Whitechapel - Mark Of The Blade - (6.5/10)
Published on June 20, 2016
a flesh wound!”
Whtechapel have come quite a way over their decade-long career—evolving slowly but surely from that deathcore band it’s ok to like1 into a more and more lethal, modern metal machine. Their previous two albums in particular, 2012’s Whitechapel and 2014’s Our Endless War,2 have shown the band at the top of their game, comfortably occupying that curious position where the more “mainstream” end of the extreme metal continuum and the more extreme ends of mainstream metal meet. However, while Mark Of The Blade constitutes yet another solid entry to Whitechapel’s impressively-consistent catalogue, it also marks the first instance in their discography where their sound doesn’t appear to have evolved in any particular or worthwhile manner.
Whitechapel: shotgun not fighting the dude on the left.
Whitechapel have released an album every two years since 2008’s This Is Exile—releasing their debut, The Somatic Defilement (2007)m only a year prior—and there’s something to be said for that kind of workmanlike regularity, especially when it’s combined with the near-unshakable consistency that has been the band’s output over these past ten years. Each subsequent Whitechapel record has presented a slight tweak or a curious new addition to the band’s formula, yet Mark Of The Blade, feels like a mere rehash of what came before. Opener, “The Void” feels like a mildly-updated rendition of “Worship The Digital Age” from Our Endless War, and much of the album’s material, likewise, feels like leftover or reworked material from that previous record.
Mark Of The Blade is not entirely without its new additions, however. Most notable is the clean singing, featured on the tracks “Bring Me Home” and, closer, Decennium. While the addition of clean vocals on a Whitechapel record does indeed seem like quite an extraordinary and daring leap—and, indeed, the mere mention of the prospect caused quite a stir in the lead up to the record’s release—they come off as both highly inoffensive and largely ineffectual. Much has been made already of the growing Slipknot influence evident within Whitechapel’s sound (particularly on Whitechapel) but “Bring Me Home” might just be the most blatant example yet. Phil Bozeman’s vocals on that track are so similar to Corey Taylor’s that they may as well have gone and grabbed him for a guest spot. Taylor is a great vocalist, and one of the most iconic figures in the modern metal landscape, so sounding like him isn’t all that big a strike against Bozeman, and is, in fact, rather admirable when you think about it. However, the fact also remains that, rather than a daring departure, “Bring Me Home” is simply yet another example of Mark of The Blade emulating rather than challenging a previously successful formula.
Elsewhere, there seems to be and added emphasis on more compact and album-oriented song writing—as opposed to just throwing a string of self-contained, hard-hitters back-to-back—as well as a slight expansion of the minor-djent influences that began creeping in on Our Endless War. Yet these variations are minor at best and hardly constitute the kind of evolution seen across Whitechapel’s previous albums, and it’s alltogetehr rather monotonous and uninspiring. If Mark Of The Blade were simply Our Endless War 2.0, there’d be little to complain about; seeing as how that record was an absolute tour de force of everything the more-extreme realms of modern metal3 has to offer, and, if Slipknot aren’t going to bother focussing on the more-extreme aspects of their sound anymore, then someone else may as well rise to the task in their absence. However, while Whitechapel are far too good at what they do and their production value is far too high for Mark Of The Blade to be considered an outright failure, it remains an unshakably underwhelming listen.
Mark of The Blade has the distinction of being the first Whitechapel record where the band feel like they’re writing the kind of material they think they should be putting out rather than releasing the material they actually want to be making. I’m sure the writing/recording process of the record itself wasn’t at all that cynical. However—assuming the next album has the band back on track—it’s likely that this album will be looked back on as a slight misstep or, at most, a brief stagnation in Whitechapel’s otherwise flawless output.4
1 Because, y’know, they’re actually pretty decent.
2 And I would argue 2010’s A New Era Of Corruption.
3 There’s some kind of “main-ex-tream” or “ext-mainst-reme” pun to be had here, but I can’t quite get it to work.