Review Summary: Revocation digs deep into its bag of tricks to produce an electrifying piece of thrash metal. Or death metal. Whatever it is, it's good.
Revocation has come a long way for a band once touted as a one-trick pony. Guitar virtuoso David Davidson is clearly still the focal point of the quartet, but his and drummer Phil Dubois-Coyne’s time studying jazz at Boston’s Berklee College of Music gives the band a veritable arsenal of songwriting techniques to play with. No album in the band’s career covers such sonic territory as Deathless
, and few in any genre so effortlessly integrate unconventional songwriting techniques as Revocation does here. Each album that Revocation has so far put out has had a slightly different identity – breakthrough effort Existence Is Futile
was balls-to-the-wall deathrash, while Chaos of Forms
saw more experimentation in both melodic composition (“Harlot” and “Fractal Entity”) and song form (the inexorable build of highlight “Conjuring the Cataclysm”). Last year’s self-titled smoothed things out a little, but arguably lacked a dynamite single. Fortunately, Deathless
fixes that and then some, with a great mix of no-frills thrash and powerhouse cuts that encompass the best Revocation has to offer.
Much ado has been made about what genre Revocation fits into, and while it’s certainly a debatable question, there are far more interesting debates to be had about the band’s sound (for the sake of argument, Revocation is a combination of death and thrash metal). Davidson and Brett Bamberger’s array of high-voltage riffs point to thrash of the Megadeth and Pestilence mold, while the rhythm section has more in common with technical death metal. And then the band throws in something like “Madness Opus,” which flirts with doom in its second half, or the bizarre dual-lead harmonies of “United Helotry,” and those labels begin to slip away. Davidson acknowledges Gorguts and Atheist as influences on his songwriting, and it’s easy to see the overt technicality and jazz influence when Revocation trades in endless riffs for more exploratory compositions. Penultimate cut “Apex,” for instance, weaves its way through several instrumental sections that conclude with open-ended chords (major VII and diminished II show up multiple times), lending the song an intriguing sense of unpredictability as it charges onward.
“Labyrinth of Eyes” is perhaps the most surprising song here, as it sounds like Revocation by-the-numbers out of the gate before moving into Cynic territory with processed clean vocals and an extended jam featuring polyrhythmic passages that Dubois-Coyne anchors with a distant china symbol. “Scorched Earth Policy” is probably the best showcase of Davidson’s favorite toy – use of multiple modes within the same song. Basically, modes are the result of using a set of notes that belong to one scale in a different one; Davidson's mastery of these gives him freedom to wander between the song’s base and various new directions which he explores during his solo forays. The album’s grand finale, “Witch Trials,” contrasts uplifting major chords with tritone-based riffs that lend credence to the sinister paranoia of the song’s title. After bursting from gate with a flurry of syncopated beats and slithering guitar lines, it breaks things up with solo passages and pounding grooves en route to an extended guitar solo that showcases Davidson’s uncanny control of the timbre and tone of his instrument.
The album’s title track, on the other hand, is a departure from such adventures – “Deathless” rides a huge clean chorus and unrelenting shredding to anchor all the musical chicanery around it, and might be the best combination of catchy and heavy since the band’s 2010 single “No Funeral.” As Revocation has continued to crank out new music every year or two (no long waits with these guys!), the quartet is continuing to improve in every area including songwriting and compositional balance. Regardless of genre or label, Revocation isn’t afraid to go outside its comfort zone, but the band’s solid technical and theoretical foundation allows it a great deal of leeway in such forays. Now five albums in, Davidson and company have more or less hit the bull’s eye with Deathless
; while it’s hard to figure what they’ll do as an encore, there’s little doubt that it will be both somewhat unexpected and totally wicked.