Tennessee deathcore progenitors Whitechapel tossed fans a curveball with 2014's Our Endless War. That record smashed an engagement with more traditional heavy metal sounds and hardcore. It sold well, but reviews were mixed -- legacy fans, especially deathcore fanatics, despise change. While that horde may not be ecstatic about The Mark of the Blade, there is much more for them to warm to here. More open-minded listeners, who weren't previously predisposed to the band's earlier blastbeat-driven three-guitar brutality, may embrace this date as readily as they did Our Endless War. On their tenth anniversary, the band provide something for everybody while ultimately satisfying themselves.
Set opener "The Void" is classic Whitechapel -- albeit with Phil Bozeman's guttural roar way up front with clearly discernible words thanks to Mark Lewis' production. There are blastbeats, thrash, and grooves in a storm and stomp that also includes dissonant riffs and Gabe Crisp's relentlessly punishing bassline. The midtempo title track delivers more of the same on the surface, but a second listen reveals more swing, less thrash. Things get interesting on "Elitist Ones." With a nearly funky backbeat and Bozeman's ridiculous lyrics, it's tough to decipher whether Whitechapel are just having a lark, or are actually trying to resurrect nu- or rap-metal. "Bring Me Home," a memorial written for Bozeman's father, is one of the two tracks here to feature clean vocals. It commences slowly, sadly, and melodically. His full throttle roar is there in the chorus, and the cut opens up to become a djent-like prog metal cut with a full-on David Gilmour-esque guitar break. "Tremors" and "Tormented" are darker, more frenetic and maniacal, with monster riffs and tight angular vamps. "Dwell in the Shadows" employs dissonance again in its low-tuned riffs, though a grooving bass and separate (and stylistically varying) guitar breaks, stirs everything, and holds it together with blastbeats. "Venomous" is again vintage Whitechapel, all rage and force. Closer "Decennium, the other clean-singing number, walks a tightrope between slow-burning Tool and a grinding, Slipknot churn. The harmonic chorus and bridge are nice touches, but the track can't seem to decide where to land ultimately.
In making a record that indulges so many of their songwriting obsessions, Whitechapel's The Mark of the Blade might have been a mess. It's not. Sequence and flow, moods and styles, all form a coherent whole -- albeit one that might have used a tad more judicious editing. But it's hard to fault a band for trying new things, especially when what they deliver is an album with far more hits than misses.