It’s been 15 years since metal band Whitechapel formed out of Knoxville, Tennessee, a city not usually known for death metal, hardcore or ‘deathcore’ music, but more for country music. “As far as country music, it didn’t impact or influence us at all when we first started, because back then we were only into heavy metal, death metal, hardcore and darker, faster brutal shit. We just kind of took all our favorite bands and put it into one sound,” explained founding guitarist Ben Savage.
“But as we’ve gotten older and matured we’ve blended some of those country, and even rock influences on recent recordings, especially The Valley, and our newest album, KIN. Those influences on us have come out in a weird way. Not to say we’re playing country music, but you can hear different melodies in our new music, while it still retains its heaviness and sounds like Whitechapel.”
In the 15-year, 8 studio album deep career, Whitechapel have established their rank as stalwarts of the heavy music community. The band's unrelenting work ethic is evident in the prolific output, but also in the band's tour mileage they have logged, amassing countless runs home and aboard with some of the biggest names in metal, hardcore and punk. The band's sonic versatility has allowed them to far exceed the niche circle of domestic deathcore and share stages everyone from The Black Dahlia Murder and Cannibal Corpse to Suicide Silence, Killswitch Engage and A Parkway Drive. That kind of broad appeal has propelled Whitechapel to not only reach a much much more eclectic base, but has also undoubtedly had a dynamic effect on their approach to songwriting. Yet in that pursuit of evolution, the band has never forgotten its hometown, its humble genesis and their roots that remain a part of their creative DNA.
“When we started, there was not really an extreme metal or hardcore scene in Knoxville,” Savage said. “We just kinda started one on our own, we wanted to shake things up a bit in our city. I remember our first early shows were at Rec Halls, we would have to bring our own PAs and invite all our friends and just wreck the place. Our first tour was with a band called With Faith Or Flames, out of Chattanooga; they were on tour and took us out with them for the first time, that’s how we got out of Knoxville.”
In much the same way the band had to cultivate their own community in lieu of connecting with an existing one, Whitechapel has made career doing things their own way and ultimately taking chances that their peers might not. Such was the case on their 2019 opus in The Valley - an effort that saw the extreme metal purveyors expand their sound in a way that included an acoustic recording and a selection comprised entirely of clean vocals. The creative gamble paid off in spades, with the reception of The Valley earning near universal praise for its progressive approach to modern heft. However with great risk, may Coe great reward and inevitably, great expectations.
Coming out of the pandemic, and the acclaim of The Valley, Whitechapel’s latest effort serves as band's next chapter in their narrative established in 2019. "KIN is direct continuation of the story Phil is telling with The Valley,” Savage said. “It starts off where the last album ends, and it is just as, if not more intense. I can’t speak for Phil but his lyrics are open and very emotional and heartfelt. Musically, it’s brutal and heavy and parts where we just go more melodic. This album has more theatrics, more drama. The songs as stories are deeper. The story deals with the psyche and it is very intense. Plus, there is an ambiance to it all, we even included some slight sci-fi elements in the music and focused on it flowing from song to song.”
Savage further explained that there is a method to the madness in how Whitechapel formulates their magic. “We always write the music and all of our songs first, then phil reacts to the music then writes his lyrics from what he feels,” savage says. “With KIN, we wrote it, got all the songs done, then sequenced it in order. Then Phil wrote lyrics or stories out for each song, and the process was amazing. It was linear like a movie or novel, so the album flows from the first track to the last. I know many musicians always say this but for us we all feel that this is the peak of what we've been able to accomplish.”
Whitehchapel has shown that it can switch from fast, dark and menacing to melancholy and angst ridden urgency, displaying the direct influence of bands like Mastodon, The Mars Volta, and the clean vocals of Opeth, A Perfect Circle and Tool. For the past few years, the band has been playing with established drummer Alex Rudinger, from bands such as Light The Torch, The Faceless, Intronaut and Threat Signal. “Alex was very easy to work with. We have known him for years,” Savage said. “He’s super professional, and he takes the drums seriously. He’s very meticulous; he plays everyday like a seasoned musician. Plus he’s been around with lots of other bands, this ain’t his first rodeo he’s toured he knows the deal, so it's been a seamless transition to welcome him into the band he did a great job recording Kin we couldn’t be more proud of him and happier with the results.”
Kin's personal nexus also takes inspirational cues from the childhood trauma of lyricist Phil Bozeman. “It was a conscious and natural decision for us as a band to make KIN, kind of like The Valley II, but we don't want to call it that,” Savage said.
Tending to the all of the details of the album with meticulousness, even the artwork involved a hefty investment. Savage shared how the visual representation was such an integral component of the finished product. “My wife did the painting for the album cover. It took 8 hours a day and about a month to complete. It was done using dots and an art form known as pointillism to make the image of the shapes look blurry and ghostly. There is a lot of dark blue white and different shades of black like this charcoal black so it looks more like a void. We wanted subtle hints of the Valley as well. Both the album artworks are connected; the details come alive if you look close. There are two images merging as one and the dots bring it together so it’s two becoming one with the foreheads forming together. This is the first album we have an actual painting on the cover, because the surrealness of the songs is reflected in the art. It has a very sci-fi vibe and complements the music perfectly.”
If acoustic arrangements and clean vocals are less indicative of the typical in what's expected from a band that still is categorized as American deathcore, sequential narratives and painstaking pointillism line up even less. Exceeding the requisites of brutality and breakdowns, Whitechapel continue to invest in their own creative development in a way that clearly differentiates themselves from their contemporaries. In much that same way the band understood the value of paving their own lane for the very beginning, that same spirit of individuality is what allows the band to explore new creative terrain and broaden how extreme music is framed.
Kin may be the band's next chapter, but Whitechapel's story of evolution is one that is far from over.
Kin arrives October 29th via Metal Blade Records. Pre-order the album - HERE