revocation are cool again. It’s fair, revocation were almost always cool. From 2008’s Empire of the Obscene to 2014’s deathless, the band were unstoppable, almost single-handedly revitalizing death thrash. With the speed and grace of a whipsnake, they gleamed through twisting, treacherous songs, dazzling with every move. Their music was not malicious; it was downright joyous, and bandleader Dave Davidson’s boisterous solo work hearkened back to the crazed fret flights of records like Rust in Peace while taking thrash in new directions. After Davidson’s adoption of the seven-stringed guitar, things got a whole lot less interesting. deathless took an unpredictable turn and was all the better for that variety, but the following Great is Our Sin and The Outer Ones failed to capture the magic of early revocation. But the outlook on Netherheaven is promising; revocation are back to being a three-piece, and they’ve taken the longest break between albums in their career–a whopping four years. Were rest and regrouping enough to set them straight?
it’s like The Outer Ones never even happened. Appropriate to its theme, Netherheaven makes for a natural successor to deathlessfalling from twilit graves into fire-lit caverns, and though the band credit Dante, I can’t help but hear the gothicism of Poe in their morbid but mischievous music. Netherheaven is as clearly a death metal album as revocation have made, but even without the wacky, winking thrash of their first four records, it possessed a vitality that was dulled on Great is our Sin and The Outer Ones. My suspicion is that it’s in part a reaction to the departure of Dan Gargiulo; with the guitar work squarely in his hands, Davidson can’t rely on anything but his own riffing to keep songs going, and he fills every second with the heaviest he can muster. I’m struck that Netherheaven isn’t just another revocation album; it’s revocation‘s death metal album. Unsurprisingly, it’s great.
Netherheaven stirs Davidson’s extravagant guitar work into the lavish maleficence of The Black Dahlia Murder, boiling Satan’s cauldron over with all the wild flames of Hell. It’s lit by scorchers like “Nihilistic Violence,” a chuggy, bilious track that runs Slayer through the deathless filter, complete with probably the least tuneful solo Davidson could bear to produce. But the record’s highest points imagine the most spectacular, Boschian inferno. The scrambling Escher-staircase riff of “Lessons in Occult Theft” and the spectacular steeplechase solo section of “Strange and Eternal” are the sorts of things you can stare at, following the curves of every melting form and scrutinizing the tortured little figures to find out what awful things the devil has in store for their tender, unprotected genitals.
Among a crop of great songs, “Galleries of Morbid Artistry” proves a particular highlight. Its introduction and bridge nod to the delicate harmonies of archspire, but the meat of the song is charred and bleeding. Falling from high-register chords through a winding tremolo to low chugs, Davidson’s guitar echoes his scream: “Descending down the skeletal staircase/ deeper into the catacombs/ Ghastly images put on display/ in galleries of sinew and bone.” Sure, that’s about as death metal as your imagery can get, but revocation invite rather than repel, dispensing these proclamations with warm theatrics, as if reading a cherished ghost story from a yellowed book with ornate drop capitals.
Not a return to form, but an intriguing new shape, Netherheaven is revocation‘s best record in a decade. Expanding the dark romanticism of deathless, Davidson, Bamberger and Pearson crank out the darkest, heaviest songs of their career together, never missing a beat. The album’s greatest fault is their singular focus; Bambegr and Pearson take background roles to the guitar and the trio’s dedication to heft results on a less varied record than deathless, though it avoids that record’s missteps. But the sparks of joy that ran through the band’s early career are here again. When the searing “Re-crucified” drops the thrashing and blasting to groove around Davidson’s probing, pawing riff, it never fails to put a smile on my face, one that lasts until the spectral wails of harmonized guitars scream Netherheaven I’m close.
DR: 6 | Format Rated: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: revocation.bandcamp.com | revocationband.com | facebook.com/revocation
Worldwide Releases: September 9th, 2022