Dave Davidson of Revocation: The Heavy Blog Is Heavy Interview

In just one more week, Revocation  are about to drop an absolute bomb on the metal world in the form of the fantastic Great Is Our Sin. Coming off of their excellent 2014 album Deathless, this new record is an all-out assault on eardrums the the world over, sporting some of the band’s meanest and most mosh-friendly tunes to date. Take this and add a heap of atonal/experimental death metal flourishes, loads of d-beats and more solos than you’ll know what to deal with and then cap things off with a Slayer cover. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, that’s exactly what Great Is Our Sin is, and it’s an immediately essential piece of modern metal. I got a chance to speak with Revocation’s frontman and overall guitar wizard Dave Davidson this past Monday about the album’s songwriting process, working with Marty Friedman, upcoming tour plans and a lot more.

I just got Great Is Our Sin over this past weekend and I’ve been jamming it a couple times over the past few days. It’s probably, no bullshit, now my new favorite Revocation album. I think it’s the most consistent one all the way through. Like, there really wasn’t a moment where I felt like something didn’t need to be there. Do you guys feel like you’ve hit a certain stride as musicians on this one? Because you really seem to put out a lot of stuff pretty quickly compared to a lot of other bands in your genre.

Yeah, we’re a pretty prolific band, but I think it’s just like anything. Like, you practice your scales, your improvising, and you get better at that. So the more you practice songwriting, the better you become at that. This will be our sixth full length, not even counting that EP that we did, so we certainly have a lot of practice over the years experimenting with things seeing what works or what we could maybe do better. And I think that’s also what’s led us to this result of Great Is Our Sin. We’ve never been afraid to experiment with different things, so for some people they like our more experimental stuff more or some people might like our more straight ahead stuff. But for us as musicians and songwriters, we are never afraid to explore those different avenues. I think this record is sort of the culmination of all of our work together as Revocation.

Cool! Speaking of experimentation, you guys are always taking slight risks here and there. Well, maybe not risks, but just trying out different stuff all the time. I kind of got some vibes from old Cynic and even some Morbid Angel swampy kinds of riffs this time around. Was there anything in particular you were trying to do that you maybe hadn’t done on previous stuff, or did it just happen by accident?

I don’t know if by accident is the right way of putting it, but I think it’s more of a subconscious thing. We’re all collections of our different influences and it’s how you take those influences and craft them in a way so that your own voice as a musician can come forward. I think that’s been the case since day one with us, and I listen to a lot of different types of metal. Everything from death metal to thrash, black metal to proggier stuff, and I listen to other genres of music outside of the metal realm entirely. A lot of classical, a lot of jazz, and I think all of those influences start to seep in and creep into your unconscious mind and that’s where a lot of that music comes from. There could be times where I’m listening to something specifically and start writing riffs around that, but for the most part I think it’s a subconscious process.

Like for example, the song “Only the Spineless Survive,” the verse riff to me sounds very Morbid Angel-y now that I’m taking a step back and looking at it. But when I wrote that riff, I wasn’t listening to Morbid Angel at the time, but obviously I’ve been listening to them since I’ve been getting into metal. I think it must have just been one of those subconscious things.

Yeah, for sure. Well maybe then as far as trying new things goes as far as a technical standpoint goes, you said earlier that you’re always working on theory and other technical things that come with being in a metal band. Was there anything either in a solo you tried that hadn’t been done before, or maybe just new chord structures? There’s a couple of songs that sound fairly different from other Revocation stuff. More weird, Gorguts kinds of atonal stuff.

Yeah. I think if you look back to some of our earliest records, we were doing a lot of dissonant stuff on Existence is Futile. There was certainly a lot of weird stuff happening on Chaos of Forms, so I think that element has always been there. I think now maybe it’s just a little bit more refined.

But as far as soloing goes, I’ve definitely worked more on my phrasing over time. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz and working on a lot of jazz transcriptions when I’m home, and working on those different types of solos has really opened my ears up to different ways of phrasing. Different ways of approaching the guitar. Earlier today I was working on a saxophone transcription, and I’m learning music that’s not meant to be played on the guitar in the first place. So that gets you thinking outside of the box, when you learn solos from other instruments. I think that I’ve taken some more eclectic influences and tried to really look at my phrasing in a more sophisticated way on the new record, and I think you can hear that. It’s some of my favorite playing I’ve ever done to date.

Speaking specifically on one of Dan’s songs for example, “Monolithic Ignorance,” just in terms of technique and execution there’s a whammy bar part on the solo section there that I’ve never really done before. I haven’t really heard many people use that before; sort of this weird, percussive thing I was doing. It just sort of hit me. I was hearing the sound in my head and I just had to figure out a way to make that happen on the guitar. For a lot of people I’ve showed that solo to, they think it’s like an effect or even a keyboard part. That’s what I was trying to emulate, but only using the guitar with distortion and the whammy bar. So even just using the guitar as a different sound source was something I was trying to play around with on the new record and I think it’s had some really cool results.

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Yeah, for sure! I actually didn’t know exactly what that was, so that totally makes sense now which is cool.

Cool! See? It’s one of those things where it’s kind of cool to throw the listener for a loop and make them think “oh, what’s he doing there?” or “what kind of effect is that?” But yeah, that’s all just the sound of the guitar.

Sweet! Going off of the solo stuff, there was also the Marty Friedman solo on the album which is pretty fucking crazy. How did that all get put together? Had you guys met before or was it a networking thing?

Well, I had written a song on Marty Friedman’s last record.

Oh, shit! I didn’t know that.

Yeah, he had reached out to me. He wanted me to co-write a song for his Inferno record. With almost every track, I believe there is a different guest. So he reached out to me and said he wanted to work with me and kind of let me do my thing. I submitted a bunch of riffs with a bunch of different structures. Then he arranged some things and added some things and he even let me record vocals over it. He said “yeah I’m hearing vocals, would you be interested in writing lyrics for this song?” He let me have free rein to basically do whatever I want, and then he took my parts from there and crafted them to what he was feeling in terms of the flow of the song.

I had a blast working with Marty. He was a super cool dude. It was all via the Internet, just emailing ideas back and forth because he lives in Japan. I met him in person at NAMM a couple years back after the track had already been completed and we had a brief encounter and it was nice to meet him formally. I knew after working with him on his project that I wanted to work with him on the Revocation record, and I think he did an absolutely astounding job on the solo.

So for that song did he just contribute the solo, or did he also help with song structure at all? Or did he just come in after the fact?

He came in after the fact. It was just the solo. I asked him if he wanted to be a guest on the record and if he had time, and he said he was totally all about it. So I sent him an email of the track and gave him a little heads up as far as “here’s the start point and end point of the solo, here’s the key of the solo.” Because it goes through a couple of different chord changes throughout the solo. But other than that, I gave him free rein. So he recorded it solo and submitted it back to us and we dropped it into the session. We really didn’t have to tweak anything; it sounded great! And he already had his solo mixed the way he wanted to have it, because he had a few little harmonies and stuff like that on there. We were just blown away when he sent it over!

Sweet, man! Another thing that I loved about the album was that even after loving every song, it has the Slayer cover with “Altar of Sacrifice,” which I thought was a great choice. I always thought that it was one of the most death metal Slayer songs ever, and I thought it went with [the album] really well. Have you guys been wanting to do that one for a while, or did it just come up in the studio? What made you guys pick that one?

Well we knew we wanted to do Slayer before we went into the studio. We tend to work out most things before we actually hit the record button. We went back and forth on a bunch of possible Slayer songs to cover. Everyone was definitely leaning towards something off the Reign in Blood record, but yeah, we maybe we’re talking about doing “Necrophobic” or something like that. But we were all listening to “Altar of Sacrifice” and all said “man, this is ripping!” and thinking that it would just be a great tune to cover. It’s short and sweet, it doesn’t pull any punches and it hits hard and it’s just two minutes and thirty seconds. So we said that it was a perfect song to do.

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For sure, man. I think it called everything off perfectly. So you guys are about to head out on Summer Slaughter again. Is this your second or third one? I feel like you guys have been on this one a whole bunch of times now.

It’s actually just the second time that we’ve done it. The last tour we did was with The Dillinger Escape Plan, Animals as Leaders, Periphery, so it was really more of a prog tour. But I think Cattle Decapitation was on that too. It was sort of a mixed bag. This tour is basically just straight up death metal from start to finish, which will be kind of cool.

Do you guys have any expectations for that, as far as that goes? Because you guys have toured with I assume most of the bands at this point. Is there anything you’re expecting out of this particular run?

I think it’s just going to be a crushing tour. We had a blast on the last Summer Slaughter we did, and like I said, that was a really diverse tour. I think it will be really cool to be on a tour that has one unifying sort of genre, specifically death metal, across the board. So it’ll be cool to see the different types of fans that come out to this tour as opposed to the last Summer Slaughter that we did. I’m really looking forward to going out there and hanging with a bunch of buddies and ripping it across the country for about a month!

How much do you think you’ll include off of the new record? I know it comes out in a couple of weeks, and that will be right about when the tour starts. How much of that do you want to throw at people?

It’s always a struggle, especially since we have so many records at this point. I think have a 30 or 35 minute set, so with six albums and an EP it’s kind of difficult to choose. We definitely want to play a couple new songs, then we want to play some stuff off Deathless because that was a really big record for us. I think it was our most successful record to date, so we’ll play some stuff from that. Then we’ll throw in some old songs that are considered “Revocation classics” like “Dismantle the Dictator” and things like that. Something our fans know and something that goes over really well live.

Do you already know which new songs you’ll use? Do you think you’ll do “Arbiters of the Apocalypse” or have you maybe not picked the setlist yet?

We’re still going back and forth. It would be cool to do “Arbiters,” and I think you can look at it in different ways. “Arbiters” has some really cool singing parts on it, but looking at the bill I think we would be the only band with singing. So that could be cool because it could set it apart, or we might want to fit more with the aesthetic vibe of the tour package and go with songs that are all straight up death metal singing or whatever. We’re not really sure.

We’re definitely thinking of doing “Communion” because that was the first song that we put out and that song seemed to get a really big reaction from our fans. So we’re talking about that, “Arbiters,” we’re talking about “Crumbling Imperium,” it’s tough. We’re passionate about so many of these songs and we want to play them all. Im sure once we do a longer set; I know we’re talking about doing a headliner later in the year, we’ll be able to play some more new stuff then.

Cool, that was kind of leading into my next question, which was is there a possibility of a headliner? I feel Ike I’ve seen you do a lot of direct support stuff. The last time I saw you guys was last year doing the Veil of Maya tour, but I’d love to see you guys play for an hour plus.

We did a headlining tour at the end of the Deathless cycle, and that was with Cannabis Corpse and Archspire and Black Fast. So we’re definitely planning on doing another headline tour because that one was a really great success for us. It’s just a matter of logistics. You get these tour offers and it’s like “ok, we want to do a headline run” and then some really great tour offer comes along so we go “ooh, ok, maybe we’ll postpone the headliner.” We can always set that up just based on our schedule, right? So if another tour comes this way that we think we would be a good fit for or that would be a good chance for us to reach maybe a different group of fans, you have to weigh those options. We do a lot of direct support, but we plan on doing some headlining on this record because I think it’s going to be our most successful one to date coming off of Deathless.

I would definitely hope so, and probably think so too. So would you say fall this year people can expect something in the US from you guys? Or are you still looking overseas?

Well we’re already going to do a European tour with Obscura in the fall. We’ll be direct support to them and then it’ll be Beyond Creation and Rivers of Nihil, so it’ll be a really tech-death type of tour. Hopefully some time after that. Nothing’s set in stone yet, but we definitely have plans to do something when we get home. But I can’t really discuss it too much at the moment.

Make sure to pick up Great Is Our Sin when it comes out July 22nd on Metal Blade Records!

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One thought on “Dave Davidson of Revocation: The Heavy Blog Is Heavy Interview

  1. Eliza Reply

    Neat interview. I’m really excited for this album!

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