Album Title: Netherheaven
Label: Metal Blade Records
Date of Release: 9 September 2022
For a band that seemingly creates new material faster than you can say ‘new release’, a gap of four years between albums is something of an unexpected headline. Nevertheless, this is the reality with which we are faced, in part no doubt caused by the chaos caused by the global pandemic as much as anything else. But whatever the reasons, 2022 sees Revocation return with ‘Netherheaven’, the eighth full-length album in fourteen years, an album dedicated to the memory of the late Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder.
The line-up has streamlined since 2018 with the departure of guitarist Dan Gargiulo, meaning that Revocation is now a trio comprised of guitarist, vocalist and songwriter David Davidson, bassist and vocalist Brett Bamberger, and drummer Ash Pearson. But not only has the line-up been tweaked and honed over the intervening period, but so has the musical output of Revocation. ‘Netherheaven’ is not a million miles away from previous outings, because the band has always written and performed intense and extreme music. However, what’s immediately noticeable about this new release, is that it quite possibly the band’s most extreme and out-and-out death metal offering.
What I enjoyed about 2018’s ‘The Outer Ones’ was the way in which the music walked the line between heaviness, aggression, and memorable melody. I also liked the jazzy, proggy moments that littered the material too, as it created a multi-faceted listening experience that engaged me from the outset and then slowly drew me in with repeated spins. ‘Netherheaven’ is a different beast. It is definitely more deeply rooted in death metal, with a reduction in the amount of melody and more overt progressive elements. And for my tastes, this is where I have struggled if I’m honest.
I have listened to ‘Netherheaven’ many times over the last couple of months, but for some reason, I cannot get it to click. In fact, on many occasions, I have found myself halfway through the record before I realise that I have got that far, primarily because my mind has wandered. Thinking it might have been because I was preoccupied with other things, I even listened to it on headphones in the dark. But the same thing happened. I searched for things to hang on to, to hear within the maelstrom of sound, but unfortunately, I have largely been left groping at empty space.
At this juncture, I want to point out that ‘Netherheaven’ is, in many ways, a fabulous album. I am certain that many will be scratching their heads at this review, but speak as I find, I struggle with it. Technically, this album smokes, with the ability of the three musicians beyond reproach. The songs are chock full of riffs, alive with incredible technique from all three corners, as together they descend into some undeniably extreme environs. From my point of view, though, I lament the fact that Revocation have gone in this particular direction, rather than building upon ‘The Outer Ones’ in terms of experimentation and melody.
To emphasise the point about the technical attributes of the album, you can look in just about any nook or cranny of ‘Netherheaven’ and uncover something impressive. Take the opening track, ‘Diabolical Majesty’ for example, which also happens to be one of the slightly more memorable on the album. The intro is a furious blast of aggressive intent before it settles into a swift death/thrash riff that transitions seamlessly into a blackened death metal assault, with icy cold lead guitar lines, fast-picked, and which inject a touch of melody and atmosphere. Later in the piece, we are treated to some grooves and extensive lead solos that hint at an element of prog. The way the song flits from riff to riff and from idea to idea so effortlessly and proficiently is highly impressive. But as good as it is, I don’t really warm to it.
And this is the theme of ‘Netherheaven’ for me – I appreciate the technical abilities, and I like the production of the record which, for the first time I believe was actually handled by David Davidson himself, having added this string to his bow during lockdown. Mixed by the renowned Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios, the album perfectly staddles the line between clarity and power, whilst maintaining a little of that grit and dirt that death metal so often needs.
It takes until the fourth track, ‘Strange And Eternal’ for my ears to prick up with genuine enthusiasm, and this is because the early riffing offers a touch more melody, whilst the latter stages are dominated by a cool, swirling riff and expert drumming alongside layered vocals that add a touch of atmosphere and intrigue into proceedings. The groovy nature of this passage is brilliant, albeit way too short-lived.
‘Galleries Of Morbid Artistry’ is another song that rises above many others too, thanks to a more pronounced blackened death metal vibe that gives way in the middle to a delicate and quiet clean guitar melody that has a jazzy hint to it. And then there’s ‘Godforsaken’, a slower, meatier track that introduces a properly engaging melody towards the back end of the song.
‘Re-crucified’ brings ‘Netherheaven’ to a close, boasting guest appearances from both George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher (Cannibal Corpse) and the late Trevor Strnad. As such, it takes on a whole new significance, aside from the fact that the composition itself is one of the most relentless slabs of aggression on the entire disc.
On paper, Revocation should have delivered an album that ticks the vast majority of my extreme metal boxes. And it is because of this that I find myself very frustrated, with myself as much as with ‘Netherheaven’. I was expecting something more akin to ‘The Outer Ones’ and when that wasn’t what was dished up, it threw me. And maybe that’s part of the problem, I don’t know. But what I do know is that I have had the hardest time with ‘Netherheaven’ and whilst I like it more than I did at first, I still fall short of truly embracing it. It’s good, make no mistake. Actually, it is very good. But I do wonder if I’ll listen to it again in a hurry, which genuinely disappoints me, and flummoxes me in equal measure.
The Score of Much Metal: 79%