Despite their historical association with gory imagery, I’ve always viewed Tennessee’s finest, Whitechapel, through the lens of psychological thrillers. There’s the fear; there’s the terror, but there’s also the twist. No record plays on that notion quite as perfectly as their latest, Kin, out October 29 via Metal Blade.

It’s a masterclass in suspenseful songwriting, and listeners are incapable of figuring out how the next song will sound or where the album’s going. Every song is different yet equally powerful. Their eighth outing is a concept record of the highest order and a wonderful evolution of The Valley’s progressive tendencies.

How important was the sequencing for the album?

“Oh, it was very important,” guitarist Ben Savage answers. “Actually, the record’s written as a linear story, whereas The Valley wason short stories. It didn’t follow a linear storyline. It was just, ‘Here’s a story of this event; here’s a story of that event.’ True events, based on true events. Kin is a story from beginning to end. Once you press play on song one, it carries you through the storyline until the ending song, which is the finale.”

“It came out about like that because [vocalist] Phil [Bozeman] wanted to write it as a story. We wrote all the music first, and then we sequenced it how we would like to hear it musically. Then we sent it to Phil, and Phil wrote the story from beginning to end. The first song he wrote was, ‘I Will Find You.’ Second song was ‘Lost Boys,’ and so on. He wrote it as a story, storyline, which is cool. We’ve honestly never done that before.”

That explains why the music and lyrics feel like perfectly-designed puzzle pieces—the highs and lows matching up with the band’s most progressive and (no joke) heaviest material to date. Whitechapel have come a long way from their Jack the Ripper beginnings—Kin is a moving, pensive record that reflects on the versions of ourselves we could have been, as well as the decisions that make us who we are. In some ways, it’s a very spiritual record, but not in the Western traditional sense. Savage concurs:

“Yeah it’s about these different roads you could have taken. If I would have done this in life, my life would have been a hell of a lot different. People keeping you in check. It all comes up to you, at the end of the day, making that choice. It’s crazy to think about. You have the key. That goes to Buddhism, too. Buddhism is all about how it’s all you at the end of the day. It’s all in your head.”

“That’s the thing,” he continues. “What was inspirational, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, for songwriting and life. I saw the movie Enter the Void, and that opened my eyes to what happens after you die. You go into this space of Samsara, and you’re greeted by nice entities. Then, all of a sudden, you meet these malevolent beings, but you’re all just watching it. They can’t hurt you. It gets overwhelming at a certain point. You could either go to the white light, which is like Nirvana, or you could be reborn, because you don’t want to be in that space anymore, because it gets overwhelming the longer you’re in there”

“It’s a basic, bare-bones version of it that filters through my head, but I kind of want to apply that to our songwriting, too,” he continues. “Have a beginning that leads you into this world and has a climax at a certain point, has different shades, evil entities, and calming entities or sounds. All that stuff, it’s in there. I didn’t even bring that up to the band, but those dramatic feelings have an impression on you.”

I wouldn’t have guessed Gaspar Noe would have been an influence on the record … Savage chuckles:

“Very much so, yeah. He’s a huge influence. I mean, on me, personally, not on other members of the band, but we work the songs to where it feels right. But, yeah, Gaspar Noe’s brilliant.”

Artistic influences like those resulted in Kin becoming a uniquely personal piece of art that offered Savage some unexpected quality time with his wife. Savage came up with the idea, and his wife Jillian put paint to canvas. The album art utilizes pointillism—yes, the work came about dot by pain-staking dot—to convey many of the themes. Turn the cover upside down for a surprise, or stand far away from it to reveal other aspects. It’s a gorgeous piece. He explains about the process:

“Phil told me the concept, and I love the artwork for The Valley so much because it’s just simple, and it tells a whole story with such a simple image that you can see in your head. You can close your eyes and visualize it. With the Kin album artwork, I had this sketchbook I always keep around. I have four sketchbooks full of little drawings I do, and I just doodle in them.

“I don’t know; it’s hard to find a simple image that embraced the concept because it’s so multi-layered. It’s like a battle between two people, but I didn’t want it to look like a Manowar album cover or something, just a battle scene with guys with their shirts off and swords [laughs].”

“I came up with that basic image,” he states. “And I just love how the characters looked really pixelated and blurry. They could be anything, a ghost or a spirit or an alien. I just didn’t want it to look like an actual human with flesh and a life. This is something spiritual. It could be anybody. It could be all of us.

“Once I duplicated those people, I saw a demon in there. It was cool that Jill could bring it out in the album artwork. She could make it look more devilish, with the spiky horns and stuff. She did a great job. It took her a long time, like a month for eight hours a day, to do.”

That’s a long time …

“Yeah … I sat beside her the whole time, so I felt every cuss word and every frustrated dot. If I had to tell her something was not right, oh, man. You don’t want to be a fly on the wall for that.”

Watch the video for “Orphan” here:

For more from Whitechapel, find them on Facebook, Instagram, and their official website.

Photo courtesy of Whitechapel and Rob McKenney

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