(DGR wrote this review of the new album by Whitechapel.)
I appear to have written a lot of words about a Whitechapel album. I consider it an enlightening experience. I apologize to those of you who feel this review is way too long, but I wound up analyzing far more of the disc than I had planned. I also found myself discussing the group’s legacy and dynamic so far; I figured it would help explain (somewhat) why this review took so goddamned long to get out there, but it has given me the opportunity to know this album note for note, word for word, since its release.
Ever since Whitechapel catapulted into metal’s consciousness at large a few years back, it seems that every single review that has come out usually begins with something akin to “a tale of two Whitechapels” and how there is one side that the reviewers really like and another side of the band that they don’t enjoy at all — usually to help represent the fact that the group have somewhat moved beyond their days of bludgeoning deathcore-by-definition songs and into something more akin to a Vader-inspired death metal.
It’s an experience I’m sure a lot of us have shared. I personally began with This Is Exile, as many others did (and would later check out their prior works as well, on the recommendations of other fans and to sate a general curiosity). They became one of the four or five surface-level deathcore bands that I enjoyed. Never felt the need to go any deeper into the genre, but they were always good for a quick hit and then I would be out.
This was helped by the fact that I found the rapid-fire vocal delivery in the titular song to be really cool. And, as much as I would’ve hated to admit it, they were really, really good at the beefy and crushing breakdown, so the appeal was definitely recognizable. However, the band have grown, and over the span of two more albums really have won me over — so much so that I was genuinely excited to hear what Our Endless War would sound like.
photo by Jeremy Saffer
They had always been one of the more ambitious-seeming groups, maybe due to the variety of players within their formula bringing forth a wide variety of ideas. My fingers were crossed for something along the lines of “Faces” and its ilk from the previous self-titled release than the more groove-heavy stuff like “I, Dementia”. But Our Endless War is probably the first time when Whitechapel have behaved as if no expectations were placed upon them. They go through a variety of different movements across Our Endless War, making it their most varied and experimental to date, while also filling the album with songwriting callbacks designed to satisfy as many fans of their various albums as possible.
Our Endless War begins with “Rise”, an ambient guitar intro that spills over into one of the band’s best starting songs, as well as one of the best songs they’ve done yet, the title track “Our Endless War”.
I’ve repeatedly stated that I am a huge fan of the song “Faces” from their previous self-titled disc, so much so that if the group decided to do a whole disc of songs in the same vein as “Faces”, then I would likely be there, day and date, as one of their biggest fans ever. That song is where I felt the band truly displayed a vicious edge and gave us something that you don’t often hear, adopting a truly fast element bouncing between thrash and the various spectra of punk and hardcore.
Our Endless War starts with that, and sometimes it feels like the very definition of starting with a show-stopper. I’ve had quite a few runs where I hit that song, repeat, repeat, repeat, and so on, until the day is almost done. It features some biting social commentary as well, citing America as a wasteland where “death is entertainment”. The song gets a little ham-handed at times, but it moves so fast and has such a crushing gallop that you can’t help but feel that Whitechapel wrote it for the sole purpose of having the crowd circle headbang for a couple minutes straight.
Following that is the one-two of “The Saw Is The Law” and “Mono”, both tracks that were released prior to the album, so if you’ve been following the band up to this release then you’ve probably crossed paths with them.
“The Saw Is The Law” took me a bit to come around on, since it is recognizably Whitechapel in their groove mode and even features the band reprising the “You Are Worthless” sentiments expressed at the end of “Section 8” on the previous album. Slightly different phrasing, of course — “You Are Nothing, We Are Everything” is somewhat more descriptive than “You’re All Worthless” repeated ad nauseum, but it’s the same idea.
The groove that comprises “The Saw Is The Law” is so fucking sharp, though, that it could cut through cement like a knife through butter. That, and it’s constructed entirely for crowd participation; the shout chorus makes “The Saw Is The Law” one of the most infectious tracks the band have done. I’m sure if they aren’t doing it by now, then later in their career it’ll be a simple call and response with the crowd, because everyone is going to want their opportunity to pay tribute to Sodom and yell, “THE SAW IS THE LAW”.
At the risk of turning this review into a track-by-track essay, I also need to shout out “Mono” for being another fast and angry song. I love Whitechapel when they go fast and angry, and “Mono” ranks right up there.
The biggest downside to Our Endless War is that it flows strangely. I know we don’t often cover this subject, as you can assume most of the time that the progression from one song to the next is a fairly standard, unremarkable affair. As a consequence, you usually wind up hearing about the arrangement of songs from us when it comes to the two opposite ends of the spectrum — when an album has a great dynamic in its flow and when the arrangement of songs is strange/bad.
But don’t assume that because I say the album flows strangely, I mean that it is terrible. It’s simply that Our Endless War seems to move in fits and starts, with two really weird stopping points that feel a tad too long. Whitechapel wears many different faces all over the album, shouting out to various points in their career as well as genuinely trying new things. Most work and some don’t, and it’s the parts that don’t quite click where Our Endless War feels like it is dragging its feet a little bit — especially in the face of the two bonus tracks available, which are both good enough that they could’ve slotted right into the regular disc’s run.
One such case is “Let Me Burn”, which sounds like the biggest bone thrown to those who miss Whitechapel’s more Cro-Magnon days, in which they lived and died by how crushing the next breakdown would be. It’s a medium-paced song that just runs a little too close for comfort to “The Saw Is The Law”, minus its catchy-as-hell groove. The whole song just seems too pieced-together and too monotonous.
There are some good moments within the song, like the portrayal of the protagonist and his descent into madness and eventual suicidal desires, allowing for some lyrics that I genuinely never thought I’d hear come out of a Whitechapel disc. The whole segment where the main character describes his perfect life leads to some lines never heard over a breakdown before; fans of jarring contrasts (I am!) might be amused by that. Some of the low vocals in the song are also undeniable.
The other case of foot-dragging is “How Times Have Changed”, which again comes after a run of pretty fast-paced songs. It veers a little too close to the song before and after it, making the whole block of three tracks feel like one really long song. Even then, I still find myself coming around time and time again to the “If you want a war, you’ll get it!” chunk of the song, because if there’s one thing Whitechapel have figured out, it’s how to make their riffs bounce, in a way designed to make people either jump or headbang, so even the weaker songs by this standard can still provide something to latch onto.
Bozeman, whose voice remains as distinctive and low as ever, is still nihilistic and misanthropic in his worldview and lyricism. He remains extremely blunt-edged in all of his songs, although he is also still the master of the occasional hidden lyrical pun (a trend I noticed after the group practically spelled it out in “Make It Bleed” on their previous album) and the occasional hard-hitting slice of social criticism. However, this time he also stretches into the realms of the (somewhat) sentimental and, as odd as it is to say about Whitechapel, given their tendency toward monstrosities in both their protagonists and the general events described in their songs, something human and frail.
Phil’s low growl is one to which many new bands still aspire and set their mark by, but he spends much of his time in the ravenous, mid-ranged, and supremely pissed-off yell that has slowly become his patented delivery mechanism since the group really started to stretch beyond being defined by devastating breakdowns on This Is Exile, or the super low-end death metal that defined Somatic Defilement. That said, anyone looking for the lower range of his voice to just rumble your seats and vibrate your innards will probably be looking for songs like “Worship The Digital Age” and the bonus track “Fall Of The Hypocrites”.
Whitechapel’s three-guitarist attack still remains effective in delivering an absolutely massive sound, and Our Endless War furthers the agenda of giving all three of them something different to do. The band haven’t quite evolved into the Iron Maiden of Deathcore, but the album is a nice answer to people who always wonder why the group needs three — myself included, until I just suspended disbelief and accepted that as just being the way they did things.
They play with a lot of echo effect on this disc, so you’ll often have one note just echoing over the rhythm guitar segment, as well as when the group actually cram a lead melody into the song. It’s shades of music that usually lies in the post-suffix genre working its way over, but not enough to decry, more so another way for the band to stretch and adapt as a means of avoiding getting stuck in a rut.
When Our Endless War first came out, I found myself waffling a bit in my thoughts about the traditional ending song of the disc, “Diggs Road”. At times, it just felt like a slow track, but at other times it felt like a good way to end the album. Now, as strange as it sounds, I think it may be one of the biggest risks the band have taken, with respect to both their overall message and their sound. I think I may have come around to liking it because of those factors alone.
“Diggs Road” is Whitechapel gone goth doom. It’s remarkably sentimental, and frail — the kind of atmosphere that they usually don’t express in their sound and a huge switch for a band who often play up their lyrical protagonists as either monsters or by-the-book nihilists. “Diggs Road” sounds like a song written about someone who truly has no hope left and is caught in the mires of bitterness and depression. It’s one of the times when the group’s lyrical straightforwardness really works in their favor.
I don’t imagine them being able to slap the lyrics all over merch, but the constant sentiment of loss and how time doesn’t heal a thing reminds me of how grief was explained to me at one time: It never truly goes away and it can become everything to you; even as time passes, the hole left by the loss still remains. You’re no longer mourning the person you lost, but instead all of the potential moments you lost because that person is no longer there. Even seeing things such as the couch you may have hung out on over time can prove to be too much — inanimate objects becoming representations of a person long gone to you.
It’s wildly introspective of course, and people will find different meanings in the words and sounds, but the group’s focus on the phrase ‘Time does not heal anything”, as well as the sentiment expressed in the line leading up to it (“until that day, I’ll sit here and wait to die”) is really affecting. When Bozeman utters the lines about how much the character in the song is considering committing suicide, it feels like the band forcing some complex emotions into their basic formula, forcing it to grow up and reach out into the more adult world beyond just hatred and somewhat prescient social commentary.
It may just be the doom fan in me, but the one time where the band really do tackle this subject in the song, I found it working really well. I’d love to see it worked into their live act someday, but it is really one of those songs that will take the perfect moment to break out.
As a full experience, Our Endless War is an all-over-the-map album covering a variety of different subjects, moods, and styles. It’s the first time the band have really been free from being tied down to any sort of previous sound; the only time you may hear the band reaching backward is because they want to. There are callbacks to earlier styles, as well as songs that feel written to appeal to people from the earlier days of the band’s music; some of those moments work better than others. But where the disc really excels is when Whitechapel seem to be creating their new stock and trade — by going really fast and adapting a hefty bit of thrash and death into their sound or by delivering grooves that are their hugest ones to date.
I will not deny that “The Saw Is The Law”was written entirely around said humongous groove, but my head still bobs to it, long after the initial exposure. Likewise, I will remain an endless sucker for the group’s faster songs — hell, I recommend people seek out the title track alone because sometimes there will be album runs where I won’t get further than that one song.
Whitechapel’s previous album felt like a revelation and the fulfillment of potential from promises on the disc prior to that one, and Our Endless War stands on par with it. It isn’t a huge jump in sound, but the group definitely stretch the patented Whitechapel formulas to the breaking point on Our Endless War, and the adventure itself is worth the ride. When Our Endless War reaches its stride, though, it is hard to notice time passing. Instead, you’re just moving from one angry and fast groove to another — and then the band drop a huge weight on you with “Diggs Road” at the end (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who have the two really good bonus tracks).
With Our Endless War Whitechapel have really stretched past being one of the most popular and most visible surface-level deathcore bands into one in which the -core elements are just parts of their overall sound, and they can and will adapt anything to it and, more often than not, make a damned good song out of it.
Our Endless War is out now on Metal Blade. Whitechapel’s Facebook page is here. Music below…