Byzantine – The Cicada Tree
Label: Metal Blade
Release Date: July 28, 2017
When talking about bands and their sound with buddies of mine, I always try to find the mix of two or three bands that give a fairly accurate picture of what they sound like. For instance, Graveyard, one of the many excellent bands out of Sweden, sounds like the lovechild of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. (Yes I know that’s a bold statement, and yes, they are that good, especially live.) So as I listened to the latest release from Byzantine, I started to form the list of comparative bands in my head. High on Fire, Tool, a little Meshuggah, Mastodon, and even some Steve Vai in the guitar solos. The list soon grew out of control, which speaks to the breadth and depth of The Cicada Tree, the sixth overall release from the West Virginia-based band.
Chris Ojeda supplies riff after riff while Brian Henderson screams through a wide variety of solo sounds and harmony parts. Sean Sydnor certainly has some Justin Chancellor (Tool) moments on the bass, significantly adding to an already complex and deep sound. Matt Bowles earns his stripes on the kit, ranging from brutally fast double-kicks to the deepest of metal percussion grooves. Their immense sound together would never lead you to think there are only four members of the band.
The initial assault from vocalist Ojeda and his three bandmates sounds like someone kidnapped Matt Pike from a t-shirt convention and put him on point for vocals and the High on Fire-esque guitar gallop. “New Ways to Bear Witness” opens the door to what is an impressive combination of technical skill and musicality. “Trapjaw” and “Vile Maxim” grind through multiple riffs at breakneck speed. “The Subjugated”, “Incremental”, and the title track showcases the huge diversity Byzantine has in their songwriting styles. My personal favorite track is “Dead as Autumn Leaves”. It combines the heavy elements of their sound with harmonies and vocal variance that is difficult to construct, moreover pull off with the skill and sound they produce. Truth be told, it’s hard to not be impressed with this aspect of their ability throughout the album. I’ve heard a few Byzantine tracks prior to The Cicada Tree, but this album has me searching Bandcamp to buy their previous efforts.
The album finishes with two cover songs, the first is The Cars classic “Moving in Stereo”. (Ah, Fast Times at Ridgemont High never gets old…). It’s a cover that will suffice, but their version of Fishbone’s “Servitude” is astounding. Fishbone has a special place in metal history (in my opinion) as one of the bands that had the musical and technical skill to showcase the wide range of talent in the genre. It’s fitting that Byzantine finished The Cicada Tree with such a song, as they have clearly picked up the torch of extremely gifted artists. This is an instant add to your collection and is right up there with some of the best music I’ve heard this year.