Writing about a band I take as much joy in as I do Revelation should be easy; it often is not, but the reasons for this word blockage can vary. Here it is a result of both the band’s quality and style. I hit play, the smooth and laid back doom enters my mind, and just when I seem close to meaningful words, the music causes me to drift into some blissful state of slow-head-bobbing. By design, this music finds the critical part of the brain and shuts it down, instead filling a listener’s head with warm and fuzzy feelings using warm and fuzzy riffs as a vehicle. Revelation is so good at crafting their vibe that it’s not only easy to lose my concentration, I forget that I’m supposed to be concentrating.
Sound like hippie talk? It is hippie talk. Revelation comes about as close to being heavy metal campfire music as you can find. Inner Harbor, the sixth or seventh proper full length by these Baltimore natives depending on how you count, is no different. Unconventional, almost stream-of-consciousness song structures, heaps and heaps of John Brenner leads, and a very easygoing mood permeate every note, riff, and drum pattern. Doomy, proggy metal is their style, but a jam band approach is their mentality, giving a looseness and free flow to each song.
With the exception of one welcome new addition, which we’ll get to in a sec, Inner Harbor very closely resembles the music of modern era Revelation albums Release and For the Sake of No One, while mostly eschewing the melancholy inserted into the latter. John Brenner’s riffs range from upbeat stoner rock grooves (“Eve Separated” could be a Kyuss jam at times) to slow, weeping lines that when muted sizzle like a hamburger patty being smashed on a griddle. Brenner’s slightly nasal, almost lackadaisical vocal delivery remains unchanged, as does the skill of his rhythm section (Bert Hall’s jazzy Steve Harris impression in closer “An Allegory of Want” is killer). The songs themselves slow to a molasses-y ooze, pick up speed for a bit, return to a lumber, and repeat, never giving the impression of complexity but revealing to the hard-to-find attentive ear exactly how well thought out they are.
That addition? Some nicely placed synths, seemingly lifted right out of early 80s Rush. Both the keyboard-filled crescendo in “Terribilitia” and a synth break in “Jones Falls” feel like a passages cut from Signals. The latter even uses a wonky mix of sustained chords on top and the kind of bouncy, throbbing bottom end keys that Geddy may have implemented during one of the more driven songs of that album. These additional flavors don’t necessarily change the root songs, but serve to accentuate the prog side of Revelation’s sound, while also adding brightness to an album that was already teeming with it.
But even with the synths, the focus of Revelation’s music is still the jam, and the focus of the jam is the guitar solo. On Inner Harbor, Brenner remains one of the most buttery-smooth lick-deliverers in the heavy realm, and he’s really the one to blame (thank) for my inability to get down and dirty with the details for the longest time. His sassy, bluesy, and melodic leads show up during intros, bridges, out-jams, and everywhere in between, often changing tones (and speaker channels) to give the illusion of an additional guitarist. Brenner’s work closing out “Rebecca at the Well” tries so hard to hide the smartly constructed supporting music, but it turns out that such a pairing is exactly what makes Revelation great.
In the end, the album’s ability to shut off the listener’s brain is a major virtue. Art is supposed to elicit a reaction, and a strong reaction is a sign of very strong art. No one else sounds like Revelation—they are alone in their own universe, appearing odd on paper but oh-so-pleasing to the ears. That being said, they’ve never quite been for everyone, and reconciling the relaxed mood with metal riffs can be tough for some, or even earn a disapproving eye from the most aggression addicted. Still, for established fans, Inner Harbor is another can’t-miss journey into the Revelation’s special brand of lazy melodic bliss. For the uninitiated, all it can do is add variety and great quality to a collection.