I was surprised to see that it has been three years since this US deathcore outfits last album, “Mark Of The Blade”, an album I particularly enjoyed due to its evolution into realms not touched on prior albums, such as clean vocals and calmer more melodic phases and with this latest offering the band has expanded on those ideas substantially. This is the bands eighth release and sees the music adopt a more sinister approach as the whole album is centred on the life experiences of their formidable vocalist Phil Bozeman. Those experiences have produced a sort of concept album, with deeply personal lyrics that also sees the incorporation of some of the writings by his mother who wrote a journal about her thoughts, making this an extremely personal album to him, and the rest of the band. The result of which is a fabulously constructed array of songs, massively varied and possessing reams of power and passion throughout as the album’s title comes from the location Phil grew up in called Hardin Valley, West of Knoxville in Tennessee.
The becalming intro sequence that starts the album on “When A Demon Defies A Witch” sets the pulse racing in anticipation of the onslaught to come and a slaughtering it is with blast beat precision tempered by mid-tempo inflections that possess a groove laden aura, backed by semi clean vocal shouts that eventually lead into a cleaner vocal element. “Forgiveness Is Weakness” is utterly incendiary opening with a face slashing riff and accompanying drum foundation that catapults the track into outright sonic savagery as the album slows for a sludgy riff and pulverising beat that is dense, opaque and asphyxiating on “Brimstone”. However the most surprising song is “Hickory Creek” which contains only clean vocals and is a marked transformation from previous albums even if clean vocals were a part, here they are given full focus for an emotive and poignant tune that bristles with sensitivity, beginning with an acoustic piece that is saturated in despondency, linking in the heartfelt guitar work. The song progressively intensifies as the lyrics pour from Bozeman’s heart steadily increasing the metal in stages towards a powerful finale.
That calmness and relative tranquillity continues into “Black Bear” before the thrust of down tuned riffing thuggery as the vocals take on a terrifying tone, vehemently lashed at the listener you can feel the hatred, the desolation and the frustration laid bare. Double kick swarms into “The Other Side” but even here there is that dark shady ethos, with a purposeful pace that is drenched in drum work courtesy of Navene Koperweis (ex-Animal As Leaders) who has added depth to the songs yet retaining the pounding devastation we expect from the band. Again we get more experimentation on “Third Depth” which whilst predominantly clean vocal based is inter-weaved with guttural bellows as the track swerves from thundering density to sombreness with consummate flair, each section producing excellent guitar work with varying levels of aggression.
The closing doublet of the album sees it return to more familiar territory with “Lovelace” bombarding with double bass infusions and huge changes in opacity as whilst the track isn’t necessarily fast it is overtly heavy, as a tortured vocal screeches “help me!” at you, before the closing song “Doom Woods” ends this truly ambitious and thoroughly absorbing album. Once more you get a sombre opening leading into the desolate like riff that is slow and ubiquitous, interlinked with copious drum fill, as I did expect the track to abruptly detonate with a blasting section but instead reins everything in for superb riffing solemnity, where the mood seems to spiral downwards into an ever more despairing dominion.
Whitechapel fans will continue to adore this band, I know I do, their ability to continually write and record adventurous sonic extremity shows no dwindling, in fact they go from strength to strength and whilst this release isn’t a 1000mph bombardment, the power is delivered within the substantial vocals, the polished riffing display and highly emotive guitar work, especially the leads, and the enriched rhythm section.
(8.5/10 Martin Harris)