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Friday, August 15, 2008

CD Review: Whitechapel - This Is Exile

Whitechapel - This Is Exile
2008 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Picture, if you will, a time when the advocacy of baritone-choked growls with little deviation, save to spike a chunky pitch to a terrorized screech was all brand new. Can you imagine it? Probably not, since in today's metal, this is sadly status quo. If Chuck Schuldiner were still alive today, it'd be interesting to get his thoughts on the state of death metal in the 2000s since it bears a lot of the principles from the eighties scene of which it was born, yet it's developed its own set of mandates that threaten to stagnate it wholeheartedly.

Would Chuck approve of the repetitious grinding blast beats, the overpowering vocal crushes that assume and dominate much of the character of death metal today, with interminable breakdown sequences accounting for a hefty percentage of its own? Both of these alone tend to reduce the articulation generally excreted beneath the tonal terror, and you have to wonder if it's worth the price. Put up Death's Scream Bloody Gore, Possessed's The Eyes of Horror, Dark Angel's Darkness Descends and Celtic Frost's To Mega-Therion up against today's death metal sanction. Can you hear the difference?

Maybe you had to have been there originally, and granted, a lot of eighties thrash and death metal albums soon began to slip into familiar thrash modes, but at least the era was inventive. As death metal today has broadened its horizons in its own right so much that you can put female siren voices to counter the agro puke fests, or you can tweak it with jazz, funk, folk, banjo or whatever suits your fancy to make it stand out from the pack, what it all boils down to, soup-to-nuts, is pure hostility and aggression.

If anything, Whitechapel has those. Now on their fourth album This Is Exile, Whitechapel's ratchety cacophony is belligerent as hell. Cheers and beers, yes, but what does it really do that nobody else is doing these days? Outside of melody sublets that offset the prototype bellow and barrage modus operandi ("Exalt," for example, finger-paints various textures and note sprinklings to make it worth your time), this album is what it is. Much heavier than metalcore and doing its damnedest to marry Cannibal Corpse and Soilent Green with 'core ball busting rhythms and some underlying Gothic swoons ("Somatically Incorrect" being a prime illustration), it's mostly going through the same brokedown archetypes as Whitechapel's numerous peers and competitors.

This Is Exile is ferocious, no doubt about it. For your anger fix, Whitechapel will give you all you can handle and they bring you to the teetering edge of your wherewithal, but if you've been listening to this stuff for a long time, they're also going to push you to your tolerance level. Their cool instrumental bearing the humorous title "Death Becomes Him" is This Is Exile's best moment, sounding closer to the days of old Celtic Frost, and the tribute is thankful and refreshing.

If Whitechapel weren't such proficient musicians (enjoy the blissful chaos presiding on "Daemon (The Procreated)"), then it would be easy to knock This Is Exile off as carbon copy just for its tedious predictibility. As it is, for the death metal league of today, this is simply joy in repetition.

Rating: ***

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