Review Summary: There's nowhere left to run.
Let me just start off by saying when I use the terms “experimentation” or "progression" in the context of this review I mean within the definition of the band Whitechapel. They are far from the first band to start incorporating clean singing into their already heavy sound and they are far from the first band to add other influences into deathcore. But for them, this album is a frankly stellar display of how to do these things in the best way without completely alienating the fanbase that they've previously established. Whitechapel’s apparent progression is taken to a new level with The Valley
and will definitely earn them more respect among the elite metalheads.
This album’s 5 pre-released singles were an effective way to ease fans into what was to come with their “new” sound and album, with each becoming more and more apparent of new and fresh influences. The lead single, “Brimstone,” was a straightforward plodding banger that let everyone know that Whitechapel was not going to let up with the brutality any time soon. Phil’s opening guttural growl was a breath of fresh air for fans who may have been getting tired of the near-constant low-to-mid-range scream that he’s been doing for the past few albums straight. Not that this isn’t omnipresent in The Valley
, but some nice highs and more brutal lows are thrown into the mix as well. Needless to say, “Brimstone” was an excellent choice for the lead single, and “Black Bear” as well for the next single with its disturbingly catchy riff and crushing energy. Next came “Third Depth” which threw everyone for a loop and was the track that had all of the metal news publications writing “WHITECHAPEL RELEASES NEW SONG WITH CLEAN VOCALS!!1!1!!!1!” or something to that effect.
So yes, this album sees the return of Phil Bozeman singing melody, but in a much more hard-hitting and effective way than what we got with “Take Me Home” off of 2016’s Mark of the Blade
. The songs “Third Depth,” “When a Demon Defiles a Witch,” and “Hickory Creek” (all released consecutively as singles) use the clean vocals to invoke passionate emotion with the stories and metaphors of Bozeman’s mother’s abuse and mental health issues. This experimentation, as well as plenty of interesting instrumental experimentation, is what really makes the heart of this record pop. Writing an album about something so personal (and frankly very sad) just wouldn’t be effective with a standard deathcore album and thankfully Whitechapel recognized that. The aforementioned “When a Demon Defiles a Witch” sees the band going more of a technical/progressive route almost in the vein of Rivers of Nihil on their latest effort, including melodies that invoke pain and sadness. There are groove elements present on “We Are One” as well as “Black Bear” which give the album a bit of flare that makes headbanging almost impossible to resist. The clear “-core” influence is still present even in songs like “We Are One” which features a (fvcking fantastically executed) breakdown, but it isn’t overbearing and doesn’t ever fall into that sterile territory that they seemed to be treading in past efforts.
This is Whitechapel’s best album to date. There is no question about that. Nostalgia leads many to The Somatic Defilement
and This is Exile
, but looking at their career as a whole this album will set them apart from the other bands copying exactly what they did back then. To be fair, though, many of the new/up-and-comers in the scene have been laying down excellent experimentation (Shadow of Intent come immediately to mind). Deathcore has been evolving for a few years now, and it seems like Whitechapel has finally won the game of catch-up. With 2014’s Our Endless War
and subsequently Mark of the Blade
, it seemed they were going to fade into obscurity and genericness (not that they’d be forgotten, but they certainly weren’t as exciting as they used to be). The Valley
brings forth elements that are unmistakably new to their catalog and while not being the freshest of sounds in the grand scheme of things, are executed with perfection and ease.