In the Blount County countryside, Whitechapel puts finishing touches on new death metal album
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
Down a bucolic stretch of rural Blount County road in Louisville, death lurks within a nondescript house.
From the outside, it seems nondescript — spartan lawn, a mailbox across a two-lane road, a couple of cars in the driveway, a sloping backyard buttressed against hills that roll toward McGhee-Tyson Airport.
Inside, however, two pieces of technology harness the brutality of the death metal band Whitechapel. The first is a video game system, on which guitarist Alex Wade (Maryvile High School, class of 2004) and Knoxville native and Whitechapel singer Phil Bozeman play “Modern Warfare 3.” The second, the one many diehard Whitechapel fans would sign over their souls to obtain, holds the nearly finished new album, scheduled for a June release.
“It’s pretty much done,” Wade says, showing off the spare bedroom where producer Mark Lewis, who’s been in Blount County for four weeks to help complete the forthcoming album, works his magic. “Right now, all we’ve pretty much got left is going back and listening to it over and over, making sure we don’t want to add little things here and there.”
Lewis, fresh from the shower and ready to work, paints the most striking picture of what the self-titled record (“I think we’ve been around long enough that it’s OK to do the whole self-titled album thing,” Wade notes wryly) will sound like:
“It’s going to piss people off, but that’s what bands do when they’re being talked about,” he says. “There are way more hooks, and the songs are more memorable. There’s more of a vibe to this record, even though it’s darker. It’s more heavy and it’s definitely faster, but it’s also more rock ‘n’ roll.”
For the Whitechapel fans who have followed the East Tennessee boys since the beginning, that may come as a surprise. Some will be disappointed, no doubt; others will applaud the band’s ability to evolve while still remaining true to the style that’s taken them to such great heights.
Six years ago, Whitechapel was mostly a local act performing at venues like the Springbrook Rec Center in Alcoa. The band started when Wade teamed with bass player Gabe Crisp — a 2004 graduate of William Blount High — and Bozeman (a graduate of Karns in Knox County) to start the project, named after an impoverished district of London where Jack the Ripper brutally murdered several prostitutes in 1888. Ben Savage, a veteran of Bozeman’s former band Psychotic Behavior, was added on guitar.
The band used Myspace to garner a groundswell of support, taking top honors at Battle of the Bands competition hosted by the Knox Scene Coalition, The Daily Times Weekend section and other organizations; held at Springbrook, it drew enough Whitechapel supporters to put the band over the top. A few lineup changes later (guitarist Zach Householder, a 2003 graduate of Maryville High, joined in 2007), the band released the album “The Somatic Defilement” on Siege of Amida Records. In 2008, they made the jump to respected label Metal Blade, releasing the album “This Is Exile” and garnering larger and larger followings at shows across the country, many with top-name metal acts. (The new album means the band has one left on its Metal Blade contract.)
In 2010, the group released “A New Era of Corruption,” an album that sold 10,500 copies during its first week of release and entered the Billboard charts at No. 43, practically unheard of for a death metal act. A headlining tour of Europe followed, and in April, the guys are headed to South America for the first time. This week has been devoted to finishing up the new record with Lewis, and the band hits the road on Friday for Memphis, returning to East Tennessee for a performance at Knoxville’s Valarium on Sunday.
Don’t expect to hear any new material, however; the first single from “Whitechapel” won’t be released until May, and the band wants fans to digest a new record before unleashing songs from it in a live setting. Instead, the guys will showcase just how much they’ve grown as musicians, with Savage, Wade and Householder wielding their guitars with the brutality of creatures connected to a hive mind, and Crisp anchoring the rhythm with drummer Ben Harclerode, who replaced Kevin Lane in late 2010.
“It’s insane,” Wade says of Harclerode’s drumming. “It’s made us a completely different band. He was like a breath of life. I didn’t know if we would find somebody who would fit in with what we do, but he’s brought a faster, more technical element to the sound. He’s so tight and on point.”
With a rack of guitars sitting against the couch and a makeshift vocal booth in the spare bedroom consisting of moving blankets thrown over clothing racks, Wade was also worried about following up “Corruption,” which he describes as the band’s “experimental, artsy” album. Bozeman, however, found himself tapping into the darker nature of the group’s earlier material when he sat down to write the lyrics.
“I think it’ll be a surprise for fans,” he says. “I tried to do more verse-chorus, verse-chorus; there was something of that on ‘New Era,’ but I think this is structured better and is more beefy sounding, for lack of a better word. I feel like fans aren’t going to be let down, but they’re definitely going to be hit with something they don’t expect.”