• Sammy O'Hagar

WHITECHAPEL REACH THE MODEST HEIGHTS OF BETTER-THAN-MOST ON THIS IS EXILEWhat a ridiculously desensitized world we live in where an album like Whitechapel’s This is Exile can be described as “fun.” But that’s a perfectly apt way to refer to the band’s latest full length: like all good deathcore, it cherry picks the best of hardcore, death metal, and a smattering of other heavy (and non-heavy) genres to make the best of the sum of its parts. And This is Exile is chock-full of the best of heaviness—an endless array of savory death metal riffing alongside a torrent of breakdowns with the occasional Meshuggah-esque prog exercise, with absolutely no clean singing to bog down the album with tone-deaf melodrama. While nothing on the album feels particularly unique to Whitechapel, the bits of other bands they paste together are executed smoothly, producing a tight and cohesive attack that’s still a decent listen after several times through.

Once again, like any good deathcore, the band’s strengths lie in their technical prowess and ear for brutality. While metalcore’s downfall was the fact that so many of its songsmiths’ intent was to write heavy songs with hooks, deathcore — Whitechapel in particular — doesn’t shy away from being as heavy as possible at all times, combining Deicide-grade death metal blasting with deep, deep grooves that’ll no doubt incite the sort of bust-your-skull open mosh pit violence that keeps most people over the age of 20 from getting close to a band at shows. And while Whitechapel certainly do have the fret skills to keep even a casual listener impressed, the reason the album is such a substantial listen is due to the subtle nuances that add more than just the obligatory death and –core to their songs, making them all unique to one another and avoiding the metal pitfall of everything sounding same-y. Even their instrumental tracks are there to serve This is Exile as a whole, acting as breathing room and time to prepare for the band’s heaviest songs as opposed to bits of arty pretension to forcefully and awkwardly assert that they have a broad musical palette. The album doesn’t even stick around longer than it should, wrapping things up with “Messiahbolical,” the album’s epic closer, right in time for one to go and be interested in something else.

The album’s drawback, though, is its seeming lack of originality. Though deathcore is still a relatively new phenomenon, there are already some high watermarks. While bands like Despised Icon, Animosity, and The Red Chord marked their territory with original jaunts into the world of hardcore-infused death metal, Whitechapel just sound like they’re settling into a groove. And while that groove is still a good listen, it’s hard to discern whether This is Exile is a good album or if I’m just not sick of deathcore yet. Is it unfair to expect all bands to be brazenly original instead of having a few that are “pretty good for a deathcore band?” Are we wrong to want and expect more out of metal than a few trailblazers followed by a deluge of curious trailfollowers until that trail is worn down and not that interesting to travel?

The answer is completely subjective, of course. And don’t get me wrong — Whitechapel don’t commit any major sins on This is Exile. Hell, they even manage to pull off quite a bit of interesting shit. Right now, I’m alright with Whitechapel. But ask me what I think of This is Exile in about two years. After the oncoming second-wave of deathcore, I’m not sure many will have the kind of superlatives for it that they may have had upon its release. But, really, I’m sure no one will hate it, either. While by no means deathcore by numbers, This is Exile walks on new ground instead of breaking it, but perhaps that’s good enough for the time being.

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(3 out of 5 horns)

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