Sound — 6
As an avid listener of two specific styles of music and many of the genres that encompass them (heavy metal [I don't need to list those genres] and country [Texas country, some Nashville country, americana, etc]), 2014 has so far been a year of albums that have tried to do too much, and "Our Endless War" is yet another example. What we have here is an odd mesh of different metal genres that sacrifice the cohesiveness of the entire album. I'd argue that "Our Endless War"'s country counterpart is Eric Church's "The Outsiders," which is to say that both encompass "sh-t flung at a canvas" in every single way.
First of all, Whitechapel continues to move further and further away from their original sound that made them so interesting in the first place. While they were undoubtedly a deathcore band, they leaned pretty heavily toward the death side of that term and it saved their music from being incessantly boring. Whitechapel also has fallen into a habit of creating ominous sounds in their choruses or near the ends of songs, as evidenced by choruses in the title track and "Let Me Burn" along with the ending of "The Saw Is the Law." I wouldn't mind this so much if it wasn't ripped straight out of Job For A Cowboy's recent sound, and therein lies Whitechapel's current problem - they sound like too many other bands. As soon as "The Saw Is the Law" came out, people were screaming Meshuggah (and poorly done, at that). Then "Mono" was released and people were bitching about it sounding like Slipknot. Eventually, the title track came out and you could hear snippets of Job For A Cowboy all over the choruses in the ominous, slow moving juggernaut sound that calls to mind the title track to "Ruination."
I just don't get it. Whitechapel seems to be seeking what they already had, their own, unique sound - a handful of deathcore chugs but plenty of death metal inspired segments and Scandinavian sounding leads that made one think about classic death metal and Gothenburg at the exact same time. Unfortunately, it appears those days are gone.
Lyrics — 4
Phil Bozeman once made use of many different styles of harsh vocals, and while this album has snippets of that, it's not nearly as frequent as it once was. I understand that Phil's main goal is for his vocals to be understandable, but in that effort he's sacrificed the usage of a wide variety of skills. And don't get me started on the lyrics to this album. For some reason, Phil felt like screaming "KILL YOURSELF!" at the end of "Mono," then screaming about "drinking the blood of children's severed heads" on "Worship the Digital Age." While death metal and deathcore have histories of gratuitously violent lyrics, these two moments in particular are beyond sickening and a very blatant attempt at being "brutal" and "shocking." The album is also littered with silly cliches such as "out of sight, out of mind" and "I've said it before and I'll say it again!" Lyrically, "Our Endless War" is as bad, if not worse than "This Is Exile." And to think, Phil had once progressed to writing lyrics like those in "Devolver."
Overall Impression — 6
At the very least, Whitechapel's arrangements are more complex than they've ever been, Ben Harclerode, in particular, shines on this release. His drumming is tight, precise, and technically enthralling. Every note counts. Unfortunately, there are still some drawbacks. While the band's 3 guitarists show improved technical skill with each release, I'm still baffled by their unwillingness to record the solos on their records. Every guitar solo on this album was recorded by a guitarist named Ben Eller. I don't really understand how this is necessary. The band has 3 guitarists. One of them must be able to record these guitar solos, let alone perform them live. Then again, I do recall several videos of Savage butchering guitar solos live, but he's had how many years to improve his chops? At what point can us fans expect to hear well played leads and solos in a live setting? Has he gotten better? If so, what is necessary about having a guest guitarist record these solos? It's not necessarily an uncommon practice in metal circles, but can't one of these three guitarists pull it off?
And then there's the sheer gimmickry of this new Whitechapel. As soon as you open the case and find the member listings, instead of "Whitechapel is:" you read "Brotherhood of the Blade." How damn lame can this band get, at times? Jesus.
Anyway, enough harping on this band, for now. There are legitimately brilliant moments on this record. "Let Me Burn" comes to mind as a song that just works, as a whole. While the leading riff did nothing to entice me, as soon as the chorus kicked in, I felt like I was being run over by a bulldozer. Even if I don't like that they so blatantly ripped off Job For A Cowboy (I do love Job For A Cowboy, by the way - the criticism isn't meant to imply it sounds bad; it just sounds too similar) elements in the chorus, Whitechapel pulls it off. Another fantastic track, "Diggs Road," is without a doubt one of the best songs this band has recorded. It's remarkably emotional, and instrumentally precise. The inclusion of two guitar solos is, I believe, a first for Whitechapel, and they really help take this song over the top. About the solos - even if they were recorded by a guest guitarist, I must say that each solo on this album is neither too short or too long. They never seem to waste notes, and yet never seem to cut out too early. Even if the album isn't great, that element was remarkably impressive.
Overall, "Our Endless War" is Whitechapel's third best effort. While self titled showed that they'd be moving away from the deathcore sound, it still had enough Whitechapel elements for me to truly enjoy, but I don't know if I could place it above "A New Era of Corruption," which seemed to show some real potential for the way they blended genres at the time, instead of this new method of recording songs that fit into different genres and then trying to put them on a track list to a single album.
With "Our Endless War," listeners get excellent moments, but as an album it's a three legged stool that doesn't sit level.