Eight years ago, Knoxville's Whitechapel was just another newbie local band, a bunch of metal diehards in a city that's hardly a haven for metal. Today, they're touring the U.S. in support of their fifth album, Our Endless War, which debuted in April at number 10 on the Billboard top 200.
It seems to have been a fast ride for the six-piece outfit, which has now toured the world a few times over and earned considerable cred in the hermetic, hyper-critical realm of heavy metal. But according to guitarist Alex Wade, Whitechapel members have come a long way since their founding in 2006.
"Touring, recording, the whole thing, it's second nature to us now," Wade says in a phone interview on a break from a six-week jaunt with DevilDriver. "When it all started, we used to run around like chickens with our heads cut off when it came time to go on the road. We weren't used to being a big touring band. Now it's like punching a clock."
Which isn't to say the that the band members consider what they do tedious or mundane. But they take it more seriously than they did before, like any group of experienced professionals with full-time jobs.
"We're more career-minded now," Wade says. "This is our paycheck. We don't work other jobs when we go home. So every decision is important. And there's a business model behind the things that we do.
"In the beginning, it was definitely pretty weird. We were all in our early 20s, and it wasn't very heard of for heavy bands to get signed out of Knoxville. It wasn't something we had been striving for, either. It started as something we just enjoyed doing on the weekends, playing shows and having our friends come out and see us."
Whitechapel has generally been tabbed as "deathcore"—essentially a hybrid of death metal and hardcore—and their signing in 2007 coincided with the rise of several similarly-inclined outfits on the international metal scene. Their first record, The Somatic Defilement, on the European indie label Siege of Amida, garnered some critical plaudits, with much of the favorable attention directed toward the band's ferocious three-guitar assault.
They've kept that core sound over the course of their five releases—the trademark blast beats and the guttural vox and the trebled guitar blister—but they've added some new twists, too—a growing penchant for djent-y rhythms, the occasional post-metal instrumental passage, and a few curveballs from lead growler Phil Bozeman.
All of which has been met with varying degrees of acceptance, and loathing, out in the hinterlands. Because metal fans, perhaps more so than fans of any other genre, are a fussy, fundamentally unappeasable lot, often quicker to libel than to lavish with praise.
Wade acknowledges that the metal audience is a tough crowd. "[Metal fans] can be judgmental," he says. "Sometimes they can't accept music for what it is. They have to put it under a microscope."
He adds that the band keeps an ear to the ground, and they hear what the malcontents are saying—like most 21st-century acts, the band members pay close attention to Internet chatter and monitor multiple social-media accounts.
Over the past eight years, though, Wade says he and the other members of Whitechapel have learned to take it all in stride. "We want to know what our fans have to say, but we're not going to change our sound because someone on a blog doesn't like something," he says. "At the end of the day, it's like that old saying: ‘Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.'"