Revocation – Diabolical ChaosSunday, 28th August 2022
Adventurous musicians never idle to strive for satisfying that creative burst of output. Always pushing boundaries in terms of intricacy, musicianship, and aggression within their style, Revocation once again hits the mark on all fronts for their latest album Netherheaven. Delving deeper into a love of all things death metal while still pushing thrash and technicality into the mix, these nine songs pack a sonic wallop that long-timers appreciate and could indoctrinate a new breed of followers as well.
We reached out to vocalist/guitarist David Davidson to bring us up to date on the death-centric focus for the latest album. He also delved deeper into the books that fueled the lyrical content, his self-education process in recording this album, thoughts on the state of extreme metal and its diversity, a love of art not just in the metal realms, plus what’s on the touring horizon for the band.
Dead Rhetoric: Netherheaven is the latest Revocation record. You describe in the background information that the band is in more of a death metal-centric mindset with your latest offering compared to your earlier discography. Could you expand on how you approach the development of ideas and refining them for Revocation currently that may differ from the past? Do you feel this evolution album to album has been natural based on your confidence as players, songwriters, and where you want to go?
David Davidson: Sure. To the second part of your question, yes, I feel that it’s very natural. It feels organic, it feels like a by-product of time, refining. Whether you are a woodworker, a musician, the more you do something, the better you get at it. I feel like we’ve really refined our writing style over the years. We’ve homed in and dialed in our sound. The early Revocation material I was writing when I was super young, some of our earlier records may have had a little more of an erratic feel. But for some people, they really like that. For me as a songwriter now, I really want to push the boundaries of metal in our sound, and we are continuing to do that but in a more focused way. Sometimes when you give yourself a creative limitation, it can open up new doors because it forces you to think in different ways in order to be creative.
In terms of the songwriting process and how it may differ – we’ve sort of picked up different things along the way. I think every time you do a record you learn – when I first started writing, I was recording riffs to a cassette tape. Then I graduated on to GarageBand, Logic, and this record I sort of engineered most of it. I recorded the drums in a real studio, but I tracked all my guitar parts, tracked all my vocals, engineered the bass parts. Working with different interfaces can change up the workflow and make you more productive.
The songwriting process of this riff goes here, this one goes there – that process has gotten better over the years. But it is still similar to how I first started, it starts with the riffs, and I build around that. It’s not like I wrote this whole record out on paper, to me it’s very much me interfacing with the guitar, messing around until something that catches my ear comes out. And we go from there.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the generation of ideas, are there particular times of the day that work better for you when it comes to that riff development?
Davidson: I don’t think so. It just kind of hits me when it hits me. It could be messing around, other times after a day of teaching, something pops out there. I know some people are more night owls when it comes to their creation, I’ve heard interviews with classical composers where it’s like they treat it like a job, they have their morning cup of coffee, sit down at the piano and start working from 7 am until 3 pm. For me, I’m not nearly as regimented. I’ve written riffs on stage before – during soundtrack, the stage just sounded cool. I think I was in Hungary one time, and I might have written one of the riffs that appeared on Great Is Our Sin. You can get inspired by your surroundings, and that is the great thing about music. There are all these things that are happening, your brain is getting all this data inputted into it constantly, filters into your subconscious and who knows how it might affect you as a creative person.
I have sat randomly with an acoustic guitar on vacation and come up with a riff that is super aggressive sounding. There is not a specific time or anything like that. It can be random, or I can be moved by my surroundings. The key as a creative person is to be open to that, wherever it comes from.
Dead Rhetoric: You chose darker themes with inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy and Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow plus America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges as influences. What impresses you most about these books, and has it become more difficult as you write more material to come up with strong topics and unique takes on things to match the innovation that takes place on the music front?
Davidson: Yeah, coming up with subject matter that is unique and original is something under the metal umbrella can be a little bit difficult because there are only so many different ways you can write about Satan or whatever. Certainly, I think there is… these topics still have real world significance, especially in today’s day and age I feel like the world as a whole has been getting more secular from a populist standpoint, but it feels like power is consolidating more with religious, extreme ideologies. Obviously, there are concerns that I felt compelled to write about them. Just because I think this is a relevant topic of the times.
Regarding those books – Dante’s Inferno I read when I was a kid. I re-read it, and it’s a dense read for sure, it’s almost like reading Shakespeare or something like that. I liked the general concept of it, and good fodder for the song “Re-Crucified”. I liked a lot of the imagery, the wordplay, stuff like that. The Robert W. Chambers book, that was a collection of short stories and something fun to read. An anthology of short stories, it’s not a huge commitment and you have random chapters here and there. I am a huge True Detective fan, season one is obviously inspired by the whole King Yellow thing. Even though it’s not directly correlated with the Satanic theme on the record, the whole story behind King Yellow sort of references the play. A fictional play that is present in many of these fictional stories, so it’s a thread that ties his works together. The general idea is in two parts – you read the first act and it’s kind of benign literature, and then the second act you actually lose your mind and go insane. This entity of the king in yellow sort of takes ahold of your mind. I thought the concept of reading a book that alters your mind, drives you insane, I could draw distinctions with that and religious texts, for example.
And then the America: The Farewell Tour book. Chris is an amazing author, an incredible thinker. I put him into a similar category to authors or thinkers like Cornel West. His book doesn’t pull any punches, it’s a very brutal book. It’s sort of an autopsy on the American capitalist system. He also tackles very real-world topics. His writing really does read like poetry so it’s never like you are reading a stale, political piece. He does lean more on the left side of the spectrum, but he does look at politicians from every angle. There is so much corruption present in our political system as a whole, and the two-party system has a lot to do with this, and gridlock. He has a lot of coarse words for the right in the book, it reads like poetry. There were direct pieces of his book, word choices, the crumbling infrastructure of America. The institutions have left people with no recourse, and people end up lashing out as a result when they lose hope and turn to violence. He refers to this as nihilistic violence, and that ended up being a song title on the new record.
Dead Rhetoric: Spending a lot of downtime during the pandemic learning audio production through Apple’s Pro Logic system applied to your work as an engineer and producer for this record. What were the biggest challenges or learning curves that you had to work through in this regard – especially switching hats from your duties and a songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist to serving the needs of each song adequately?
Davidson: Yeah, there were so many headaches and hiccups along the way. I’ve recorded things, guest solos, some collaborations during the pandemic where I recorded full songs with other people, my friend Frank from Metal Injection with the Slay at Home series, I did a cover there. I was getting more and more familiar with the program but doing a full album – when you are not just recording your own takes, but you are doing so many things with different hats to wear – any bumps you encounter, you may address them a hundred times. For me, anything that came up, I had to call a friend, or do a YouTube search/tutorial. It interrupted the workflow; it wasn’t just smooth sailing. At the same time, it was a challenge where I rose to the occasion, and I feel like I learned a ton. Even though there were times I wanted to bash my head against the wall, I came out stronger for it. It was cool to be in control of that process for the whole way through. Definitely an exciting time. The final product is the payoff, and that’s what I’m really excited about.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the process work with Paolo Girardi for the cover art to Netherheaven this time around? Had you been familiar with his work for other artists, and do you still consider the medium important in setting the right message and tone before people press play on the album?
Davidson: I definitely think it is super important. I’m such an art fan in general – not just death metal art, but I love going to museums on tour. I’ve been to so many different museums in New York, across the world in France, I love art. It’s one of those mediums where I can look at a piece and be so impressed by it. I know I am a fan because I have no desire to try to do art at all. There’s no I want to do that and present my work. I like to look; I like to appreciate. For me, that was the first thing that got me into metal.
A little back story. As a kid growing up, I was obsessed with horror movies. My mom couldn’t rent me certain things in Blockbuster, I would see the cover of Critters, Little Shop of Horrors, Nightmare on Elm Street, I would beg my mom to rent me these movies because of the brutal artwork. It did something to my mind as a kid, I had a very active imagination. I feel that same kind of thing getting drawn into the artwork before you even hear something. That to me is a very real thing still in the metal world. If I see a cover, especially when it’s a new artist. People do work with the same artists, and I understand why, because they see something good, they deliver on time. But you get used to some styles – you might see someone brand new and be impressed. I love discovering new artists, and it helps me discover new bands sometimes. Newer bands sometimes don’t have the same budget to work with compared to seasoned artists.
Working with Paolo was great. He is a master of his craft, a true old-school painter which I appreciate. No offense to digital artists out there, but I like the fact that he is an oil painter. He’s like a death metal renaissance painter. The works he does are incredible. His vision is otherworldly, I love creatives like that. People who just have these scenes in their mind, incredibly vast, cavernous, cosmic – whatever the artwork calls for, you can create a whole world on a canvas. I always love that. He’s been on my radar for quite some time. He was available, he did an incredible job on this.
Dead Rhetoric: The first video for “Diabolical Majesty” combines band performance footage around a sick array of skateboarders performing tricks. Tell us about the video treatment and how you think the shoot went – and was it an easy choice to have this be the first single to preview the record?
Davidson: Yes, I think we all knew it would be the first single. It’s the first track on the record, it comes out swinging. It’s thrashy, a call back to some of our early thrash roots, a very strong death metal element too. One of my students told me the chorus reminds him of Bloodbath, and I was listening to a ton of Bloodbath and wanted to write a Bloodbath-esque chorus for that section. It’s got hooks, it’s got a cool solo, a bridge part that changes it up. A great introduction to the record – any time you are thinking about a single, I think it’s cool to have a single that shows different sides of a record.
Doing the video where we did it in that skatepark in St. Louis, it was a great location. We lucked out finding that place, we had to fly down there, load up the gear, do a straight 13-hour drive to get the bass player with the lights and gear, our drummer flew in from Vancouver. Shout out to all the great skaters in St. Louis that came up that shredded the scene in the background while we were ripping. It was a cool experience. We actually filmed three music videos there – two more are coming. The church is pretty massive as you can imagine, it was the main shot in that area. There will be more content from that location. Metal bands don’t get the craziest video budgets, it’s cool when you can bang out three videos in two days as we did. Just non-stop, go, go, go. We did two videos in the first day, and then the third video on the second day.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of extreme metal in 2022 – what excites you the most, and where do you think things need improvement for the greater good of all people involved?
Davidson: Oh man, that’s a deep one. The metal scene is so vast, I guarantee you that if you are looking for a very specific, niche thing you’ll find it. I always think there should be more attention and focus on bands that are super creative. That’s just as a society and a culture what doesn’t necessarily get the most clicks, you know? I wish that for bands that I was super stoked on, there was more of a budget and attention placed on that. More of a budget for promoting underground, progressive, on the edge of metal type of bands.
In general, its super diverse, things keep fragmenting off in different directions. You have an old school death metal aesthetic that’s making a comeback. Everything from like Obituary-worship style bands to bands that have a little more slam-death, influence of hardcore there without being deathcore. Hardcore that’s mixed with old school metal. Even in the logos, lots of weird cross-pollination happening there, who knows what it will be like in a year or two. Hardcore and death metal, there are these overlaps, maybe there will be more of a focus on this unpolished, kind of grosser sound and that will take over and be the new fad for the next five years or so. You never know, certain trends have more staying power than others. You look at certain bands’ careers, they can navigate through the times. Started one way, developed, wound up over here and weathered the storm of whatever trend came out at the time.
I will say the metal scene is diverse, vibrant. My advice is if you are not a fan of a particular trend, rather than talk shit, seek out stuff you do like. If you feel like something is lacking, start something new. If there is a trend and you think you can do better, go ahead, that’s cool too. Find your own voice. That’s what music is about at the end of the day, finding your own voice, whatever resonates with you, putting that out into the world to maybe influence people. The scene keeps growing.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or two shaping up for Revocation in support of this record? Are you itching to get back on the road and push the music once again to the masses who have been away from live shows for a few years?
Davidson: Definitely. I’m very excited to get back on the road. I think it’s going to be a busy couple of years for Revocation. We have a tour in September just as the record is coming up, a US/Canadian tour. We have a European tour we will be announcing very shortly. Lots of good stuff on the horizon for the next six months. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. We hopefully from there will get on some good support slots after the headlining tours. We want to open up on a package that can grow our fanbase further. We want to assimilate as many people into the cult of Revocation as possible. Sometimes it’s headlining, sometimes it’s opening for someone else. Onwards and upwards.