For those of you in the know, this is of course a reissue of Whitechapel’s debut, originally released in 2007. Not merely content with a standard reissue, Metal Blade have deemed it necessary to remaster and visually overhaul the album. Generally I have a cautious relationship with remasters – especially when it comes to death metal albums, whose original sound can be ruined. In the case of these Knoxville nasties, it doesn’t really matter as the only thing I’ve ever heard by them was one track from this very album six years back. At the time, I thought it sounded alright – not the most mind-blowing stuff but decent. Subsequent education has necessarily made me aware of the fact that the band’s clean cut image and penchant for breakdowns lumps them into the dreaded deathcore category – a term which up to now has had little meaning in the context of my existence.
So what does it all sound like in 2013, I hear you shout??? Well from my viewpoint it sounds like the remaster has been designed to, and succeeded in giving ‘The Somatic Defilement’ an air of professional clarity and potency. Admittedly I don’t recall exactly what that bit of it sounded like originally, but this is encompassing and fairly heavy production-wise. Before the musical excursion begins, we are treated to a shadowy intro which rather strangely – considering the East London theme here – incorporates some broad American narration. The music soon follows though, and immediately threatens to endanger subwoofers by taking cues from the likes of Dying Fetus and Devourment – albeit in a far less über brutal form. As the opener unfolds, an edge of catchiness pervades, occasionally embellished by some ascensions into pure melody. In fact the best part is probably at the end where At The Gates worship morphs into something more orchestral and classic sounding. So far, so interesting; especially since these same references follow through to the next track also, with a few Cannibal Corpse atmospherics thrown in for good measure.
However – and this is a big HOWEVER – one of death metal’s most potentially dull techniques also begins to creep in. You guessed it: the breakdown. During ‘Devirgination Studies’, one seemingly follows another. As Whitechapel’s approach is largely based on the slower side of things with isolated fits of speed, it’s not as if consecutive breakdowns really provide much shade or emphasis to their homicidal tales. Pretty soon – and without wishing to sound superior – the style appears as extreme metal ideal for people who haven’t heard extreme metal before. As the album continues, yet more emphasis on that technique – which is less bludgeoning, more prodding – triumph over the bursts of acceleration which appear. And unfortunately, it proves to be a fairly predictable story overall as easily traceable death metal conventions are punctuated by those all pervasive ‘b’ words, or vice-versa. Some attention must be paid to my use of the word ‘fairly’ in that previous sentence though. Flashes of ATG (‘Fairy Fay’) and general mania (‘Vicer Exciser’) do sporadically raise the bar quite a bit, and succeed in getting my head moving.
Technically Whitechapel proved themselves to be more than capable musicians with their debut. There are moments of real promise which, frustratingly, are undone by a preoccupation with the mundane. Well to myself, as a fan of the bands who served as a template here, it comes across like that. On the flip side, there’s little doubt that by listening to ‘The Somatic Defilement’ in 2007, some people will have been turned onto bigger and better things in the realms of the underground. In this respect, I won’t criticise it. For anyone to take Whitechapel’s debut as an insult to their sense of intelligence/metal literacy seems a bit silly. While personally I am left quite unmoved by their safe brand of death metal, the debut from this deathcore band could have been much worse.
(6/10 Jamie Wilson)