Two years ago, Whitechapel was the biggest metal band in Knoxville. The group regularly headlined all-ages metal shows at the old Electric Ballroom and recreation centers in Alcoa and Halls, and even had T-shirts for sale. They had song titles like "Ear to Ear," lyrics that read like a medical textbook, a sound that lurches like a drunk mule from light-speed death metal to turgid bottom-heavy breakdowns, and a singer who specializes in bowel-loosening, indecipherable gurgles and high-register shrieks. Some observers might have concluded the band was reaching about as big an audience as it ever would.
But now Whitechapel is one of the most promising young deathcore bands—it's a mix of death metal and hardcore punk—in the country. They have a highly anticipated second album set for release next month, a European tour behind them, and a spot on the 33-date, cross-country Summer Slaughter tour with Black Dahlia Murder, Vader, and Cryptopsy in June and July. The biggest metal band in Knoxville got a lot bigger than anyone might have expected. Even the members of Whitechapel.
"It's been a fairy-tale story," says guitarist Alex Wade. "Bands work for years and years and years and never get anywhere. We've already gotten further than most bands get in a lifetime. But the genre we're playing is booming right now. Kids are getting into metal, and magazines like Revolver and Decibel are writing about bands like us instead of older bands like Slipknot."
Whitechapel—Wade, singer Phil Bozeman, guitarists Ben Savage and Zach Householder, drummer Kevin Lane, and bassist Gabe Crisp—signed its first deal, in the spring of 2006, with the London-based Siege of Amida label. Their first album, The Somatic Defilement, had limited distribution, but the band gradually developed support through near-constant touring.
"We've been out since I don't remember when," Wade says. "We're doing a month-long tour; before that we had a month of recording. We toured with Darkest Hour and Cephalic Carnage for a month, and before that we were in the studio. It's been pretty intense. Since last June, we've had about three months off collectively. It's not just since we signed with Metal Blade, but it has gotten better—and bigger. We're making more money, and we get to get more hotels instead of sleeping in the van. It's progressed a lot.... They were the label that was willing to push us the most. We felt Metal Blade was the most gung-ho about getting us out there."
In April 2007, before the band signed to Metal Blade, original guitarist Brandon Cagle suffered severe nerve damage in his right arm in a motorcycle crash. For several months, he couldn't move the arm at all. Zach Householder, who filled in for several months during Cagle's initial rehab, officially joined the band in November.
"[Brandon]'s toured as a sound guy with Straight Line Stitch and worked with Devildriver and 36 Crazyfists," Wade says. "He's getting his feet wet. He never got the chance to go out with us, but he's learned a lot since then. He's also invested in a studio in his house and done some demo tracks for bands."
The label's keeping a tight lid on This Is Exile—only one song, the title track, has been posted to the band's MySpace page. "This Is Exile" continues in the same vein as The Somatic Defilement—brutal death-metal riffs, hardcore breakdowns, Bozeman switching between the low-end cookie monster vocals and high-pitched yelps—but it's also a sonic step forward. It's more dynamic, less monochromatic, and takes advantage of the band's three-guitar line-up for more than just down-tuned heaviness.
"We're way stoked about it," Wade says. "We put a lot into it. It still sounds like us, but we've got a grasp on our new sound. Our older material was heavy, and the new stuff's still heavy, but we've incorporated more soloing to make the songs stand out more.... It definitely came out sounding huge."