Revocation Explore the Depths of Hell on “Netherheaven” (Interview)
Boston-based technical death/thrash metal outfit Revocation return from otherworldly realms after a four-year gap between releases on its new oeuvre, Netherheaven. On its nine blistering tracks, the band is armed with blazing guitar solos, thrashy riffs, and pummeling drum syncopation, while delving into more prominent death metal territory compared to previous releases. Featuring Dave Davidson (vocals/guitars), Ash Pearson (drums), and Brett Bamberger (bass), the talented trio display dazzling technical ability with skillful musicianship.
The band’s lyrical themes possess a few political undertones, as well as forays into demonic possession and the occult. The band also explores aspects of Hell with its Dante Alighieri-inspired track “Re-Crucified.” The album's awe-inspiring, Renaissance-style Paolo Girardi (Firespawn, Power Trip) cover art also adds to the album’s hellfire dynamic. During a recent phone interview, Davidson talked about the band’s musical blueprint, the new album, his job as a guitar teacher and more.
On Netherheaven, there's more of a prominent death metal vibe, but the technical/progressive thrash elements are still there as well. What was your overall goal of achieving going into the songwriting process and how did you approach the material compared to previous albums?
It was the same approach, really. Nothing really changed there. We always try to do things differently every time when we're writing songs. There's a bunch of different influences in our sound; I think we’ve just gotten better at honing them. We've certainly experimented a lot over our career, working on defining what Revocation is. Now, I feel like we have a very concrete definition of what the Revocation sound is. And it's just a matter of playing with those different influences in different ways that fit the overall aesthetic of the band.
When it comes to your guitar solos, what are you trying to convey and can you give an example of a certain solo on a track where you’re particularly proud of?
For this record, I tracked and engineered all my parts myself this time. We went into a studio to record the drums, but everything else that I sort of took on the producer role for. So normally, I work out the solos in advance going in, because obviously when you're in a studio working with a producer, time is money. Since I was at the helm, I took a little bit of a different approach in terms of the recording where I sort of wrote the solos at the same time that I was in the studio tracking them. Because I had that luxury of not having to feel like I was on the clock. In terms of what I was trying to convey, I think every solo conveys a different mood. I try to write a solo that fits, obviously, the riffs of the solo section. But also, I like to think about writing solos that fit the mood of the song overall. One solo that I'm particularly proud of is the solo for “Godforsaken.” Some cool things popped out when I was improvising on writing in the studio. Almost like some kind of wildcard elements that are kind of hard to recreate, where I recorded a weird bend or a weird whammy bar thing. And I listened back to it, and I’m thinking I’d never be able to recreate that the exact same way. So there was those cool moments that popped out. And that's the kind of stuff that's really fun for me when you have a solo mainly written, but there's always that little extra magic that happens sometimes when you're in the studio; just vibing a certain way, or just even how you hit a certain note. That solo, it's technical, it feels very epic to me, but it also has a little bit of a rock and roll kind of swagger to certain sections that I think is cool and has a lot of lyricism to it. I think all the solos portray something a little bit different. It just depends on the song and the section that I'm soloing over.
One of the solos that stood out for me was during “Galleries of Morbid Artistry,” that semi-Flamenco acoustic break.
Oh, thank you. To me, it sounds less Flamenco and maybe more of a classical kind of a solo. But I appreciate that, that was a really cool part to write. Obviously, when you're writing death metal, it can kind of have one level of intensity the whole way through, just with different tempos. I wanted to bring in some more of those clean elements. We certainly experimented with that with our sound before. I really try to develop that part, explore that part and try to create a theme that then kicks in when the whole band kicks in with a really heavy kind of epic sounding melody coming back. Metallic is a good example of that; like on the intro to “Battery,” or Injustice For All. They'll kind of set it up with this kind of clean interlude that sounds really pretty, and then the whole band takes that idea and makes it crushingly heavy. So that's some influences from some of those classic thrash bands that I grew up with that are still finding their influence in my music. I think you said that you can still hear those thrash elements. To me, thrash is mainly known as a fast break neck style genre. But I also think about the epic parts of Metallica songs or Testament songs that are super melodic, that almost sound like an arena rock feel, but obviously with that metallic edge to them. So, that thrash metal influence I think is multifaceted and is still certainly present in our music up until this day, even though we're going in a more death metal direction.
I believe you still give guitar lessons? What do you like most about being able to teach someone your skills?
I still teach. I'll teach anyone at any skill level as long as they're willing to practice and put the time commitment in. I tell all my students, the majority of the work doesn't get done in the lesson, it gets done after the lesson when you take the things that I've shown you and you work on them on your own. So I think it's important to have a good practice routine. I certainly tried to really work on the things that my teachers gave me. I'll teach any skill level as long as there's a drive there in the students who want to learn and get better. I'm very proud of what I've been able to achieve with some of my students. The most rewarding part of it is just helping others, especially when I've worked with a student for a long period of time and I can look at where they started and where they are now, it's incredibly rewarding. It gives me a proud feeling when I know (that) I took someone and got them over that hump. I love those moments, because I've certainly had those myself where I hit a roadblock with something conceptual and someone helped me think about it in a different way and it unlocked a door for me. Paying it forward and sharing knowledge makes me feel incredible.
This is your fourth album for Metal Blade. I think initially the deal was for three albums, starting with Deathless, now you're on for more releases starting with this new one. How has the working relationship been up till now?
Obviously, it's been going good. We resigned for another three album deal. I like Metal Blade because they let us do our own thing. They're not looking to micromanage. They're not looking to tell us how to write songs, we sort of do our own thing. They have a great team in place. The infrastructure there, they're a worldwide presence, which is great. So we can put the record out and we know there's going to be a team in Europe working on it; there's going to be a team in the States working on it. And there's a few people that are really incredible when it comes to wearing multiple hats. There's dudes there that will be artist relations, but they'll also do video editing and will help with promotion and stuff like that. It’s just nice when you're working with a team that can get the job done.
Although the band has gone through a couple of member changes, I think this lineup has been pretty solid for the past five or six albums. What’s the band camaraderie and musical chemistry like between the band?
We did go through a lineup change during the pandemic, but Dan (Gargiulo) did leave the band to focus on other projects. So that was a pretty big shake up. But as far as the camaraderie goes between myself and Ash, and Brett; we're a really tight unit. Both guys are like my brothers. We’ve toured around the world together, we've seen a ton of different cities and had a bunch of cool experiences together. We get to come together to write music and create art. So it's a really great friendship. I love that I can be creative with my best friends and get to see the world together.
During the pandemic, I understand you learned about doing audio recording. How did you go about teaching yourself or learning the program and how did you apply these new techniques to the new album?
Yeah, it was just like you said, I taught myself. Obviously, I had a bunch of downtime during the pandemic, where we weren't touring. So I just kind of dove into my work. I worked on playing a lot, I worked on transcribing, I was teaching; but I also worked on things that were sort of adjacent to that like music production. I was involved with a few things for different various charities and things like that where I got to collaborate with people. So I worked with one of my best friends, Frank Godla from Metal Injection with his Slay At Home series. I had the good fortune to collaborate with some really excellent artists on some cover songs there. I wrote an original piece with this other group Pallid Veil, which features members of Gorguts, and Car Bomb. So, that was a cool collaboration. I’ve been doing some of those smaller projects where you're just doing a cover song. Just doing those taught me a lot. So when it came time to record the full-length, I certainly took all those things that I learned and applied them to recording the new album.
Since you produced and engineered it, what were you wanting to achieve sonically?
In terms of the engineering, my number one goal was just making sure that I got the best takes I possibly could. And then making sure that the audio was being recorded in a way that wasn't going to cause anyone any problems later on down the line. The person who mixed and mastered it was Jens Bogren, who’s an incredible mixer. So, we didn't have any hiccups there when it came to handing over the material. It was nice knowing that I could handle all the file prep and all that stuff and hand it over, and everything worked out just fine. In terms of the sound of the record, I think every time it’s going to be a little bit different. We worked with Jens for the first time, I was a big fan of his mixes. But he also has a lot of different sounding records out there. So we weren't really exactly sure what to expect. But in terms of what we told him, I actually gave him some kind of guidance in terms of his own catalog, albums that I had liked. He's worked with Opeth before. He also did a record for Bloodbath, Nightmares Made Flesh. So I said, “Take the Nightmares Made Flesh Bloodbath album sound and mix it with the sound that you got from the Opeth record.” We wanted to have that little bit of old school death metal feel. But also, we wanted to have a modern punchy sound, but still keeping it organic.
Although you used artist Tom Strom for your past few album covers, the Netherheaven cover art by Paulo Gerardi is just fantastic. How did you get Paolo to come aboard, how does the illustration tie in with the album's musical theme or concept, and how did you convey this to him as to what you were looking for?
Working with Paulo was quite simple. I just send him a message and he got back to me within a couple of days. He was definitely excited to work with us, which was cool. I gave him a few different things; I gave him the song titles, album title, and then my general concept behind the record. I also sent him over different artistic works for a frame of reference. Some of it was weird, Renaissance paintings depicting hellish themes. And then some of it was modern death metal album covers that I liked that had that kind of hell theme to it. And then I also sent him his own work, and I love all of his work. Just in terms of sort of the vibe, I was thinking about his sense over that. I think he captured the vibe of Netherheaven perfectly. Like you mentioned, we've worked with Tom on several album covers; I love Tom's work. I think we just kind of wanted a completely fresh slate. We went with a new sound with Jens Bogren, a little bit of a different direction musically. And it just felt like, let's change up the artwork as well. I think he really took all of the things that I was telling him and absorbed them and filtered them through his warped mind. Nobody looks like Paulo's work, he just has a very unique, disturbing but also kind of surreal way of painting. I think it fits the vibe perfectly.
How did you approach the Dante's Inferno subject matter differently on the closing track “Re-Crucified” compared to other metal bands who have covered this concept before?
I think the unique approach that I took to that was I tried to give it more of a narrative field. I wanted to make it feel like a journey through the different layers of hell condensed into one song. And the fact that we have (George) “Corpsegrinder” (Fisher) and of course my fallen friend, metal icon Trevor (Strnad) on that track as well, I think makes it all the more unique. It feels like the different vocalists on that song create this narrative feel. In Dante's Inferno, obviously, the main character is interacting with these different demons in hell and having these kinds of weird conversations and he's sort of musing about his experience going through the nine circles of hell. So I wanted to bring in different characters to that and I think that was going to be a unique take there. Certainly, the concept of hell in general has been discussed with metal lyrics for quite a while. For me, it felt very poignant; it felt very topical. I didn't want to just use Christianity as an easy punching bag. I look at the rise of Christian fascism, extreme right wing Christian ideology and politics sort of merging together and forming more of an alliance. Frankly, it was something that was deeply troubling to me looking at what was happening in the political discourse and where certain areas of the power structures in this country were moving. It felt topical, it didn't just feel like I'm gonna write like this satanic record because it's a cool thing to do or whatever.
Lastly David, what are your plans for Revocation for the rest of the year, including touring?
We are slammed right now! We have a tour coming up that we're about to embark on that I can't wait for; September 9th, the same day the album drops. We hit the road; we're doing Canada, a full US tour. Then we're going down to Mexico in December and playing Hell and Heaven Metal Fest with this insane lineup. I think the day we play, Judas Priest and Slipknot are headlining. So that's going to be crazy. Then we head to Europe at the top of 2023 in January and February, and we're going to do another headline tour over in Europe. We’re going to be taking out Goatwhore, Alluvial, and Creeping Death. So for the next six months, we're going to be quite busy. I don't even know what's going to come down the pipeline after that, because it seems like once the record comes out and the ball starts rolling, then the machine really starts to kick into high gear. I can't say what is happening in the spring or summer, but I'm sure other opportunities will present themselves to us.
Netherheaven released on September 9th via Metal Blade Records.