August 2, 2013

Byzantine - Byzantine

Review by Justin C.

Cover art by David Friedmann.

Byzantine is a bit tough to pin down in terms of genre. I was going to describe them as "West Virginia metal," but I realized that might not mean a lot to people who didn't grow up in that particular area of the U.S. (I was born and raised in western Pennsylvania.) The band describes themselves as "underground progressive groove metallers," which is probably as good a description as any for a band that pulls together so many sounds and influences.

For those unfamiliar with the band, they put out three very well-received full-lengths in the mid-2000s before going their separate ways shortly after Oblivion Beckons came out in 2008. Luckily for us, they returned in 2013 and launched a successful Kickstarter program to fund their latest self-titled album. (Full disclosure: I was one of their backers. One of my rewards was a painstaking transcription of all the guitar parts, so watch for my upcoming, not-at-all-anticipated classical guitar arrangement of the track "Efficacy.") We all know that coming back from a gap like that is a dicey proposition--not everybody can make a comeback like Alice in Chains has. But Byzantine pulls it off, and I think their new one is probably their best work.

There really aren't very many bands out there with a sound as unique as Byzantine's. You'll hear modern thrash, the pummeling of Pantera, the melodicism of Judas Priest, and even some full-on jazz bits. As usual, writing out a list of bits like this can make a band sound like an incoherent mess, but I wouldn't be talking about them if that were the case. They blend all of this into their own unique sound, and the album is filled with 5-minute tracks that feel tight and expansive at same time. Chris Ojeda sounds like he was four or five singers trapped inside his body, summoning them at will. Take "Efficacy," which is one of my favorites. After an acoustic intro that builds into a thrashy groove, Ojeda alternates lower, death metal-like growls with higher screams that flirt with black metal, and after a quieter interlude, you also get to hear his melodic cleans.

The guitars are fantastically orchestrated, and I mean "orchestrated" literally. They're complex and multi-layered, and although the technical abilities are evident, they never devolve into wankery. The riffs are memorable, and the guitar solos are some of the best I've heard on any metal or rock release in a while. Instead of falling into the trap of throwing down crazy displays of skill with no connection to the song, the solos are musically well thought out and integral to the songs. There's even an awesome jazz interlude in "Signal Path" that has some Wes Montgomery-inspired octave lines. It takes a pretty deep skill set to pull this kind of thing off. I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't also mention the bass and drums, which make a crazy-tight rhythm foundation for all of this.

Byzantine is one of those bands that I just won't shut up about. I'd happily wander the streets of Boston wearing a sandwich-board with their name on it. Everyone interested in modern metal should check these guys out. Two of their previous albums are also available on Bandcamp, and you should buy those, too. And go to see them whenever they play. And buy them beers.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

1 comment:
  1. I guess they're not going to top ...And They Shall Take Up Serpents.

    I really wanted to like this album. But upon listening to it, none of the riffs grabbed me and OJ's vocals were pretty weak throughout.