Byzantine – “The Cicada Tree” (Metal Blade Records)
Well known in the West Virginia scene, the name Byzantine is definitive of the band’s complex style incorporating the heavy, groove elements of Lamb of God and harsh, chopping chords of Meshuggah, all the while tempered by a rich blend of prog! Until now self funded through pledge campaigns, this 6th album marks their first major signing, but thankfully not a major departure from their prior releases, although it’s certainly worth noting the presence of more prog. That said, the band are more than able to mix it – even throwing in some black metal blast beating and matching screamo on ‘Verses Of Violence’ which came out of the blue given its sublime acoustic intro, genteel vocals from Chris ‘OJ’ Ojeda, the flowing guitar of Brian Henderson, and not to mention those heavenly prog harmonies – well, it certainly woke me up ha ha! Elsewhere, there’s no such pretence such as on ‘Trapjaw’ with its heavy dirty rhythms, chopping beats and alternating hoarse Hetfield style meets clean vocals while ‘The Subjugated’ lends heavily to Meshuggah although graced by some heavy prog and jazz soloing, all of which adds a mystical dimension to the song, quite apt given Ojeda wrote it about alien intervention. Speaking of writing, the complexity extends itself here too, with the title track based on a local West Virginian phenomenon known as ‘The Seventeen Year Cicada’ cycle which is about a type of locust that lies dormant underground for 16 years, only to emerge in the 17 year – and as fate would have it, also reflects the exact time the band have been in the underground – hence it being used as a metaphor for the lifespan of the band. Given all this, one might have the perception of Byzantine being a tad too heavy on the brain but ‘Servitude’ shows a more commercial edge while still retaining the band’s style(s), incorporating lighter weight riffola and a very cool flowing middle eastern groove along with some excellent all out metal soloing from Henderson – not forgetting the powering technical drum work of Matt Bowles. Indeed, “The Cicada Tree” brings forth the brilliance of Byzantine to a long awaiting world in need of their wisdom.