Thirty years ago, thrash was the undisputed king of the heavy metal subgenera. With the “Big Four”— Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax—serving as vanguard, it was only a matter of time before the shredding became systemic and glam-metal buffoonery received a long overdue kick in the nylon pants. Of course, every dynasty has to end sometime. Grunge came and went in a flannelly storm, nu-metal fist-pumped its way out of the ooze, and breakdowns eventually became the preferred caustic currency of the masses.
But there are still plenty of bands who worship the almighty riff: thrash revivalists like Toxic Holocaust, Sylosis, and Vektor consistently play to sold-out crowds around the world, carrying on the genre’s legacy for a whole new generation. Boston’s Revocation are perhaps the most exciting bunch of the lot, thanks to the overachieving ambitions of lead guitarist/vocalist David Davidson. As a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Davidson isn’t afraid to infuse meat-and-potatoes thrash with a hint of jazzy polyrhythm, a funk breakdown, or even some acoustic strumming. He’s an ardent acolyte of Megadeth’s Marty Friedman, but he’d rather fiddle with the formulas than do a straight-up tribute. Revocation’s resulting sound, then, is hodgepodge of heavy: tech-death growls, thrashy guitar acrobatics, hard rock hooks. On their new self-titled LP—their fourth overall and their first for Relapse—the quartet once again proves its ability to multitask.
Revocation is a shredder’s paradise, to be sure. Air-guitar autopilot kicks in within the first thirty seconds of opener “The Hive,” and stays in effect throughout the 10-song suite. But it’s Davidson’s hyperactive, hyper-technical guitar solos that get top billing. Infallibly appearing just past the halfway point of any given song, the fury is predictable, but nonetheless awe-inspiring; if Guitar Hero games were still being produced, you can bet that cuts like “Entombed By Wealth” and “Numbing Agents” would be reserved for the final level. Of course, your mileage may vary, and only the biggest riff junkies need apply to the aptly-named “Spastic,” a mind-numbing instrumental marathon that’s overindulgent even by Big Four standards.
Ironically, the real jaw-dropping moments are those that stray the furthest from thrash tradition. “Invidious” opens with the sort of dense, ominous chug that serves as the typical precursor for a blistering guitar hook—and then proceeds to bludgeon your eardrums with a banjo instead. You read that right: Revocation has banjos in their arsenal this time around, and they’re as lethal a weapon as any Strat. The arpeggiated acoustics that close out “Scattering The Flock” mark another detour, and hint at a more progressive direction for the band that began with last year’s Teratogenesis EP. There’s a fine line between gimmick and game-changing, and Davidson and company were wise to show restraint in their unorthodox instrumentation. That said, the twists on Revocation feel a bit too ephemeral to sink in fully, and tend to get swept up in the madness prematurely.
On songs like “Fracked” and “Scattering The Flock,” Revocation carry on the genre’s custom of social awareness. “Carcinogenic chemicals injected/While metal monoliths are quickly erected,” growls Davidson in the former, with more eloquence and urgency than any talking head on cable news. “A growing populace becoming more and more dejected.” Thrash’s public enemy numero uno has always been The Man, and it’s nice to see that there are still newcomers who aren’t afraid to stick it to him in his modern incarnations. The quirky perks may be nice, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to those core values: riffs, wrath, societal rage. And there’s plenty to go around on Revocation.