West Virginia’s Byzantine reside near the top of my go-to list for catchy and accessible modern metal jams. The resilient scrappers boast an impressive track record amidst numerous setbacks and an everlasting underdog tag. However, the departure of talented lead guitarist Tony Rohrbough prior to 2015’s solid Release Is To Resolve album was always going to be a tricky obstacle for the band to overcome. Replacement Brian Henderson held the fort admirably but the album felt like a transitional step for the band, and when craving Byzantine, it hasn’t regularly returned to my listening rotation. Byzantine’s sixth album The Cicada Tree rings in further changes following the departure of long-term drummer Matt Wolfe, replaced by the impressive Matt Bowles. Significantly, The Cicada Tree finds the DIY experts on a major label, joining the Metal Blade juggernaut, and embracing their progressive tendencies more than ever before.  Hints of their prominent influences, including nods to Pantera, Testament and Meshuggah, are still present, but as usual Byzantine discover innovative ways to transcend their influences into a crackling melting pot of creativity and powerhouse hooks.

Stretching their progressive wings doesn’t detract too much from the band’s bread and butter style of dynamically elastic and livewire technical thrash, math, and groove-infused modern metal. The chunky rhythms, riff-driven punch, technical flourishes, and earworm hooks remain intact, with cuts like opener “New Ways to Bear Witness” boasting that signature Byzantine sound, boosted by trademark technical proficiency and frontman/guitarist Chris “OJ” Ojeda’s terrifically versatile performance and catchy vocal hooks. Similarly, “Vile Maxim” injects oodles of crunchy riffage and slick, aggressive instrumentation into a groove-laced structure featuring a wonderfully catchy clean vocal melody and killer old school guitar shreddage and harmonies. Tightly packed with similarly memorable riffs and choruses, The Cicada Tree builds a solid case for longer term replay value, particularly when considering its more intricate and progressive aspects where deeper investigation helps unlock the album’s subtle nuances.

Signature Byzantine tunes buffer the more exploratory progressive and rock-based elements to positive effect, while the winding and adventurous prog-heavy numbers, including lengthy songs “Dead as Autumn Leaves” and “Verses of Violence,” mix airier and reflective passages with harder-edged metallic crunch. Although Byzantine has employed prog in measured doses effectively in the past, initially I was on the fence on the success and execution in which they integrated these elements on The Cicada Tree. However, after multiple listens I needn’t have worried, the proggier elements only serve to expand their already dynamic musical landscape into increasingly adventurous waters. Not everything runs smoothly however. “Map of the Creator” takes a while to hit its stride and the progressive light vs heavy structure features a few globs of cheese and clunky moments. And the cover of The Cars “Moving in Stereo” is both unnecessary and out-of-place.

On his second outing with the band, Henderson, in combination with Ojeda, stamps his style and joint ownership of the Byzantine sound into a quality performance, complete with mind-bending leads, mutating chugs, groovy thrash riffs, and hugely expressive, sublime solos. Overall the duel guitar work effectively melds simplicity with complexity, as fluid melodic and progressive flourishes intertwine with plenty of aggressive axe-work. The epic ‘Verses of Violence” is a resounding triumph of the old and new, a twisting prog piece that never gets bogged down by its nearly nine-minute length. Though Ojeda’s powerful multi-faceted vocals take control, however, it’s the beautiful lead work and terrific dynamics that lends the song its power, especially the ferociously heavy back-end. Meanwhile, the excellent title track is moody prog-rock bliss with a chorus you’ll be humming for days.

Hopefully a heavyweight label will help Byzantine achieve the credit and recognition they’ve long deserved. Listeners exclusively down with the extreme nature of metal will probably be immune to the band’s charms, but long-term fans and curious onlookers should be pleased with what Byzantine have cooked up here. Despite my initial reservations, Byzantine struck with another urgent, dynamic and consistent offering that retains their signature sound while heaping an extra dose of prog in the mix for good measure. A few minor issues and song sequencing preferences aside, The Cicada Tree signals a triumphant step forward from the last album, with proggy tendrils wrapping themselves more forcefully around the band’s crunchy modern metal sound and offering a strong hint of where their future inclinations lay.

 Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 277 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade
Websites: byzantine.bandcamp| facebook.com/byzantinewv
Releases Worldwide: July 28th, 2017

  • metalcasket

    Quick, quick, quick…before anyone sees: “needn’t *HAVE* worried”.

  • AnnieK13

    I’m really liking what I’ve heard of this so far, the embedded track and two other tracks. This is one I’m going to have to pick up and I am kind of looking forward to the Cars cover (the only Cars song I could ever stand..) though I usually prefer oddball covers as bonus tracks.

  • AndySynn

    It’s a solid 4.237 from me I think. Although I dumped both the covers after about 2 listens.

  • Anarchist

    Kinda sounds a bit like a more restrained Destrage.

    I like it.

  • Kmill

    Such a killer band. I hope this is the big break they deserve. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

  • Tom Hardy

    I could see myself listen to this album if there was a non-vocal version out. They sound awful to me and it’s awfulness is heightened in moments where the singer matches the harmony.

    • welyyt

      Sounds kinda like Brian Johnson doing death/thrash vocals.

      • I actually thought it sounded like when Russell Allen tries to get a little more growl in his voice with Symphony X tracks. I personally like it.

    • Name’s Dalton

      Hello, mate. Good to hear from you again. Been off on location filming the sequel to your Mad Max blockbuster eh?

  • Leonmed

    Embedded track sounds great. Will check rest of the album.
    BTW my best thrash find for 2017. is Torture Squad “Far Beyond Existence”. Cant get enough of the damned thing.

  • Necrocustard

    I get the impression of crowbar going uptempo from what I’ve heard.

  • The embedded track is pretty damn good to these ears. I get a Russell Allen vibe from Ojeda, though without the same range and not when he is doing more clean style (at least on this track). I’d be interested to hear more of their music and am adding this to the list of things to try to find a way to purchase.

    • WhamBamSam

      Chuck Billy was the first one that came to mind for me, but I could hear the Allen comparison now that I’m listening for it. Actually makes me like this a bit more, somehow. Even though I like Chuck Billy’s voice a lot, something just wasn’t clicking with Ojeda in that context.

      • I never listened to a ton of Testament and haven’t heard them since I saw them with Megadeth and Slayer back in 2010. Plus, I finally bought Symphony X “Underworld” last week so I’ve been digging deeply into that lately. I actually turned that album off to check out this song so it was a bit funny in that sense because it was so immediate.

        Now that I read your comment, I’ll need to go listen to some Testament and see if I have something else to spend money on and be in the dog house for!

      • Kryopsis

        I had the same impression. I appreciate that Ojeda uses his vocal range more and admirably manages different styles, Chuck Billy’s vocals have more power and aggression.

  • Instrumentally, I want to hear more. The vocals are difficult for me, though. I almost like his singing but the growly stuff sounds silly to me.

  • GWW

    These guys are always good. I don’t see the problem with vocals. Sounds great.

  • h_f_m

    wow this album is magical

  • Shrümpelstiltskin

    I feel like people rave about this band all the time, but I just don’t get it. I’m listening to the new album now though and it’s better than I remember older Byzantine material being. That said, those vocals are hard for me to listen to sometimes. He overdoes the heavier “growly” vocals. He really does sound like a bad Russell Allen imitation on occasion.

  • This is better than To Release is to Resolve (3.0), but that cover does indeed suck balls and “Map of the Creator” is very hit and miss. 3.5 is spot on, which makes me sad considering I love this band. :(

    • Kryopsis

      3.5 is a relatively uncommon score on this website and a point above ‘average’ (2.5). After listening to the album a few times in the past two weeks, I’ve come to realise that I actually like it. The style is definitely not something I expected to enjoy (Thrash/Groove Metal with occasional Opeth worship) but there’s a lot of heart in this album. The 3.5 score is well deserved, basically.

  • IamDBR

    Watching grandpa shred like a beast is oddly inspiring.

    I can dig it.

  • Innit Bartender

    I am with you on the not-returning-much to “To Release…”, the preceding Self-Titled was miles better. Anyway I have great hopes with this new one: I supported the band in the past (back when I had money) and will always love them.

  • Kryopsis

    Bears are very smart so watching them is always fascinating. I’m definitely interested in new ways to witness them. Oh, and the music is pretty good too, though I’m disappointed by the lack of bears in the embedded video.

  • Serjien

    I can definitely hear a bit of R.Allen in the vocals. Maybe a more aggressive version of him. I enjoyed listening to the whole album and I must agree with Mr. Saunders here: The Cars cover is totally garbage and has no place in this album!

    • Bryan Stroup

      I can definitely hear the Allen in this.

  • WIRED_Metal

    Sounds to me like old-school Van Halen ( not surprising, given the EVH amps and the Wolfgang that the lead guitarist is playing) if they jammed with Metallica and Pantera. I like the embedded track, but the vocals are buried in the mix. WTF? It seems to be a signature sound for them… I checked a few other tracks on YouTube.

    Edit: Oops. Headphone malfunction caused the poor vocal audio.

  • Matthew Christensen

    Those harsh vocals very much remind me of Matt Pike from High on Fire.

  • Sophocles

    Prog Thrash, kicks ass!

  • ben

    I struggle with this band. On the one hand, they are undeniably talented, and the song writing is strong. On the other hand, I feel they wear their influences heavily on their sleeves. Every riff sounds like something I’ve heard before, every key change, every rhythm etc.

  • Huck N’ Roll

    I like this album a lot, but it puzzles me as to why they had to include two cover songs. Both of them (Moving in Stereo and Servitude) are by-the-numbers and don’t add to the album. Of course Fishbone’s original Servitude is better (and the heaviest song they ever recorded, during their brief ‘metal’ phase), but kudos to someone actually covering those guys.