The new Revocation album is ominously titled Netherheaven. The very word conjures up hellish vistas and Lovecraftian torment and that’s before you even see the chaotically hypnotic cover.
The Boston, Massachusetts trio of guitarist/vocalist Dave Davidson, bassist Brett Bamberger and drummer Ash Pearson have poured every sickening festering glob of aggression, anger and brutal catharsis into these nine tracks of death metal mayhem.
“It was fun to have a totally clean slate going into this record and taking risks, because I think you gotta take risks,” Davidson says. “Look, we're playing death metal here. We wanna push ourselves and we wanna mix things up for the sake of art. If you stay too stagnant, you'll start knowing what to expect and your creativity can wither.
“You’ve gotta push yourself outside your comfort zone and keep striving for that next sound or that next representation of what you're doing with your art. Because certainly, so many things changed for us. The pandemic showed us everything's built on a house of cards anyway, so we might as well go out there and take some risks. And I think they really paid off on this one.”
Netherheaven was born of pandemic-enforced time off the road, sending Davidson back to the woodshed, not specifically to work on his already formidable guitar skills, but to brush up on the nuances of recording.
“The biggest influence of the pandemic was in the producing of the record,” he says. “I tried to keep myself busy to stay sane, so I learned a lot about video recording. I learned a lot about audio recording.”
Part of it was driven by a few pandemic-downtime online collaborations which required not just cleanly recorded guitar parts but also high-quality video. Being a part of those different projects forced Davidson to get better acquainted with the minutiae of recording software and also forced him to learn about video recording in a much deeper way.
The album is loaded with the kind of great guitar moments we’ve come to expect from Davidson. Take for example the opening lick of Strange and Eternal, a wild shredfest which will definitely inspire a few YouTube covers.
“I hope so because I'll have to learn that one soon,” he laughs. “There's a lot of cool stuff happening with that one. It’s definitely one of the more prog songs on the record and I'm excited to see some YouTube covers because it’s always fascinating seeing how different people play things, because sometimes it might be very different than how I might approach it and you're like ‘Oh, I should have played it that way!’”
The 9th Chasm is particularly intense slab of instrumental guitar, with crushing riffs and the kind of guitar solo that thrash kids would have rewound on their Walkman to learn every note of back in the day.
“We do an instrumental song on every album we've ever done,” Davidson says. “I think it's just a cool way to stretch out and showcase the different abilities of ourselves as musicians individually. There are some really cool basslines on that song and there's an awesome drum solo. Just the drumming on that song in particular, I think, is really fascinating.
“And the hardest part I think is trying to really tell a cool story without having any lyrics. My goal is always ‘how can I make this as interesting and as engaging as possible without vocals to tell the story?’
“It also allows us to take different unorthodox approaches to songwriting in general,” Davidson continues. “With an instrumental piece, anything goes, and you can go through all these different twists and turns and have all these cool surprises in there because you're not really thinking about bringing back any type of refrain or whatever.
“That being said, you also have to think about having motifs that you can call back to, which this song does. The opening and closing riffs are born from the same idea even though it's a different way of playing it, in different rhythmic groupings and stuff like that.
“Sometimes I'll try to get creative with how I can do different spinoffs of different ideas in a way where I don't have to worry about singing over it at all and I can just let the guitar part develop in as many different ways as I possibly can think of to tell whatever story I am trying to tell from a purely instrumental standpoint.”
Album closer Re-Crucified is a particularly emotional track because it features the vocals of the late Trevor Strnad from The Black Dahlia Murder, appearing alongside Cannibal Corpse’s George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher.
“They both delivered such powerhouse performances. Normally if you're gonna have a guest of that caliber, you're not gonna have them both on one track. You might spread it out more so you have guests on different tracks. But for me, I was thinking about what the song itself needed, which was a narration which was inspired by Dante’s Inferno.
In the book he's traveling through the different circles of hell and he comes across different characters. He has this guide that's leading him through and he interacts with the different demons and the different layers of hell, and each one is telling their own story.
“So I thought it would be cool to give that song more of like a narrative quality to it and have these different characters appear in the song. And they both delivered an incredible performance. And I guess we formed this cool unholy trinity on that song with the three of us each taking on different narrative duties through our descent through the different circles of hell.”
Davidson’s guitar of choice for the sessions was his signature roasted ash Jackson Warrior model with his bespoke DiMarzio humbucking pickups. “I would like to have used my brand-new Ferrari Red and Lambo Yellow Warriors that just came out but they were still in the process of being built at the time,” he says.
“But that roasted ash Warrior is a machine in and of itself. I just think it's such a cool-looking shape. It's obviously an extreme shape, but even though it's pointy, I feel like there's no unnecessary jagged edges to it. There are certain guitars out there that you can certainly say are extreme but which I think just look almost too over the top.
“Whereas the Warrior’s got a sexiness to it. It’s sleek. You can certainly look at it and say ‘that's a metal guitar,’ but there's also a classy look to it and I think it takes well to the different aesthetics that you put to it. The roasted ash Warrior and the Lamborghini Yellow couldn't be more different in terms of their aesthetic but that shape holds up to whatever you throw at it.”
As for the amplifiers used on the Netherheaven, Davidson has no idea. The plan was always to hand over the clean DI tracks to mixer Jens Bogren to work his magic on, so Davidson tracked his parts with the Neural DSP Gojira plugin before sending off the raw files. “To be honest with you, I don't even know what amps or cabs were used. Sometimes I don't even wanna know!
“I guess I probably should know for purposes of interviews like this, but I don't wanna bias myself to anything when I'm listening to something, like ‘I have to like this because it's this amp,’ or ‘I shouldn't like that because it's that one.’ I try to literally use my ear on it. So Jens sent me A, B and C in terms of the names of the guitar tones and we ended up using a blend.”
So is Netherheaven a pessimistic album? Or is it a cathartic one? Davidson sees it as both.
“There's a beautiful alchemy that takes place with metal where you're taking pessimistic notions, really dark ideas and turning them into music, turning them into art, turning them into something that's fun to play and hopefully fun for other people to listen to, even if it brings out different emotions.
“I think it's a beautiful thing, metal in general, that it has that quality where you take all the darknesses of the world and you create art out of it and it just gives you this release and it’s hopefully a release that you feel as a musician and your other bandmates feel, but also it's a release for the audience as well.
“Obviously a mosh pit, to the uninitiated, looks like a very violent thing, and I guess sometimes it could be, but it's also this beautiful thing where everyone's looking out for each other and if someone falls, you got someone right behind you to pick you right back up, and everyone's just in this chaotic melee all together but everyone's looking out for each other at the same time.”
- Revocation's new album, Netherheaven, is out now via Metal Blade Records.