Published Apr 02, 2019Though the songs of Tennessee deathcore vets Whitechapel have touched on vocalist Phil Bozeman's troubled childhood life a few times before, he says the band took their dark lyrical content into a completely personal direction for their seventh album, The Valley.
"It felt like it was time to dive into the whole story," he tells Exclaim! in an interview over the phone. "Obviously I can't tell every single aspect of everything that happened, but the basis of the story is covered with this album. It was something that I felt was a good idea and a good theme for the album."
This time around, Bozeman wanted to offer a more complete picture of his life. The vocalist tackles his issues with religion, abuse and neglect with a raw transparency that shows the maturity the band have gained since starting out as teenagers. Bozeman explains he felt it was a perfect match for the band's dark approach and he could create something positive from his experience.
"Before when we first started out we were young kids and we just wanted to be the most brutal thing we possibly could be. When you get older you take things more seriously," says Bozeman.
Throughout the album, listeners hear the story told from a few different viewpoints: Bozeman as a child, him as an adult reflecting on his childhood views and his mother, through her own words — the vocalist had held onto a journal his late mother wrote and incorporated some of the disturbing words she wrote directly into the lyrics.
"I never implemented it, but after reading through it thoroughly I just thought, 'This is great content for a record and not even just a record.' It could have been turned into a story or a book or a movie or something. It was just good material that needed to be heard. I think a lot of that stuff pertains to us as a band and that whole dark theme because it's a true life story."
The band have never been shy about discussing religion in their music in the past, but like most topics on the new album, it comes across more rawly than before. Bozeman says he was raised like any other typical Southern American family, with a heavy dose of Christianity mixed into his upbringing, but as he grew older he started to reconsider what he had been told to think. Although he isn't vehemently anti-religion, he has completely removed himself from that world.
"My whole thing on it is I don't care what anybody believes; it's not anything I would base somebody off of," says Bozeman. "I think it keeps people from being crazy and I also think it corrupts a lot of minds and that all depends on how you were raised and how you deal with it."
Beyond broadening their lyrical scope, Whitechapel have also expanded their musical repertoire. The band's last album, Mark of the Blade, saw the inclusion of clean vocals for the first time and an increase in the use of melodic instrumentals. The Valley includes the band's first song ("Hickory Creek") to exclusively feature clean vocals. Bozeman has integrated this style into the new album more than he ever had previously, though he doesn't find it to be a difficult change.
"Honestly, as weird as it is to say, you go in there and just wing it. There's no real preparation for it, because I've been doing it for so long," says Bozeman. "I tend to have a better singing voice when I do screaming; I don't know what it is. It just loosens everything up and makes everything a little bit easier for me."
Although Mark of the Blade saw Whitechapel evolving their sound, there were issues surrounding its creation that resulted in an album some fans appreciated but the band didn't particularly care for. Bozeman explains issues amongst members led to disagreements about the stylistic direction of the material, but ultimately it was crucial to getting to the point they're at now.
"The inner turmoil in the band before on Mark of The Blade was — I just feel we weren't clicking on all cylinders," admits Bozeman. "It really showed on the album. I wouldn't say it was a bad album, but it's not the first album I would put on if I were to go back and listen to something from our discography. It's not like we want to forget it or anything, but it's in all of our opinions our weakest work."
With the dark concept for The Valley showing parallels to a horror movie script, guitarist Ben Savage came up with the idea to focus the album cover and promotional material on old-school horror movie art. The album cover, adorned with the words "based on true events" at the top, came from Savage's passion for album art themes and collaborating with Blanca Studios to develop the idea.
"With his art style, he's kind of got that '80s horror film kind of style, and we were just like, 'This looks like movie art,' and it really plays into just how this album could be made into a movie or a book with the situations that are going on in the songs."
The Valley is out now on Metal Blade Records.