Ben Savage, lead guitarist and founding Whitechapel member, discusses Kin and their previous album, The Valley, which saw the band begin their transformation from their once-deathcore sound to a more melodic Metal sound.
Whitechapel – Kin (Metal Blade Records)
Release Date: 29 October 2021
Words: Steve Ritchie
One thing which stands out about Whitechapel is that they have had the same lineup, apart from drums, since Zach Householder joined in 2007.
“I guess we’re all fans of each other,” Ben told MetalTalk. “Well, we are all friends, a brotherhood.” The youngest in the band, Ben loved to see concerts when he was young. “I had seen Alex and Zach perform. They were in a very popular local band. There are deep roots with us, and we just let us be ourselves.”
With three guitarists, Whitechapel uses this sound to its maximum. “We all complement each other. It fills in the cracks with our songs.” Live, it does sound extra powerful. “With recordings, we have left and right panned and centre guitar parts. We can pull off recordings live and keep the power and energy.” The three guitarists, Ben Savage, Alex Wade and Zach Householder, are joined by Phil Bozeman on vocals, Gabe Crisp on bass, and Alex Rüdinger, now the band’s permanent drummer.
The previous album, The Valley, was very well received and showed significant development of the band’s style. Hickory Creek was a great song to play live. “That was a big one,” says Ben. “I always look forward to playing that one. It is definitely a good vibe.”
An acoustic Hickory Creek version was released earlier in the year, which had all clean vocals and marked a significant change from the band’s deathcore background of the early days. Ben is happy with how that was received. “Our fans, they respect the stories and the intent set in The Valley,” he says. “So having an acoustic Hickory Creek just felt like a nice little easter egg or a little cherry on top from The Valley.”
The Valley was a concept centred around Phil Bozeman’s childhood. With that album, the Whitechapel sound went in what some have called unorthodox direction but is, in reality, a natural way bands develop as they grow over time. “The Valley was a vital record for us,” Ben says. “Probably the most important of our career because it bears the seed of what became Kin. We knew we wanted part two of The Valley story.
“From that perspective, we could make the structure to the music fit that heavy subject matter. We could get more dramatic with the songs, having a very beautiful sounding part, and build to this cathartic climax. We could explore more, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that if we hadn’t released The Valley. With the power of that story and everything involved, it really helped.”
Kin finds the band still nicely brutal in places. The Ones That Made Us is a real eardrum blasting heavy beauty. History Is Silent has a nice acoustic mellow build-up, before Phil sings “sad to say, I crave my grave” and then bang, a wonderfully brutal finish. There are many more layers to the songs, and it is pretty fantastic. “It makes for a more interesting listen, having all those parts in it,” Ben says. “It reels you in.”
The enforced shutdown of the music industry helped the band focus on the new album. “We’ve been on this kind of train ever since we started,” Ben says. “We have released seven albums and toured behind every one of them. So, having an album that we could completely focus on helped a lot.”
Whitechapel followed the creative process of the last four albums, all of the band in the same room writing together. “We all social distanced,” Ben says. “We were kind of in a bubble, and it worked in the bubble too.”
Ben’s wife Jillian created the artwork for the Kin album. It contains the valley point in there, making it very much the successor to The Valley. “Kin has two personalities growing from what was The Valley,” Ben says. “Whereas The Valley was like the story of a true event, Kin is happening inside. Jillian did the beautiful artwork, she’s very scholarly, and she knows what she’s doing.”
It is a very impressive piece, and it is one of those things that you’re not going to get the same effect with the CD as you would with that great big bit of vinyl. It was made on 12 inch square canvas. “So if you get the vinyl, it’s the same exact size as the actual work. It’s really impressive looking at it close up because each dot was hand-poked, so you can really see each one has a little personality in it.”
The artwork shows Jillian must have the patience of a saint. “Yes,” Ben agrees, laughing. “It took her a month for eight hours a day.”
Kin has some outstanding songs. Lost Boy is a fantastic example of the band’s development. Heavy to start, the track moves through the clean vocal section to a rip-roaring Ben Savage guitar solo outro, with Phil singing, ‘we’re in this together; you’re mine forever.’
“I felt, in the beginning, I wanted to imitate what Phil is first singing, ‘underneath my shadow is a snake.’ That melody was a starting point for the solo, and then I just kind of went from there and improvised until the end.”
Anticure has an epic quieter opening and builds beautifully. It is an excellent example of how the different vocal styles fit together. Ben shoves a fantastic Eddie Van Halen guitar squeal about two-thirds of the way through. “I love those things because it cuts right through the mix, and you can get wacky with it. It just sounds unhinged.”
On Orphan, Phil sings, ‘it’s just the way it is. How did I find myself to be so pitiful and vulnerable?’
“Orphan is a slower emotional song with another fantastic guitar solo section,” Ben says. “That solo, I could hear the melody in my head at the beginning, and I had worked out the first 15 seconds of it, and then, just improvised.”
Ben took some lessons with “one of my favourite guitarists,” Jake Cinninger from Umphrey’s McGee. “He taught me a lot of cool guitar tricks to use, so I definitely applied it over the record.”
But improvisation is Ben’s speciality, and he works with Mark Lewis, who is producing his fifth straight Whitechapel album. “He will tell me if it’s good or not. We go back and forth.”
The trio of songs that complete the album begins with the wonderfully picked acoustic guitar in Without You, which then moves into the thunderous opening riff of the next track, Without Us. “The acoustic guitar part is just a rendition of the chorus on Without Us,” Ben says. “There is different chording underneath it, different phrasing with the guitar, so it sounds like a different song, but it’s the same melody as the chorus of Without Us.”
Without Us is a massive piece, quite goosebumpy. “Phil came up with that opening idea, the chugging,” Ben says. There are pounding tom-toms, with the song then breaking into halftime. “Phil was really adamant we could turn this into something cool, so we took it and wrote a song around it. It was, honestly, the hardest song to write for the record and the longest we worked on a song.”
The band cut some parts, trimmed up the original version, then added a bridge section which brought the song home “and made it more dramatic.”
“That song is the big battle,” Ben says. “The story of Kin is linear. It starts from the beginning and tells it through to the end. So Without You and Without Us, that is the battle of the two cells in hand, coming to a head.”
The track Kin closes the album. Two minutes, 40 seconds of heartfelt loss with the lyrics, some beautiful guitar and a drummed fantastic riff, and then the most melodic solo build for a further three minutes. This is a beautiful song and an awe-inspiring way to end the album.
“Kin means related to,” Ben says. “It is Phil and his evil self, as from The Valley. He created two personalities, evil and his true reality.
“So this is his true reality telling his evil self to go separate ways and dissolve. The music is reflective and builds into this big solo, which feels like it’s tearing apart, they’re tearing apart. They are separating, and there is a finality in the story.I just started with a little acoustic guitar riff that my wife liked. I just took that and wrote the song around it.”
Whitechapel has a couple of US tours lined up for next year. They have played Bloodstock twice, and Download and signed with a top European booking agent, pre-COVID-19, following the success of The Valley.
This raises hopes that in time we will see the band this side of the pond.
Kin promises to top the success of The Valley. “We’re very excited for everyone to hear it,” Ben says. “Our fans loved the Valley. That was the best response we’ve had for any of our albums.
“Kin is the continuation of the story. It is going to be exciting. It’s like watching Kill Bill One, and then Kill Bill Two comes out, you know? You want to see it.”
Kin can be pre-ordered from metalblade.com/whitechapel/
This article first appeared in the MetalTalk November magazine, which you can read for free here.