply said, “My mom was a good singer.” The Valley is different.

A band that perhaps needs no introduction, Knoxville, Tennessee wrecking crew Whitechapel was at the forefront of the mid-2000s deathcore explosion with debut albums The Somatic Defilement and This is Exile. These forays into the chugz established the band as the cream of the crop for angsty teens everywhere (i.e. me) with breakdowns, Cookie Monster growls, and lyrics detailing the dismemberment of prostitutes everywhere. Then, four albums of relative monotony and obscurity passed, always hinting greatness but never quite reaching it.

The Valley, a title explained by bonus track “Sea of Trees,” continues the trend began by “Bring Me Home” from Mark of the Blade, painting a picture of Bozeman’s troubled childhood. The sextet’s seventh full-length unleashes a barrage of chunky riffs, devastating roars, and shredding solos in the pitch-black depictions of mental illness, addiction, fury, and tragedy, through the surprisingly effective aesthetic of 80’s horror films. While the overall template deviates little from the blistering brutality Whitechapel is known for, the inclusion of cleans, a newfound dimension of ominous dynamics, and the overall vulnerability of its content, makes The Valley come alive. “When the Demon Defiles the Witch” and “Third Depth” are case in point, never forsaking lethal crunch and uneasy atmosphere paired with Bozeman’s incredible vocals, singing and growling, as contemplative plucking and punishing riffs ebb and flow. Tracks “Black Bear” and “Forgiveness is Weakness” are heavy-hitters that never overstay their welcome, while the complexity of “Doom Woods” and “Lovelace” add a tantalizingly ambiguous eerie end to a deeply personal album.

The bleak dynamics of The Valley and its balanced attack of vulnerability, rage, and disquiet are what separate Whitechapel’s seventh offering from the deathcore bros, and especially those attempting clean vocals (looking at you, Suicide Silence by Suicide Silence). “Hickory Creek” is the standard to reach, a completely cleanly sung lament of Bozeman’s mother’s death by overdose – the most vulnerable moment in the band’s catalog that never feels incongruous and instead the opposite. Ultimately, Whitechapel may not challenge any deathcore tropes, but like Fit for an Autopsy, their powerful use of clean vocals and dynamic songwriting stays with me, delivering a necessary yearning humanity to a painfully derivative style overrun with sadistic exhibitionism.

Tracks to cry with the homies in the pit to:2 “When the Demon Defiles the Witch,” “Hickory Creek,” “Black Bear,” “Third Depth”

Show 2 footnotes

  1. A heavy crown, truly.
  2. While social distancing, of course, which was not a thing when this album came out.
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