Whitechapel set their sights on elitists
Whitechapel front man Phil Bozeman has been making a stink over metal elitism lately. Their newest album, Mark of the Blade, even goes so far as to target this type of behavior in a song titled “The Elitist Ones.” As a band carrying around the “deathcore” label, Whitechapel hasn’t won over the death metal community and it seems as though Bozeman has grown tired of trying to be accepted and is instead lashing out.
So before getting into this review, it’s important to address the elitism issue: what causes it, and is there any justification to it? Bozeman definitely has a point; some metalheads can be obnoxiously snobbish and narcissistic. It could also be argued that most of this elitism takes place on the internet, where people’s personal negativity and insecurities have a place to fester and grow into something that seems more monstrous than it actually is. Maybe if you’re being exposed to too much elitism, you could benefit from taking a step back from the keyboard and joining some of the real fans at the shows. The pimply-faced basement trolls won’t be there to bother you.
Is there any justification for elitism? In many cases, it can be a way for insecure people to feed their own superiority complexes, but it might also be fair to argue that simply being a contrarian to anything perceived as elitism can lead to shutting down discussion from those who have some actual, legitimate criticisms. For this review, there will need to be some exploration of these criticisms in order to give this record a proper analysis.
One of the major beefs metalheads carry with deathcore simply has to do with the perception that it’s a “fad genre,” and they’re not entirely wrong to say this. Glam metal, nu-metal, and metalcore/NWOAHM were all fad genres. They came seemingly from nowhere, bringing with them an over-surplus of artists, and then died away just as quickly. So why did this happen? There are always different arguments: the genres have too many generic elements; the genres are attempting to capitalize on a trend; the genres don’t live up to the high level of musicianship established in the metal community; the lyrics are juvenile and directed towards adolescents; the genres revolve more around fashion and image than music, etc. Travis Ryan of Cattle Decapitation even wrote a song for his grindcore side-project, Murder Construct, called “Compelled by Mediocrity,” which lambastes many of these new artists (though it’s not confirmed if he is referring to bands like Whitechapel or not). Right now, the two genres carrying around the scarlet letter of “fad genre” are djent and deathcore, with the former carrying around a lot less hate than the latter.
Deathcore as a genre certainly has some pretty good bands (Despised Icon and The Red Chord come to mind), but it’s fair to say that it’s following very similar patterns to many of the fad genres that came before it. With the oversaturation of deathcore bands coming out, the genre is looking towards an inevitable end. Even with all these fads, they do leave behind some artists who continue to thrive. Glam metal left behind Twister Sister; nu-metal left behind Slipknot; metalcore/NWOAHM left behind Lamb of God (the list goes on). So despite the hate, there are definitely some bands who earn their place amongst the metal elite.
So is Whitechapel going to be one of the bands that carries on after deathcore’s judgment day? With their immense popularity, they just might. There are some fair criticisms of the band that are also criticisms of the deathcore genre in general. Breakdowns and slam riffs are not just criticized for not being “true metal,” but also because they are increasingly generic and simplistic (sort of like the horror movie equivalent of a “jump scare”). They don’t leave much room for creative innovation, and on this new record, Whitechapel still relies on them quite a bit. However, their incorporation of Meshuggah-esque groovy riffs juxtaposed against down-tuned thrash shredding seems to be their big saving grace. It gives them their biggest distinctness amongst their peers, and they use these elements together very well right on the opening track “The Void,” which is undeniably catchy and fun (and probably one of the stronger tracks on the record). “The Elitist Ones,” despite being a display of aggression against the metal community, actually has some pretty classic groove metal elements driving it. “Brotherhood” utilizes strong melodic metal riffs that are surprising but still fit in pretty well within their overall sound.
Despite some of these strengths, there are still some weaknesses on this album. “Bring Me Home” attempts a more melodic, clean-sung ballad that sounds like a strange mish-mash of Tool and Vol.-3-era Slipknot that isn’t really strong enough to distinguish itself as wholly original. There’s still some juvenile-sounding lyrics, such as the line “Fuck the world I don’t care anymore” on “Tormented,” which sounds more like it belongs on Livejournal rather than being barked by a grown man in his 30s. That isn’t to say that there’s something wrong with cursing and being angry in metal, but doing it like an angsty adolescent can be kind of cringe-worthy. Ultimately, some of the more generic deathcore elements, such as breakdowns and slam riffs, add to the album’s weaknesses.
With all the talk of metal elitism, it should also be pointed out that metal fans are not always so conservative. Metalheads have embraced bands like Opeth, Cynic, Animals as Leaders, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Katatonia, Mastodon, and many others who have incorporated elements into their music that might have been looked down upon by metal elitists, but were ultimately accepted for their talent, innovation, and substance. Even Between the Buried and Me, who have many blatant metalcore elements, are still highly regarded for their musical contributions. So, for all the worrying about elitists, maybe everyone needs to chill for a second and realize these are a small minority of jerks, and metalheads can be a lot more open-minded than they seem. The obnoxious elitists will always be there (they also exist in a lot of other genres and art forms), and one day they will need to learn the hard lessons of “don’t be a dick” and “you’re not better than everyone else. ” Maybe Bozeman also needs to learn how massively successful Whitechapel has become, and that he really doesn’t need to be letting the trolls get under his skin. He might even find there’s some valuable criticism that he and the rest of his band could use to substantially improve their sound and carry them on for years to come.