Released: Jun 24, 2016
Label: Metal Blade
Number Of Tracks: 11
An example of a creative nosedive, "Mark of the Blade" is the sound of musical direction stagnating on the spot. An unfortunately bland album from deathcore vets Whitechapel.
Mark Of The BladeFeatured review by: UG Team, on july 02, 2016 4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Sound: It's often said that creative industries work in cycles. Cycles with little predictability but retro-actively appear really obvious. One of the more notable ones has been this sort of "nu-deathcore" insurgence that sprung up around 2011-ish. It started with Emmure, moved on to Unleash the Kraken, Attila, the abhorrence that was Annotations of an Autopsy, went quiet for a bit because lets be honest, did it really expect to survive a second halfhearted birth into existence?
Then you get "Mark of the Blade": this off-shoot of an off-shoot where older deathcore bands slow down and don't fill the creative void left behind. If the new Despised Icon material is anything to go by, it's not an off-shoot that's going away any time soon.
Being their 6th album, Whitechapel must surely know what they want to do at this point. Having stuck to a genre gun more tried and tested than even NWOBHM is at least grounds for direction of some sort. And yet, the simple summary of this albums musical direction is thus: Slipknot and Mushroomhead circa 2002 and 2003 respectively made a formal alliance with 2007 era Job for a Cowboy and decided to be as unimaginative with their source material as possible.
This isn't some lame attempt at pigeon-holing a band for some ridiculous attempt at derision, it's the literal representation of what this album sounds like. Barring 3 songs, you'll wonder why you've jumped back a decade in musical progression. It's a somewhat disorienting experience, listening to one of the big-wigs in deathcore having no clue what direction to go in.
This is the band that has three very capable lead guitarists and does very little with them. Actually, that makes things clear: this is an album of compromise in many respects. Where one part could give way to more interesting territory, it instead slips into more mid-tempo, back-beat hogging power chords. When the vaguest flair of promising material comes in ("Bring Me Home," the ending to "A Killing Industry," "Brotherhood"), it is mired by the next immediate slab of disappointment.
There isn't even the "usual" problem of there being too many song-writing gimmicks (the ol' "too many breakdowns" routine). The album never works at fast enough a pace for there to be room for breakdowns. The flow is one steady line of mid-tempo section to mid-tempo section with so little character or breakup that aural fatigue sets in swiftly.
So how about them there "vaguest flairs"?
Sure, there's points where surprise might grab your genitals and yank them about a bit. "Bring Me Home" is this well-written ballad of sorts in the vein of Converge (on a mellow day) and Corey Taylor interspersed with slightly-more-than-interesting dynamic modulations. "Brotherhood" evokes a true appreciation for what the "death" part of deathcore is meant to sound like: melody bending, dark harmonies and an apocalyptic tension that isn't present anywhere else in their discography. Chord progression may have been borrowed from Bloodbath slightly, but hey, credit where it's due. Bonus points: it's an instrumental, so no Phil Bozeman burbling on about how he hates his shoelaces lack of bleeding for revenge or whatever it is he burbles on about. // 4
Lyrics: Phil Bozeman's been at the helm of Whitechapel since the beginning and generally he fulfills his role as is needed. As blunt and uninformative a statement that is, it speaks volumes of the mundane platform he's been given to perform on. It doesn't help that his style is indistinct in the face of the albums musical direction, taking on a flat-lining monotony.
All that said, however, and there's still a little bit of spark left in the form of the addition of clean vocals. Not a necessarily new concept in deathcore (see the similarly floundering Chelsea Grin) but the inclusion certainly adds more vigour to the flat platform of sounds going on. Bozeman is a decent clean singer, the earlier Corey Taylor inference is not a flippant comparison.
Lyrically, you'll get more than enough of a hint of what's going on by just reading song titles. Any pretense to meaningful lyrics had better be reflected musically, not an especially hard feet in metal these days if one stays a week in the world of prog.
But what is presented here is standard fare: "I don't care about thing, you're dead and so is everyone you love, slaughter machines, people dying in well-rehearsed ways" etc. Not worth an extra sentence of comment. // 4
Overall Impression: Symptomatic of a band with too much to work with, "Mark of the Blade" is an outcome of compromise and near-sterility. Intrigue has left the building and interest is caught in the elevator somewhere between "A bit" and "That new Carnifex album is shaping up to be real good." Unremarkable mid-tempo plod-a-thon after unremarkable mid-tempo plod-a-thon, broken up by a semi-ballad and an instrumental almost completely out of place with everything else, just go back to "This Is Exile."
They've actually caught Six Feet Under Syndrome.
Songs to look out for: "Bring Me Home," "Brotherhood." The rest is not worth it. // 4