Live In The Valley

Metal Blade
rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. When A Demon Defiles A Witch
02. Forgiveness Is A Weakness
03. Brimstone
04. Hickory Creek
05. Black Bear
06. Doom Woods
07. I Will Find You
08. A Bloodsoaked Symphony
09. Anticure
10. Lost Boy
11. Orphan
12. This Is Exile
13. The Saw Is The Law

Only a couple of years shy of their 20th anniversary, WHITECHAPEL are in the ideal spot for a live album. From their debut album "The Somatic Defilement" onwards, Knoxville's premier merchants of evolved deathcore seemed like a strong bet for the long haul. By the time they released genre-blitzing albums like "Our Endless War" and "Mark Of The Blade", it was obvious that vocalist Phil Bozeman and his henchmen had greater ambitions in mind than merely being a solid, hard-working deathcore band.

The critical acclaim and deserved success of WHITECHAPEL's last two albums confirmed that their evolution was nearing completion, at least in terms of shrugging off genre expectations. Artful, considered affairs, "The Valley" (2019) and "Kin" (2021) still felt like an iron piano being dropped on your head, but great depths lay beyond the breakdowns, and great ingenuity too. "Live In The Valley" captures the band in action at their seventh annual Christmas Benefit Show, at home in Knoxville, having the time of their lives, and audibly buoyed by the realization that their recent musical adventures were resonating more strongly than ever before. With a set drawn almost entirely from "The Valley" and "Kin", this is an unapologetic lap of honor and a jolting dose of vindication, all celebrated among friends.

Of course, old-school WHITECHAPEL fans may feel slightly shortchanged when they realize that this is all about the here and now, but the remarkable thing about this band is how they have retained their ferocity while simultaneously branching out into more melodic, atmospheric territory. Miserly diehards may bemoan the absence of ugly, pit fodder like "Ear To Ear" and "Possession" here, but in terms of pace and dynamics, "Live In The Valley" is a vastly more satisfying and substantial experience.

Plainly on blistering form, WHITECHAPEL begin with a towering version of "When A Demon Defiles A Witch" that perfectly sums up this more sophisticated approach and why it works so brilliantly. A tense, gothic sprawl, it is as extreme as anything in the band's catalogue, but with melodic sensibilities that manifest in a variety of shrewd and often unexpected ways.

Bozeman's peerless growl is authoritative, but his greatly improved clean vocals and undeniable way with a wistful melody give WHITECHAPEL a new edge, without sacrificing an ounce of intensity. Even the slightly ponderous "Orphan", the band's most unadorned rock song to date, thrums with newfound potency. Meanwhile, the likes of "Forgiveness Is Weakness" and "Black Bear" are strong evidence that growing up has not led to mellowing out. But just in case, a closing brace of pre-awakening classics — "This Is Exile" and "The Saw Is The Law" — delivers an obnoxious payoff that both band and audience have clearly been itching for.

A worthy snapshot of a great band growing bigger and stronger, almost in real time, "Live In The Valley" is what deathcore did next, and it fucking slays.

Author: Dom Lawson
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