From time to time in the world of Metal, albums appear that leave their mark, whether for their quality of execution, their heaviness or the context in which they are released to the public. Usually it takes plenty of time to determine if the album becomes «One more of the bunch», a momentary sensation or a memorable work that lasts over time. But Whitechapel achieves the latter by ending a decade of musical progression with The Valley, but how did they made it?
Whitechapel in the last decade maintained a notable activity with very constant releases, starting from the powerful A New Era Of Corruption, going through the versatile Whitechapel (self-titled album) and Our Endless War, followed later by Mark Of The Blade. Albums released at a 7-year interval, which is why the band felt they had to loosen their foot on the gas a bit to take a creative breath and start planning calmly how their next full-length album would be.
Although the band has established as one of the main bands of Deathcore by releases like the acclaimed This Is Exile, they’ve had a gradual increase in the level of experimentation with each new release of the past decade, a direction that peaked with the release of Mark Of The Blade. Succeeding in adding plenty of Groove Metal elements, but dividing some fans of the band and creating an uncertainty about what an upcoming Whitechapel album would be like, if they would return to their Deathcore roots or continue the experimentation in their music.
Later, the answers began to appear.
The next album would be based on the dark true events that marked the childhood of their vocalist Phil Bozeman, although in the past songs like “Diggs Road” (from the album Our Endless War) and “Bring Me Home” (from the album Mark Of The Blade) gave us a hint of what an album with this very well known thematic to us who have closely followed Whitechapel’s career and the life and work of Bozeman would be, in no way we would anticipate the magnitude of an album based entirely on such thematic. Also, letting know that this release was not a matter of proving something, it was a matter of expressing something. And man, they did it.
The Valley was released on March 29, 2019 intended as a conceptual album, but in reality it turns out to be a kind of «Conceptual album within a conceptual album», since it’s songs start from narrating the childhood horrors of Phil Bozeman and at the same time, they deal with the deepest emotions that human beings can feel in their darkest moments.
Each song represents very different emotions from the others, but in the same way they manage to collude with each other. Because while «When A Demon Defiles A Witch» touches emotions like terror and despair, «Forgiveness Is Weakness» does the same with fury and resentment. «Brimstone» the most visceral hatred, «Hickory Creek» the melancholy about losing a loved one, «Black Bear» impotence, «We Are One» the dementia coming from inner conflicts, «The Other Side» hope, «Third Depth» Resignation, «Lovelace» anguish and finally «Doom Woods» the coldest depression.
In the instrumental department, this album represents a huge success in precisely ambienting each emotion that the lyrics seek to transmit, since in songs like «Forgiveness Is Weakness» and «Brimstone» Alex Wade and Zach Householder use crushing riffs that give strength to what they seek to convey, complemented by Gabe Crisp’s powerful and overwhelming bass lines. While Ben Savage shows his versatility as a guitarist in solos and acoustic pieces as emotional as those of «Hickory Creek» and «Doom Woods» and the ripping solos of songs like «We Are One». All this covered by the stellar work on the percussion of Navene Koperweis (Entheos, Ex-Animal As Leaders) who makes a participation as a session drummer, but is a fundamental piece in this album by adding a high dose of versatility that complements the experimentation that seeks the band and their already very well-known instrumental strength.
In addition to the instrumental part, everything takes on a greater force with the vocal power that Phil Bozeman has accustomed us to, who not only imposes his signature guttural voice and brings back the highs that remind us of the times of The Somatic Defilement and This Is Exile, he also nails it adding a very rare element in Deathcore: Clean vocals.
Knowing that this album would contain several songs with clean vocals (which had already been present in «Bring Me Home» and «Decennium» from the Mark Of The Blade album) a lot of fans showed their skepticism about this album, but these concerns disappeared when seeing how Phil Bozeman adds with great technique and natural emotion these vocals in highly memorable performances such as «Hickory Creek» and «Third Depth», making even the most elitist ones recognize the great vocal work done by Bozeman.
Although the band has continued the experimentation seen in previous albums (and even taking it it to a whole new level) with The Valley make no mistake about it, they are still Whitechapel and in this album, when it is their time to unleash the heaviest aspect of their sound, they can continue doing so with all the necessary strength. An example of this is «We Are One», where they demonstrate that they are still capable of composing fast and overwhelming songs as in their early days.
The Valley not only represents arguably the best album in the entire Whitechapel discography, but also the maturity and musical progress of the band, also helping to redefine the concept of “Heaviness” in Metal. Since instead of giving primary importance to strength and instrumental power, they decided to give a very emotional approach to the album, adding great weight to the deepest emotions of the human being. Also reaffirming a symbolic link between the band and a 15 year old high school student who somehow grew up with them, starting from being a teenager angry with the world until he grew up to be someone capable of moving forward without ignoring his past, following the guidance of someone who «Has seen hell through a child’s eyes».