(BadWolf reviews the new album by Revocation. For another opinion, check out TheMadIsraeli’s review here.)
You pick up a record, and find one phrase, even one word, on the cover—it sends a message. “This is a singular experience. This word is the definition of these sounds, and vice versa.” A self-titled album, then, should either be a band’s self-estimated masterpiece, or, at the very least, a record that best encompasses a band’s sound.
One should not self-title an album lightly—to do so is to make a major artistic statement frivolously. It’s like a superstition—a dicey proposition. I can think of four self-titled metal albums off the top of my head: Metallica’s 1991 blockbuster, Avenged Sevenfold’s best-forgotten stinker, and Killswitch Engage’s two(!) eponymous records. All four fail at defining those bands. Metallica will always first-and-foremost be the band that recorded Master of Puppets; Killswitch Engage will always be “That band with the black guy that did the heartbreak song.” (Sorry, Jesse Leach).
Enter Boston’s Revocation, releasing their self-titled record just in time for this year’s Summer Slaughter tour. While I don’t see Revocation reaching the mainstream-appeal of the aforementioned bands, it’s realistic at this point to see the band making records as a career for the foreseeable future. Unlike most other bands playing technical-melodic-death-thrash-insert-adjective metal, Revocation can craft a good tune, and have a certain general appeal as well.
That appeal is David Davidson, the band’s lead guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, whose distinctive harsh vocals and expressive guitar leads give Revocation something most modern metal bands absolutely lack—personality. Honestly, the band should just call the album “David Davidson” and be done with it.
Davidson does not always pen the best tunes, but he routinely pens the best solos, bridges, and guitar interludes. It’s not uncommon for me to hear a Revocation song, and for the first two-thirds find it unremarkable, only to have one of Davidson’s guitar breaks in the third act sweep me in—such is the case with “Archfiend,” now one of my favorite tracks on Revocation. And that’s the secret to the band: re-listening to songs just for Davidson’s ear worms encourages listeners to pick up on the little touches of other parts of the music.
Unfortunately, it’s also the band’s Achilles Heel on this album. Most of the songs follow the same structure, opening as compressed thrash numbers and later unfolding into experimental—and frequently beautiful—instrumental passages full of guitar solos. Ninety percent of the band’s variety comes forth in those expressive sections. In contrast, Revocation’s 2009 album, Existence is Futile, took more liberties with song structure—its last three songs meld together into a cohesive suite, but Revocation eschews such flow. Listening to Revocation is like taking ten shots of the same whisky with a different chaser each time—you’d better like the liquor, or the fruit juice won’t cut it.
That’s not to suggest that the songs are all identical or interchangeable. Revocation can, when the fancy strikes them, write solid songs that stand on their own and don’t rely on Davidson’s leads to sell the concept. The standout example on this album is probably “Fracked,” which comes sprinting out of the gate, and has just the right mix of viciousness and eco-friendly sensibility to make it feel like an earnest throwback to Revocation’s forebears, 80’s shred-thrash bands like Megadeth and Forbidden.
Revocation the album sports more solid, concise songs like “Fracked” than its predecessor, 2011’s Chaos of Forms. Although that record was barely five minutes longer, and only boasts two more songs, it felt huge, a double album that managed to squeeze itself into a single album-sized cocktail dress, but couldn’t zip itself up. Instantly, Revocation sounds more comfortable in its own skin, but what it sacrificed was some of Chaos’s adventurousness.
All of the rabid experimentation that characterized Chaos of Forms is now reserved for a single song, and it is the album’s definite highlight. “Invidious” kicks off with a 90’s groove-metal drum intro, and then transitions into a sick banjo riff—five strings stretched over a snare drum, the whole nine yards. For the next roughly five minutes, “Invidious” dabbles in the paired harsh-and-clean harmony that made “The Grip Tightens” and “Cradle Robber” such great tunes, before bringing in a gang-shout chorus. It even ends in a lone bass-drop breakdown. The entire preceding album feels like it’s preparing you for the genius that is “Invidious.” If all of Revocation was as good, the album would be an instant-classic.
As it stands, Revocation is still the best album Davidson has ever penned, but it whets the appetite more than appeases it. More than ever, after hearing this album, I think Davidson has a stone-cold classic in him waiting to be born. Hopefully it will arise soon. Until then, Revocation is more than satisfactory.
Revocation will be released by Relapse Records on August 6 in North America. Pre-order here. Listen to “The Hive” and “Invidious” below.