It seems strange to think that three years would pass before Revelation put out another record. The trio of John Brenner (guitar/vocals), Bert Hall (bass) and Steve Branagan (drums) released For the Sake of No One (review here) late into 2009, and it was the third of three full-lengths issued in a 16-month span (not counting the …Yet So Far reissue on Shadow Kingdom, but counting the previously unreleased self-titled from 1988). Still, it’s been three years and that time has brought some changes in Revelation. Not in lineup, or in their general writing ethic, but like much of Revelation’s music itself, the shifts the band is making stylistically are subtle. Their new work, Inner Harbor (free download through Bland Hand, CD forthcoming on Shadow Kingdom, vinyl through Pariah Child), is a full 10 minutes shorter than was For the Sake of No One, but more pivotally, its six tracks find the long-running Baltimore trio pushing into new, progressive territory, with keyboards featuring heavily in line with the guitars on tracks like “Rebecca at the Well” and closer “An Allegory of Want.” At the same time, Inner Harbor presents both the most active songs of Revelation’s new tenure – marking the middle of the last decade the point at which they got back together after disbanding after 1998’s Fourteen Inches of Fury four-way split – with the surprising upbeat motor-thrust of “Eve Separated,” and the most subdued tracks in terms of production, the opening title-track being no less a signal of a shift in modus than the aerial photo of Baltimore’s inner harbor is set when set against the classic art and sculpture that served as covers for For the Sake of No One, 2008’s Release, or Revelation. Additionally, as the band’s alter ego, Against Nature, has begun to distinguish itself from the three-piece’s work in Revelation by adding vocalist Ron “Fez” McGinnis for their latest album, Fallen Rock, released earlier this year, Revelation has in turn stepped out from its morose past to become something more aesthetically complex. Of course, they remain doomed, and when they want to, Revelation can elicit a plod second to none within the sphere of Maryland doom – see the early moments of “Jones Falls” – but they’re by no means limited to just that here. Less so than they’ve ever been.
Seems silly to put it in some kind of “casting off expectations” narrative, since Bland Hand is the band’s own label and it’s not like they’ve ever been shooting for having their songs used in car commercials or the reflective moment in your favorite sitcom, but one way or another, Inner Harbor is less tied to genre than anything Revelation has put out previously. It remains tonally gorgeous, with Brenner and Hall emitting rich warmth to match Brenner’s quiet vocal style and the often soft, straightforward drumming of Branagan, but “Rebecca as the Well” has a darker atmosphere and thicker pulse, and second track “Terribilita” comes as close to a shuffle as I’ve ever heard from Revelation in its intro before keyboard sirens – if I find out that’s a guitar, I’ll be genuinely surprised, but Brenner reportedly a big Rush fan, so anything’s possible with layering – underscore a fervent verse nod. Many of these shifts in approach and/or method can be chalked up to simple comfort. Revelation did not rush to get Inner Harbor out – if they had, it probably would’ve dropped in 2010 and been a much different album – and that extra time seems to have served the songs well. In particular, Hall’s performance on bass throughout these tracks is stellar. The final moments of “Terribilita” make a striking example, but no more or less so than the second half of “Eve Separated,” on which the bassist weaves a rhythm under Brenner’s guitar solo that proves no less engaging than that solo itself. Even in the slower stretches of “Rebecca at the Well,” Hall is forward in the mix and a huge part of carrying across Revelation’s emergent prog fetish – though in that regard, the synth really is at the core and it’s not so much that Hall is putting on a clinic technically as much as he’s playing thoughtfully and artfully on these tracks. With a more dynamic production, the ending swirl of “Rebecca at the Well” might be even more of an apex to close out the album’s first half, with layered solos, synth and Hall’s bass and Branagan’s drums holding down the rhythm beneath, but they’ve retained an element of DIY in their recording, while also staying true to their live sound. In any case, they more than get their point across.
More so on “Eve Separated,” which casts off some of Inner Harbor’s progressive trappings in favor of a stripped-down riff-and-follow approach that works well in offsetting some of the album’s headier moments. The motion is forward, and Revelation is well suited to it, Brenner’s faster guitar line paving a classic rock highway that Hall and Branagan seem more than content to ride, and the chorus is catchy in a way that Revelation usually shows little interest in – so even as they’ve evolved in one direction, they can make basically the opposite move at the start of the album’s side B and make it sound natural. No easy feat. “Eve Separated” is followed by the closing duo of “Jones Falls” (the longest cut on the record at 7:05) and “An Allegory of Want,” which cap Inner Harbor with some of its most progressive flourishes, whether it’s the pulsating rhythm in the former – Hall is right in there, taking the fore on bass during a moody break – or the slower, more longing finale that “An Allegory of Want” brings, reminiscent of some of Revelation’s past works in parts but still more varied in its tempo changes than they’ve ever been, a lumbering melancholy transitioning smoothly just past 4:10 to the faster, almost space rock, movement that will end the album, synth once again playing a large enough role in the proceedings that it doesn’t feel out of place as the last sound heard after the drums have stopped and the guitars and bass faded. Inner Harbor marks Revelation’s seventh full-length, and there are some things about the band that the players don’t seem to have any interest in changing – that’s certainly not a drawback, especially when it comes to their keeping the same lineup – but it’s fascinating to listen to these tracks and think of the changes they’ve undergone since their reunion. I don’t want to speculate as to their stylistic intentions or where they might go from here, but this marks the most comfortable and confident I’ve ever heard Revelation sound on a recording, and though one hardly thinks of a band with 25-plus years under their collective belt – I’m pretty sure Branagan is the only member who’s taken part in every incarnation – as able to be refreshing, Revelation nonetheless are, with a palpable creative drive serving as notice that there are still new avenues of exploration and that they have no interest in being trapped by what one may or may not expect of them.
Tags: Baltimore, Bland Hand Records, Maryland, Pariah Child Records, Revelation, Shadow Kingdom Reocrds