When I think back to ten years ago, 2009 was the height of the latest (at the time) incarnation of the millennium’s thrash metal movement. Revocation was one of those bands that helped spearhead the revitalized revolution of the genre alongside bands like Warbringer, Havok, Evile, and so on. That being said, Revocation’s approach to the genre was much different than their peers. It was far less contemporary, the least inspired by the Big 4, and took more inspiration from late ’80s/early ’90s death metal and forged it alongside thrash metal underground titans of the day such as Dark Angel, Annihilator, Forbidden, Exhorder, and similar bands of that elk.
The band released their debut album Empire of the Obscene (2008) independently and were going completely DIY, funding their own tours, and working incredibly hard to make a name for themselves in the Boston scene after the unfortunate failure of their previous band Cryptic Warning. Finally getting picked up by Relapse Records shortly afterward, the group knew that they had an enormous amount to prove and that their forthcoming album had to leave a tremendous impression. Lead vocalist and guitarist/virtuoso Dave Davidson has spoken on many occasions about how Revocation’s goal from the beginning was to up the ante on technicality, speed, aggression, and overall musicianship, while still having hooks that will draw you in. With their debut album, they achieved that. However, on 2009’s Existence Is Futile, they more than carved that particular notion into stone and the album would prove to be a landmark in the band’s discography. Many fans, including myself, still get excited to hear any song off of this album when performed live.
The band’s lineup at the time was Dave Davidson on lead vocals and Guitar, Anthony Buda on Bass and additional vocals, and Phil Dubios-Coyne on Drums. At this point, Dan Gargiulo had not yet joined the band as their additional guitarist, so Revocation was only a three-piece band. Considering how elaborate the music and musicianship is on this album, it was astonishing how well Revocation gelled as a trio. The greatest example of this would be the band’s breakthrough single “Dismantle The Dictator.”
Though the track has an accompanying music video to boot, even in the video you can see that they give you that vibe of three dudes in a room jamming, and there’s no additional layering of rhythm guitars under the solo. It’s simply the band doing their thing, and it’s absolutely marvelous. Nowadays they have Dan fill in a rhythm track under Dave’s solos, but back then hearing this format was quite a treat.
The music on Existence is Futile shows a lot of jazzy tinges that crept in due to Dave’s knowledge of music theory rooted in jazz guitar when he studied at Berklee’s College of Music. This is ultimately what sets Revocation apart because while a lot of metal was relatively straight forward and ‘meat and potatoes’ if you will, they weren’t afraid to show their technicality and versatility to break outside of the genre’s box every so often.
Though, they had their fair share of straight-ahead bangers such as the album’s bombastic opener “Pestilence Reigns” which simply Never. Lets. Up. It’s the ultimate vibe of a riot that won’t stop or the thrill of being on the fastest roller coaster you’ve ever been on. On top of all that, the riffs are infectiously catchy, and the vocals are potent.
For fans that are craving more of a straight-ahead thrash ‘fist-banging-mania’ approach, a track like “Anthem Of The Betrayed” will more than likely be right up your alley.
Where Existence is Futile truly shines is in the last couple of tracks with “Leviathan Awaits” that eventually leads into “Tragedy of Modern Ages.” To me, one simply cannot listen to either track without hearing the other first, or in best cases, hearing “Leviathan” first and then “Tragedy” following it. The riffs in both songs are some of the band’s best, and personally, “Leviathan Awaits” is my favorite song on the entire album (Though it’s hard to pick a favorite!). I had the joy of witnessing them play that song live back in 2015, and it’s merely a song that just has ALL the goods. Everything you love about Revocation from this period is simply in this song and ultimately a highlight for sure.
Many fans STILL consider Existence is Futile to be their overall best, even to this day with albums like Chaos of Forms (2011) and Deathless (2014) under their belts. While I can see why they would feel this way, probably fueled by nostalgia more than anything, to me what this album was going for I thought was far more refined on their next album Chaos of Forms. Though, if it wasn’t for this album, the band would’ve never made the impact that they did. Luckily the group stuck to their guns and didn’t give up, and the record came out at the right time. This was my first exposure to the band, and while it took me a little time to fully commit to being a fan at first, it definitely served as an entry point, and that was more than likely the case for a lot of others as well. Once I grasped it all, I obsessed over this band, as I still do to this day. It was a great way to prepare us for what was to come next from the group and looking back at this album ten years on; it’s safe to say that it’s nothing short of a modern-day underground metal classic.
The songs still go HARD when played live, and this will be an album that fans will share a similar feeling about when looking back at albums like Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends, Exhorder’s Slaughter In The Vatican, and in terms of death metal, releases like Morbid Angel’s Blessed Are The Sick. Existence is Futile shares a lot of similar characteristics to those albums in the sense that the band has evolved quite a bit since its release, but many will come back to this album and think, “man, this was the PINNACLE!”. It will always hold a special place in my heart, and if certain readers have not given Revocation a chance, one would not be faulted in any way to start here and work their way forwards in Revocation’s discography. However, I have one request. Listen from the beginning until the end. Top to bottom, there’s not a single weak track, and this is an album meant to be played as such.