Review Summary: A One of a Kind Experience
On paper, Kin shouldn’t work. The opening acoustic strums on “I Will Find You” immediately signal a shift in approach for Tennessee deathcore titans, Whitechapel. Their previous musical endeavor The Valley featured their most accessible tracks to date featuring Phil Bozeman’s Maynard-esque clean vocals and finding a pervasive blend between groove, twang and punishing death metal. In the previously mentioned track “I Will Find You”, the acoustic country-fried strums quickly break into the ferocious death metal fury that is akin to their grueling work on their This is Exile record. The opening growls lyrically pick up from the story featured on The Valley with “The Devil is dead.” Lyrically speaking, Kin is the strongest pen work that Bozeman has conducted to date. The themes are dense, nuanced and filled to the brim with personal stories regarding his own childhood and the turmoil in which he grew up around in rural Tennessee. With lyrical passages such as “I always feel like there’s something that I’ve left behind/It’s not a possession of any acceptance of life/It’s me” on the opening track, we’re introduced to the internal struggle Bozeman will face and unravel throughout the arc of Kin.
Before breaking into a track-by-track analysis, I wanted to discuss one of the primary reasons why this record is so consistently effective and that is the guitar work of the extremely talented Ben Savage along with the supporting roles of Alex Wade and Zach Householder, slinging some tremendous rhythm tracks throughout as well. Savage’s lead work on tracks like “Lost Boy”, “History Is Silent” and the title-track “Kin” really establish the southern influence of his guitar playing. It also lends itself valuable in establishing the identity of this record as being both brutal and having an emotional gravitas. The guitar solos that take up a large portion of the bridge and outro of the final track “Kin” feel less like guitar playing and more like a composition of passion; one soaked in long, varied and bended single notes almost like a soaring vocal performance by Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston. It feels like when Savage goes to lay down any sort of solo or lead work on this record it comes from a place of agony or sorrow. The nuances, while subtle, offer more than what meets the ear with tons of depth and emotion-potency behind the cries and shrieks of the instrument. With that in mind and coupled with the anguish and chaos emoted through Bozeman’s lyrics and vocal performances, this record really comes together as extremely interconnected within its themes, moods and values.
The first single released, “Lost Boy,” features a bit more of a chaotic technical death metal approach similarly to that of Cryptopsy or Obscura utilizing break-neck guitar leads and frenetic growled vocal passages. The song expands further into groovier sections but features some of the most constant rage and speed of any song on Kin. There is a clean break in the bridge consisting of palm muted and delayed arpeggiated guitar work, pulled-back drum work and some of those sweet and smooth Bozeman cleans. “A Bloodsoaked Symphony” follows in the footsteps of groovy stompers from previous records like “Black Bear”, “Brimstone” or “The Saw Is the Law.” The guitar tone and riffs are sludgy, chunky and slow and are coupled with some of Bozeman’s most imposing and disgustingly angry vocals on the record. The pre-breakdown callout, “No grant me what I’ve gifted/Mother, Father, come back to me,” is so hauntingly brutal and followed with a stank-face inducing ride-cymbal laced breakdown made up of chugged riffs and groovy bass patterns.
As we find ourselves nearing the middle of the track list, we begin to approach some of the more divisive and experimental cuts. “Anticure” is a slow-paced, post-grunge influenced song with tons of ambient guitar work and slowly building vocal passages. Clocking in at almost six minutes, this song has a progressive vibe whilst carrying the accessibility of an A Perfect Circle song or songs by stoner/doom metal bands like Pallbearer or Mastodon. We follow through with lyricism regarding a broken home, “This house is poisoned beyond repair/And the souls of our past are trapped inside/I know you’re unwell/But I’m turning my back on you.” As the record progresses, it feels like the lyrical content really swells and paints a more coherent mural of Bozeman’s upbringing and the struggles he continues to battle in adulthood. “Anticure” does feature some moments of aggression but it’s more of a laid-back cut with a slow build-up to a finale. “The Ones That Made Us” is another bonafide stomper featuring slow chug patterns and dense, bass driven rhythms. The chorus features ultra-fast double bass patterns while Bozeman roars, “There isn’t a reason to stay locked down in a wretched realm/When we can kill ourselves and return to the ones that made us.” Something that’s apparent throughout the record is the callbacks to previous lyrical themes on The Valley whether it be direct quotes, wordplay or lyrical assertions that complement the themes discussed previously.
“History Is Silent” is a standout track on the project having some of the most memorable lyrical themes with complex lines pondering specific emotional moments and feelings from childhood, almost in a nostalgic tone. A couple lines that really strike a chord read, “And I dread December/I crave the summer days when we were young/But summer came with more of the same/The same old song that cuts so deep.” This song, similarly to “Anticure,” is a longer sweeping progressive-style track with lots of peaks, valleys and emotional depth. As I continue to write, it’s a strange sensation to focus so heavily on lyrics regarding a deathcore record but I think it speaks volumes to the growth and maturity this band has showcased on these previous couple of releases. If there’s a track that I could complain about, it would be “To the Wolves” which is flavored in the style of a straight-forward deathcore/death metal song. While the lyrics continue to be top-tier and emotionally impactful, the instrumentation and flow of the track offers very little in terms of variety. To cap-off the center of the track list, “Orphan” graces the speakers with some of Bozeman’s most animated and dynamic clean vocal performances. This cut feels like a spiritual successor of sorts to their smash-hit from The Valley, “Hickory Creek.” It’s a slow building song with lots of lovely clean guitar passages that eventually erupts into soaring lead pieces and impassioned instrumental performances all around. One of the common lyrical themes is the sort of begging or crying towards a mother, father or both. “Orphan” is no stranger to that with the lines, “Is there hope somewhere in this case of flesh we call our home? /I don’t feel it, mother, father, please go back to sleep,” being sung dreamily with such clean conviction.
The back half of the record features two of the strongest tracks Whitechapel have ever composed. The spooky/dreamy interlude “Without You” precedes the extremely punchy and crushing track “Without Us” which has Bozeman both crooning and delivering heart-stopping gutturals throughout. But the real crown jewel of this record, and my personal favorite song of 2021, is the title track “Kin.” Evocative and haunting, “Kin” delves into the personal trauma and thoughts surrounding his younger self, declaring to his older self that, “it’s time for both of us to let this go.” Understanding the pain and sorrow he’s been discussing throughout the runtime of the record, Bozeman finally approaches his feelings with an open acceptance of moving forward, moving on and growing from these experiences. The acoustic guitars, piano bits and beautifully delivered vocals and harmonies transcend the stringent confines of deathcore and even metal music and really explore the nature of art. The subtleties in the production and the gradual build-up fully mushroom into an explosive grand finale featuring one of the best guitar solos I’ve heard in a long time and some of the Bozeman’s most impassioned clean vocals. The last three minutes of this song leave me with chills and tears in my eyes every time I listen to it. The lines, “And I know you want us to be together/And I know it’s hard to accept forever,” are delivered with such conviction and the multitude of vocal layers add immense intensity to the lyrics. Truly a haunting and compelling finish to one of the most dynamic and inspired heavy records of 2021.
Whitechapel have evolved into something more impressive than their humble deathcore beginnings and while those records certainly have their own identity and validity in their history, these most recent efforts are so much more impactful and meaningful in a multitude of ways. If you have an open mind and propensity to enjoy records to stray from the norm, I highly recommend you listen to this one if you haven’t already. It truly took me aback and changed my perception about what heavy music could be and I hope other bands learn from this approach.
A Bloodsoaked Symphony
I Will Find You
History Is Silent