Thursday, July 7, 2016

Album Review: Whitechapel - "Mark of the Blade"

In the last decade, perhaps no American metal band, and certainly no American death(core) metal band has worked harder or more consistently than Whitechapel, who seems to constantly be embarked on some tour or another every week.  Their live show, to their credit, is tireless, always bringing the same energy, same passion, same assault every night on the stage.  Somewhere in there, the band finds time to release records.
Every time I see another Whitechapel record, there’s a pervasive thought that this is the one, that the band has finally produced an album that is cohesive and addictive and powerful.  These are the things that Whitechapel has long been capable of, but the delivery has always missed the bullseye by at least a little, seemingly concentrating on the third of those qualities and less so on the other two.  Each album seems to see the band get a little closer to breaking through, but they’ve yet to get there.  Hope springs eternal however, and so here we go again with “Mark of the Blade.”
Cutting directly to the heart of the matter, the story for this new record is different, but only in that it is a new permutation of the complication listed above.  The power is intact, but it is also pervasive, exploding out of every pore of every track of the record, including in places where the band might have been better served by a change of pace.  This hardly comes as a surprise, and fans will cry ‘well, what did you expect?’ and there’s legitimacy to that, but Whitechapel still possesses the talent to be more than this.
Listen to the middle section of “Elitist Ones.”  That break in the middle where the rhythm slows and the harsh sounds fade away?  That could have been the start of a truly captivating bridge, but instead, the pedal instantly goes back down to the metal and we’re thrashing about death throes again.  Capable for what it is, but an opportunity missed, surely.
Same goes for “Bring Me Home” the album’s requisite ‘slow’ song.  The softer vocals here are an unexpected change of pace, which makes one practically beg for a full-sail exploration of where this strait may lead, but it’s not to be, as the band, almost out of a sense of obligation, slams back into a concussion of a chorus, leaving the listener wondering what could have been.
Part of the complication with “Mark of the Blade” is that the signal-to-noise ratio is very much askew, washing the audience over and over again with distorted noise and pugilistic beats, relentless in repetition.  The guitar intro and subsequent riff of “Venomous” shows the promise of some artistic riffing, but is completely buried within the mix, lost in the noise of the smashing and banging.
Now, the bright side – if the listener is looking for death metal and/or death core in the usual sense, than this new record has everything you would want to hear.  Much in the pattern of Whitechapel’s history, this album sticks to the formula, executing all the tenets of their chosen idiom with flawless precision.  It’s heavy, it’s got riffs, it’s angry, it’s making a point and taking on social commentary, even going so far as to call out those with ‘elitist’ metal tastes.  So those checkmarks are all clicked off and present.  “A Killing Industry” is probably the record’s best moment, calling to mind those best days of death metal in the Napalm Death school, a combination of threatening guitars and volatile vocals that run way past the margins.
Still, the promise of Whitechapel seems to as yet remain unattained, dancing again just over the horizon, just far enough out of reach to be frustrating.  The moments of careful pacing on “__” represent another piece of the puzzle falling into place, so the progress is there, even if the promise is still slightly unfulfilled.

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