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WLM Reviews: Byzantine – The Cicada Tree

July 15, 2017

The Cicada Tree is likely the album I most anticipated hearing this year. Byzantine grabbed me by the throat about a year ago and has failed to release me from their grasp. Undoubtedly, one of the most played bands in my catalog over the last 12 months.

It might be overstating it, but The Cicada Tree may be one of the most important Metal albums of 2017. Most important because it sees Byzantine on Metal Blade Records now and a work that should surely propel the band to greater heights. A dense, complex, and quite compelling album sits before us, certain to bring Byzantine more acclaim. To say I like this work is definitely understating it.

From the opening blast of New Ways to Bear Witness – a fantastic example of Byzantine – through the closing cover of Fishbone’s (!) Servitude, the band is firing on all cylinders. Usually in your face, but more contemplative at others, the music is in the inimitable Byzantine style, recognizable yet fresh. Main man Chris “OJ” Ojeda delivers his harsh lines with a bit of venom, yet can sing with an undeniable passion. Classified by some as Groove Metal, Byzantine is actually much more complicated than that. There are elements of Thrash, Melo Death, Progressive, and even Black Metal in one place. Byzantine has their own sound for sure and OJ’s stamp is all over it.

Favorite song? Impossible on The Cicada Tree. Nearly all of them are top shelf. I’m having a difficult time finding a weakness. Possessing superb riffs, memorable melodies, intricate song structures, and impeccable musicianship, the music is simply outstanding. Of course some are more instantly attention grabbing, while others slowly suck you in and grip you. Byzantine experiments with odd time signatures here and there, amping up the intensity at times by virtue of the unexpected. Lyrically, Byzantine explores not only personal struggles and experiences, but also topics as diverse as politics and alien intervention. Nothing I would consider light-hearted for sure.

The Subjugated might be the most complex track here. The rhythmic experiment is quite well done. Vile Maxim is a punch to the gut over and over during the verses and a head banging joy during the chorus. The truly interesting part occurs around the mid-section with some nice dissonance and a killer solo right through to the end of the song. Map of the Creator may not be as aggressive, but man is it heavy. Incremental is simply a beat down mixed with a very cool melody. Some jazz elements in here as well. Probably not things that should work together, but they do.

The title track functions as the most progressive song on the album. A flowing melody and odd time signatures drift by throughout the song, leading to yet another fantastic guitar solo from Brian Henderson. This sounds like the most introspective song of the bunch. The final original song, Verses of Violence, clocks in at nine minutes. Maybe sounds like a long song, but it doesn’t seem like it. The dichotomy of the verse and chorus is at the very least noticeable, if not a bit jarring. Somewhere in the latter half, Byzantine dives into a Black Metal influenced section before subtly exiting. The band concludes with a couple of cover songs – Moving in Stereo (The Cars) and the aforementioned Servitude. I am digging the band’s take on both. It’s surprising how heavy Moving in Stereo comes across. No need to ever listen to the original. Servitude is pretty good, but Fishbone is Metal anyway, so it’s not such a great departure. It is, however, a nod to a vastly underrated band.

From OJ: “After seventeen years of writing music for Byzantine, I know to let it just come as it may. At this point, our fans expect us to experiment and push our boundaries, which is an extremely liberating feeling.”

Check out Trapjaw:

Byzantine’s stated goal is “to continue to write and record top shelf heavy metal, and hopefully be considered as a consistently good metal band.” Good? That is a sorely lacking adjective to describe the band. Byzantine has proven to be a superior Metal band and The Cicada Tree only reinforces that observation. This recording is likely the best album of 2017 – a must hear.

I hear the sound in a Metal way.

Related articles: Byzantine Live, Byzantine, Top 11 of 2017

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4 Responses to WLM Reviews: Byzantine – The Cicada Tree

  1. MetalWarrior17 on July 17, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    I like everything except the vocals. ;o(

  2. JacobP on July 18, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Excellent review, Starting to feel the same way about this band, hope its as good as you it sounds.

  3. Harley on July 19, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Byzantine is grossly unheralded in my opinion. The quality is top notch and they are deserving of greater success. I got to talk to OJ when I saw them about a year ago and he was so humble and happy to be playing live even though it was in front of 30-40 people. Love this band.

  4. Harley on July 19, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Hang in there. They’ll grow on you.

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