(Andy Synn gets to grips with the new album from Revocation, due out 09 September on Metal Blade)
It’s always seemed odd to me that some people seem to equate “being a fan” of a band with “never, ever criticising or questioning what they do”.
Maybe it’s because they’ve invested so much of their identity into their fandom (which is never healthy), or maybe it’s because that’s just what they’ve been told by “the internet” and don’t want to rock the boat, but some folks act as though even entertaining the mildest of criticisms about a band is tantamount to a full-blown betrayal.
That’s obviously not the case, of course, and I’d argue that it’s not at all helpful for a band’s fans to just blindly praise them, since honest feedback from their audience potentially provides one of the best ways for an artist to learn and improve (but that’s an issue for a whole other article).
Case in point, while I think most would agree that Revocation have at least two top-tier classics under their belt(s) – namely 2011’s tech-tacular Chaos of Forms and 2014’s bombastically burly Deathless – it’s worth acknowledging that not every one of their seven (soon to be eight) albums hits quite the same heights (the self-titled in particular is a real clunker), and the band definitely aren’t perfect (nor do I think they’d claim to be).
But if all that has you worried about what I’m going to tell you about their newest album… don’t be, because this preamble has actually just been a clever bait-and-switch, since Netherheaven is easily on par with the band’s very best, and might even be the new standard by which all their work will be judged going forwards.
To put this in context, it might help to tell you that, at multiple points throughout this album I’ve found myself reminded of Testament‘s nearly unparalleled metallic masterpiece, The Gathering – it really is that good.
It’s not so much that the two records actually sound particularly similar – although, on paper at least, the plethora of impressively technical, yet instantly memorable, Death/Thrash riffs, the abundance of virulently catchy vocal hooks (both harsh and clean), and the aggressively anthemic nature of the songwriting suggests an obvious kinship between them – but more a sense of a certain shared vibe, that of a band with the confidence to simply cut loose without trying to fit themselves into any particular mould
As such, this is Revocation at their most Revocation-y, running the gamut from riff-driven, cunningly catchy ragers like outstanding opening duo “Diabolical Majesty” and “Lessons in Occult Theft” to proggier pieces such as “Strange and Eternal” (whose climactic shift towards a more Pink Floyd-inspired sound helps elevate an already great song to even greater heights) and the moody “Galleries of Morbid Artistry”, as well as a couple of unapologetic crushers (“Nihilistic Violence”, “Godforsaken”) that should renew anyone’s faith in the band’s ability to get down ‘n’ dirty with the very best of them.
And while it’s obvious that all three members of the band (David Davidson on guitar/vocals, Brett Bamberger on bass, Ash Pearson on drums) have focussed and honed their talents even further in the years since The Outer Ones, there’s one particular aspect of this album that really stands out to me every time I listen to it, and that’s Davidson’s vividly venomous lyrics, whose eloquently sinister storytelling will perhaps go some way towards helping to fill the gaping hole left by the untimely passing of The Black Dahlia Murder‘s Trevor Strnad (RIP).
Speaking of Trevor… his appearance (alongside the legendary George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher, no less) on the album’s ferocious final track, “Re-Crucified”, not only helps give Netherheaven one last dose of auditory adrenaline but also serves, in the light of everything that’s happened, as a symbolic “passing of the torch”, and I wouldn’t be surprised (or at all upset) if this song remains in the band’s set for years to come as a fitting tribute to one of Metal’s most instantly-recognisable, and much-missed, voices.
As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if Revocation‘s live performances from now on included most, if not all, of this record, because while the band’s back-catalogue (if we’re being brutally honest about things) doesn’t always hit the target as well as it should, this is one album that does not miss.