Any day that Revocation comes around on the playlist is a good day. Today is a particularly good day because I get to wax poetic about the brand-new Revocation record Netherheaven! The Boston technical death/thrash metal trio are back for their eighth full-length record, following The Outer Ones which channeled all kinds of Lovecraftian eerie goodness. As much as that record was skillfully crafted and painted a picture beyond mere words, it divided audiences more accustomed to the thrashy sound laid out on previous Revocation words. Is Netherheaven up to snuff?
The opening moments of Netherheaven comes in the form of the first single “Diabolical Majesty”, and hoo boy, if there was ever a track to fully encapsulate the well-diabolical majesty of this new iteration of Revocation, this track is it! High tempo thrash riffs veering so closely to tech-death territory that it’s almost like the band is almost winking at the genre. Revocation are masters of controlling the narrative through deliberate tempo choices, skillful usage of scales, and their various modes to create different moods for the listener to weave in their own imaginations. If “Diabolical Majesty” was the razor to the throat in terms of blistering pace, “Lessons in Occult Theft” is the perfect counterfoil, plodding in its menace, now winking at black metal instead of tech death.
It really is a challenge to pick out standout tracks on Netherheaven because every single song brings enough to the table to warrant its own seat and holds its own. Whether it’s the punchy power chord chugs on the aptly named “Nihilistic Violence” or the compelling grooves on “Strange and Eternal”, this record unpacks itself with every subsequent listen. I never write down reviews after simply one or two listens, I try to listen to every record cover-to-cover and then mix it up to get a better idea of the musical journey, and Netherheaven is one of those superlative records where every track can stand on its own merit. The old adage of “All Killer No Filler!” is highly applicable here.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Revocation catalog, especially the later albums, is their willingness to incorporate tropes from various genres and yet weave them into a cohesive product. Whether it is the thrash metal trope of triplets and gallops, the groove metal hammer on-pull off riffs, the tech death tremolo jaggedness, or the black metal ambience with menacing and melancholic open chords allowed to ring out in arpeggiated glory, Revocation does it all! A perfect illustration of this is the track “Galleries of Morbid Artistry” wherein, Revocation decided to schmoosh together as many genres into a single song and did so with mature heft without having it be a disjointed mess. Opening with a blackened ambience, the verse riff is straight Cynic/Obscura worship with its tremolo-picked arpeggios. The chorus brings the black metal motif trading more “happy” chord shapes from the more “metal” ones. Not to rest on their laurels, they throw in a clean instrumental passage that would have easily been a Gorguts playbook staple. These genre-bending shenanigans have made “Galleries of Morbid Artistry” the standout track for me and should be taught in metal songwriting classes.
It is high praise that twenty minutes into an extreme metal record without listener fatigue setting in, a factor that is quite important to someone who consumes this kind of music in large quantities. This is in large part due to the abovementioned virtue of Revocation playing around with various tempos and moods, keeping the listener guessing, and hence invested. As another curveball, “The 9th Chasm” is as dissonant as its melodic, as oxymoronic as that may seem at first glance. Furthermore, come on, “Godforsaken” just smacks you in the face with a staccato jackhammer!
Sure seems by this point that I am listing out every single track, and yes I definitely am, so continuing the Netherheaven journey, the positively Cthulu-invoking intro riff to “The Intervening Abyss of Untold Aeons” would herald a slower-paced horror track, right? WRONG! Technical Black Metal is what you get, and holy sh*t! Black metal bands out there looking for tracks and bands to emulate, here you go, Revocation is giving you the playbook with “The Intervening Abyss”. What I love about Netherheaven is that there are tracks showcasing winning elements from all their previous records, from the death thrash of Existence is Futile to the more OSDM Deathless and Great is Our Sin to the gloomy dissonant progginess of The Outer Ones, it all right here!
Last but not least, “Re-Crucified” will hold special meaning to many fans of the extreme metal genres. Within context, this track is almost a eulogy, an homage to Trevor Strnad (vocalist of The Black Dahlia Murder), who provided his low-register growls in a guest feature for the track. His untimely and unfortunate demise earlier this year brings a particular gravitas to this song, his last vocal arrangement, forever crystalized in time, and what a track it is! And to rub shoulders with the other vocal feature on this track, none other than George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher. No parentheses there, if you don’t know who he is, shame on you! A glorious epilogue to a glorious record, preferring to go out with a bang rather than a whimper!
I don’t think I can say much about the sheer quality of musicianship being brought by every single member of Revocation, which isn’t conveyed in cloying detail in the paragraphs above, but needless to say, frontman and guitarist Dave Davidson (also of Gargoyl) is a metal titan. Bassists and another longtime member Brett Bamberger is right there in the trenches providing an intelligent backdrop to Davidson’s techy riffs, knowing well when to jump in with flourishes, and when to stand alongside his fellow musicians and provide a strong anchor. Drummer Ash Pearson continues to prove why he is a more than worthy addition to the group, but I do miss the goofy positivity that enveloped the crazy drumming chops of their older drummer Phil Dubois-Coyne. Second guitarist Dan Gargiulo is also missed, yet Dave fills the shoes of two, three, or even four guitarists at once, with his mastery over his instrument. That Berklee degree paying for itself many times over. Do yourselves a favor and listen to extensive breakdowns of his riffs and writing process to see just how much music theory and thought crafting goes into writing memorable and aggressive songs. Special mention also to producer Jens Bogren for creating a mix that is both filthy and its raw old-school charm, without losing any of the fidelity echoing more modern pristine production values.
No notes, Revocation. No Notes!
Netherheaven is a winning addition to the Revocation catalog. A masterful amalgamation of every single element that Revocation has crafted over the last several albums, sharpened into a cohesive, thoughtful, and punishing package of solid technical death/thrash metal. If there was ever a thinking man’s death metal, Revocation would be the band and Netherheaven would be the record!