I like my deathcore the way I like my death metal, namely varied and with plenty of contrasts. This eighth studio album from Knoxville's Whitechapel is full of contrasts, songs shifting from calming and thoughtful to brutally bludgeoning and usually on a dime. I haven't heard much Whitechapel, but this is consistently solid enough to make me pay a lot more attention.
The most effective contrast is the pairing of Without You, a peaceful minute long interlude late in the album, with Without Us, a song that kicks off so angrily that I almost ducked. The latter moves through calm, bittersweet sections, to more bludgeoning. If it's the story of a relationship, as it certainly seems to be, it's emphatically a turbulent one, as both the lyrics—"This isn't home, it's Hell with a lovely face"—and the contrast in musical style underline.
And much of the album does this, to varying degrees. The lyrics make for depressing reading, emo angst but with a voice of experience. Anticure explains that "This house is poisoned beyond repair and the souls of our past life are trapped on the inside." The Ones Who Made Us, a telling title if I ever saw one, suggests "Deep inside, you know that this is not what we were fighting for." History is Silent adds "It's not okay to have a knife in your chest and still be able to breathe." If that isn't a suicidal song—the repeated refrain of "Put me in my grave" suggesting that it is—then we cannot mistake To the Wolves for anything else: "So long, throw me to the wolves," it pleads. "I'm a lost cause drowning in the weight I pull."
Yet the music offers hope. From the opening of I Will Find You, there are uplifting quieter sections and the heavier ones don't always emulate the depression. Sometimes they just highlight vitality and vibrancy. The lyrics suggest that the narrator has had enough of everything and just wants to die to escape it all, suggestion an emotionless wreck. However the music suggests that he's often happy and often angry and both of those are emotional states. If you can still feel, whatever it is that you feel, then you're still very much alive. This narrator isn't just alive, he's kicking.
The calmer sections often feel like alternative rock, melodic and only a little angsty, never close to emo, while the angrier ones shift unmistakably into deathcore and sometimes almost into death metal. Phil Bozeman's vocals mostly manifest as a rough and raspy shout but, when he speeds up his delivery, as on Lost Boy, they almost become a death growl. It's a little odd to hear two genres ostensibly so far away from each other connect so effectively as contrasts, but that's the joy of the sound Whitechapel nail here.
Just in case that isn't enough, there's not a lot else here. Pretty much everything moves between those couple of contrasts, but there are a few other moments. Anticure has a fantastic intro, which plays out like a grungy southern AC/DC, while the one a song earlier on A Bloodsoaked Symphony has the AC/DC mix with Tool instead. I liked these odd touches and wished there had been more of them. They do elevate those songs, which move into very different territory otherwise. Clearly I'm in need of more Whitechapel.