Concert Review: Whitechapel at Mr. Smalls Theatre, Millvale, PA (Oct. 28)

Don’t you hate it when the band you leave the house to see isn’t the headliner? 

You pay for the bigger act just to catch a shorter set with second rate set design and a crowd with only half its heart into it. But despite all those inherent drawbacks, Knoxville quintet Whitechapel played a tight and versatile supporting set at Mr. Smalls Theatre on Monday that was as formidable as it was sincere, featuring a good portion of the band’s career-best seventh album The Valley.

The Valley, released back in March, saw Whitechapel modifying its earlier deathcore sound into a brand of more melodic death metal with some tracks verging on alternative rock, such as the cleanly sung, despairing “Hickory Creek.” Lead singer Phil Bozeman’s emotionally-wrought vocal delivery of “Hickory Creek” gave the show its most soulful moment, and completely without the support of blast-beat drums or gnawing guitar riffs.

But, there was no shortage of Whitechapel’s crushing instrumentals and dismal lyrics. The three guitarists, bassist and touring drummer had no trouble inciting a mosh pit. Among the highlights of the set were the opener “Forgiveness is Weakness,” “Hickory Creek,” “The Saw Is the Law,” the downright evil “When a Demon Defiles a Witch” and the stomping “Black Bear.” Bozeman made sure to enunciate his singing, unlike other bands on the bill, so that every syllable could be felt by the audience, such as “Black Bear”’s powerful chorus “As I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord to put me six feet deep.”

Playing on the altar of a former church with balconies of concertgoers looking down, one could only feel that Whitechapel presented a work of art as personal and traumatic as The Valley in a properly reverential setting and tone. The band members took their music as seriously as the people who came to see them and sounded genuinely gracious when speaking to the audience, unlike the lead singer of the main act who kept asking the crowd if they were horny, which was weird and off-putting. 

But, to the credit of Atreyu, the band did put the show together for the group’s 20th Anniversary Tour. And songs from 2007’s Lead Sails Paper Anchors such as “Becoming the Bull,” “Falling Down” and “Blow” lit up the room while the band’s new song “House of Gold” added a dynamic element to its marathon 20 song set.

After the show, my ears ringing, I overheard a conversation where a person was listing off all of the songs from The Valley that he had seen Whitechapel perform. “The only ones left are ‘Lovelace,’ ‘Doom Woods’ and ‘We Are One.’” The comment made me wish the band could’ve had more time to bring The Valley’s ferocious energy to life so I could complete my own collection of its songs. Watching the show made Whitechapel one of the only bands I would see twice on the same tour cycle, and of those, definitely the only that plays metal at the moment.