Revival Black are only on their second studio album, but it's going to have a lot of eyes on it, as its esteemed predecessor, Step in Line, featured very high on a bunch of lists in 2019 and topped at least one, and I should add their live album did the same during COVID. How have they translated that success and critical acclaim into the always difficult second album? Well, pretty well, as it happens.
The songs are good, though maybe not quite as instant as last time, but I'm falling in love all over again with how loud they sound on record. You could play this one on low volume and it would still seem loud, because of how the production handles the guitar. I love how the producer managed to crank it up so far without it turning into distorted static. That guitar sounds like it's actually being played live, to the degree that I almost wandered off to the bathroom with that joyous ringing in the ears that's there when we leave a venue after a good gig. There's a moment in Broken Home that sounds like I was still at the gig, the band's sound filtered through the walls.
I particularly like this because every component to this band's sound is traditionally played clean, whether it's the soulful old Bad Company hard rock sound, the power chords out of classic rock or the southern rock edge that's obvious in Dan Byrne's vocals—he often seems a cross between the soul of Ronnie van Zandt and the nasal edge of Mike Patton—but the guitars as well. However, the production makes those guitars dirty enough that the band aren't really playing instruments but simply manipulating the energy in the room into a musical form, like glassblowers hurling liquid glass around until it turns into an object of beauty.
The only catch to what Revival Black do is that everything feels so condensed, as if these aren't the songs but the purest essence of them that they'll happily rehydrate when they hit the stage. Every song gets right down to business, does what it needs to do and promptly leaves, job complete. If a song has an intro, like Broken Home or Wrong Side, it's generally wrapped up in under ten seconds so that we can't accuse anyone of lounging around. Even Alan Rimmer's guitar solos, which are an overt highlight, are as lean and mean as possible. I wanted them to keep going, especially on Left of Me and Wrong Side. Maybe they will on stage.
All that means that only the side enders feel like they have room to breathe. Hemispheres starts out without the dense sound we've become accustomed to and it's incredibly noticeable, as if the silence is suddenly bleak. It's a ballad and it feels all the more emotional because the guitar isn't there to overload our senses for for a couple of minutes. Hurricane has a breakdown midway that feels like the band suddenly decided to want to slap their names on an epic. Of course, given that they're Revival Black, epic means five minutes rather than ten.
I like these longer songs and would love for the band to write more like them that have a sense of patience to them. They're really good at stormers, as the opening couple of tracks here underline. Believe is a fantastic opener and Take You Out follows suit but with even greater success, courtesy of a backing vocal that becomes a theme, phrased like a gospel chant that a preacher at a revival might use to stir us up. Is that coincidence, given the band's name? I doubt it. But as strong as the pair of them are and as much as I enjoy them every time through, it's the (slightly) longer songs I have to call out as the highlights.
And that means that this is another really strong album from Revival Black, but there are hints at what they can do beyond just kicking our collective asses with three and a half minute belter after three and a half minute belter and I want a lot more of that. In fact, I have a feeling that, a couple of albums from now, they're going to be seen in a slightly different light, one where their talents at writing songs will be acknowledged alongside their ability to own the stage whenever they get up and start playing. For now, it's almost strange to hear them without crowd noise.