At some point, most likely in the early 1970s, arguments started in living rooms, bars, classrooms, and any other place music fans congregated about what exactly was "heavy metal," and more importantly (and often hilariously), who was the best band at playing what was largely considered to be the devil's favorite form of music.
The estimable music critic Lester Bangs coined the term "heavy metal" in the late ’60s, writing about Detroit political weirdos MC5 to describe music that was heavier, more abrasive, blunt, and punishing than anything he had heard before. Things have obviously progressed, changed, and been expanded since then, as there are dozens of metal sub-genres to choose from, including deathcore, which is the genre that Knoxville, Tennessee's Whitechapel not only excels at, but has somewhat quietly put together a genuinely good discography and sterling reputation for great live shows.
Since 2006, the band have been overwhelming audiences around the world with their combination of killer guitar work, blast beats, and vocalist (and founding member) Phil Bozeman's throaty growls, screams, and often darkly pessimistic lyrics. Let's not beat around the bush: Whitechapel not only embraces the darkest corners of lyrical content, but exemplifies the archetype that being part of a genre like deathcore implies. For the uninitiated, deathcore combines elements of death metal (down-tuned guitars, guttural vocals, dark themes) with elements of thrash metal, blast beats, and the occasional East Coast hardcore style breakdowns that make folks want to mosh. In other words, a genre perfect for your grandmother.
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Whitechapel's first album, 2007's Somatic Defilement, is suitably heavy and menacing, although perhaps not groundbreaking. The debut, though, was full of promise and allowed the band to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with, as they built a solid reputation as a powerful touring band. They signed to Metal Blade Records (former home of local metal heavyweights Sacred Reich and Flotsam & Jetsam) in 2008, and toured the world consistently from 2007 to 2012, releasing four albums in that time, including 2008's This Is Exile and 2012's eponymous release, while becoming a bona fide headlining act along the way.
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After slowing down considerably on their touring in 2013, the band have concentrated on cranking out new music. In 2016, they released their most sophisticated album yet in Mark of the Blade. Drummer Ben Harclerode (who has since left the band and was replaced by Ernie Iniguez) really shines on the record, driving his bandmates to bring their A game all the way. Tracks four to seven really show the growth in the band, as the Tool-esque sound on "Bring Me Home" flows nicely into the heavy attack of "Tremors," and brutality of both "A Killing Industry" and "Tormented," the latter of which may be the standout track on the whole record.
It will be interesting what the band comes up with next as they continue to give metal fans something to argue about. Are Whitechapel the best deathcore band out there today? As with any subjective argument, it is debatable, but between the live show and a consistent growth in their musical range, Whitechapel certainly deserve a place at the proverbial table as they get ready for their next step.
Whitechapel has made a habit in their career of looking back to their roots as they move forward, and This Is Exile (originally released in 2008) is really what brings Whitechapel back to Phoenix as the band is currently touring to promote the vinyl rerelease that Metal Blade issued on June 1 in multiple colors. Produced by the band and recorded in perhaps the least likely place, Milford, New Hampshire, This Is Exile is a ripper that kicks off with "Father of Lies," which immediately shows Bozeman's vocal ability in a much stronger light than anything off its predecessor. Moving from the relatively limited range shown on Somatic Defilement, Bozeman's growing confidence as a frontman was more apparent on This Is Exile and allowed the band to grow exponentially. It will be a treat for audiences on this tour to hear the album in its entirety.
Whitechapel play The Pressroom on Tuesday, July 3, with Black Dahlia Murder. Tickets are $27.50 to $30 at ticketfly.com.