MGF Reviews Byzantine – Oblivion Beckons

Byzantine – Oblivion Beckons
Prosthetic Records (01/22/08)

In a bittersweet turn of events, up-and-coming potential metal legends Byzantine greeted 2008 with probably the best album of their short career, and then abruptly broke up before the thing even hit the shelves.

North America’s response to European prog-metal masters Opeth, the band just seemed to be gaining momentum. With Oblivion Beckons, every aspect of Byzantine’s sound has been ratcheted up a notch (or ten)—the riffs are thicker and more complex, the drumming more frenetic, the bass meatier and the vocals either grittier, more horrific or melodically haunting.

Opening with “Absolute Horizon”, the band just tears into fifth gear from the get-go. Starting off with some Morse code, the beeps build like a sense of paranoia before a couple of guitar chords break the hypnotic tone. And then a guttural howl from OJ Ojeda explodes the track into a metallic juggernaut, with machine-gun drumming and breakneck riffs.

Apart from the band’s not-overly-progressive musical approach—there’s a nice blend of metal and the nuances of prog without taking it to a limit that would alienate fans of either sub-genre—it’s Ojeda’s vocals that set Byzantine apart from similar acts in the metal scene. He can wail, he can sound like he’s screaming from the bowels of hell, and he can also do some fantastic clean vocals (with just enough of a hint of a southern accent) and somehow marry the two styles into a third monster. It’s like an amalgam of Randy Blyth (Lamb of God) and Burton Bell (Fear Factory) with just a touch of Phil Anselmo (Pantera) and possibly late-’80s-era Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche).

Just check out the title track, as Ojeda utilizes all of his vocal trickery as he guides the listener through a metal war zone—absolutely sick grooves twist and turn, backed by truly inspired drum work (cymbals galore!), and as if it wasn’t enough, there’s a killer guitar solo to close out the proceedings.

It would seem the band draws inspiration from the same wells Ojeda visits. Heavy groove permeates every track (à la Pantera), and the band’s straight-ahead metal approach harkens to Lamb of God’s delivery, albeit a little less abrasive. That the band is able to incorporate a variety of metal approaches (hints of thrash, an obvious nod to progressive material, the thunderous chug of speed and plenty of tech-inspired riffing) and work it into a cohesive piece, not to mention all of the other elements it throws in for good measure, is a true testament to the talent each member brought to the table.

Take a listen to “The Gift of Discernment”; after tearing through a who’s who from metal’s subgenres, the track somehow manages to devolve (or should it be evolve?) into a shockingly beautiful guitar solo to close out the five-and-a-half-minute opus. And never does a part of the song seem out of place. This is one of the few bands that have you scratching your head one moment, and banging it the next without question.

There’s simply too many high points to single out on this album, but to name a few:

– The mind-bending riffs throughout “Expansion and Collapse”, not to mention the Rush-inspired bridge midway through the song

– The bludgeoning force of “Pattern Recognition”, with a choking combination of thick vocals and stuttering riffs

– The pissed-off snarl on “Receiving End of Murder”

– Some great lyrics: “It’s a long road out of hell when you refuse to do the devil’s work” (off “All Hail the End of Times”); “The trouble with your prayers is that they reek of last resort” (off “Deep End of Nothing”)

– The haunting wails on the chorus for “Catalyst” (… “We cast out liars!”)

– “Renovatio” (It’s not easy for a metal band to sound pretty.)

– In that vein, the bleeding of “Renovatio” straight into the punishing chords of “Centurion”

– The gang vocals used on “All Hail the End of Times”

– The hellacious pace of album closer “A Residual Haunting”

– And everything in-between

There’s a place at the new wave of American metal’s head table for Byzantine, but it’s just a shame that the band won’t be around to enjoy it. Imagine if Lamb of God called it a day following the killer Ashes of the Wake. One couldn’t imagine it getting much better for the band, and then it turned around and delivered Sacrament. Byzantine’s 2005 offering And They Shall Take Up Serpents was pretty damn good. Oblivion Beckons is bordering on phenomenal. What could have been the next step?



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