Review Summary: Despite one or two frustrating inconsistencies, Byzantine's death rattle is an wonderfully brutal assault on the senses that certainly leaves an impression.
OJ – Vocals, Guitar, Piano
Tony - Guitar, Keyboard
Wolfe – Drums, Guitar
Skip – Bass, Vocals, Guitar
If you have taken time to read the (as of now) only entry in my blog, this a little bit of experimentation. Until last week, I had never heard of this Virginia based quartet, or of the fact that they are now officially defunct. (the ‘creative differences’ curse struck just four days after this album was released back in February). What caught my eye was a little piece of blurb on a sticker plastered to the front of the CD case in the record shop I was browsing, with the particular description of “the B**stard son of Metallica and Meshuggah” making me smile. So, I decided to take an uneducated gamble and bought the CD online a few days later (being a poor student is really annoying!). So, as Stephen King would say in one of his rambling introductions to his sometimes equally rambling stories, “now take my hand, because we are about to delve into some dark places. Don’t worry though, because I know the way. At least I think I do...”
After an introduction that reminds you of old Morse code, Byzantine kick in with what can only be described as a fairly bog standard tech thrash song (if there is such a thing). The guitar and drum, while being nice and loud whilst not following a rigid set structure, are not particularly experimental or diverse considering the supposed Meshuggah comparison when it comes to musical complexity. And unfortunately, OJ’s vocal effort during the chorus sections, in which he sounds like he is trying to mimic (Meshuggah lead singer) is actually quite grating at times. Not the most promising of starts.
This track, much like the album opener, seems to serve merely as a warm up for the main course. Once again, although he sound levels are suitably brutal enough to keep interest levels constant, I once again find myself at a loss as to why this band have been compared to other great Tech Thrash bands. The vocals are an improvement, showing slightly more range between the main grating growl and the clean singing associated with the modern phase of metal.
HERE WE GO!. This is a little bit more like it, with an almost constantly furious Guitar and drumming arrangement, and a vocal performance by OJ that casts away the shadow of the first track as effortlessly as any army defeating the French Military. The switches from the harsh, death metal screaming are to the uplifting metalcore style ‘singing is almost seamless, with the lyrics being kicked up a notch from the fairly clichéd and at times uncomfortably Emo to a poignant reflection of the failings of humanity. Despite that, you won’t be able to help but be uplifted and refreshed by this track. 99% perfection (nothing can be 100 %....), shame it ends so soon at just 3:54!.
The Gift of Discernment
This track sees the band delve into a darker, more death orientated sound that sees none of the instruments stand out in particular, but sees each and every element of the band complementing each other wonderfully. However, a few interesting guitar flourishes keep this one interesting, whilst the vocal performance continues to be impressive after that shaky start. Also of note is an odd but entrancing breakdown that sees a slow, single guitar solo that gradually winds down a strong, death metal inspired track. (It was also at this point that I realised any band comparisons that had been made before hand were totally pointless, as what I was hearing was a sound that was totally unique in my ears at least)
Expansion and Collapse
An immense explosion of guitar work sets the tone for this ferocious ripsnorter of a track. Oj shows a subtle but enormous range of vocal ability (once again, a wonderful blend of screaming, growling, and clean singing), whilst some of the solo work here (and on other tracks may I add) is simply jaw dropping.
Once again, opening with a powerful machine gun riff by guitar and drums, this track is mainly characterised by its vocals. Whilst containing the usual crushing and robotic screaming, the occasional quavering in the voice of OJ really seem to add a chord to this track, and in fact add to the clout of proceedings. The abrupt ending to the song seems a little out of place, but otherwise another cracking song.
Another track that kicks off like a bezerker warrior on crack cocaine, before delving into its death style vocals and violently staccato rhythm. However, there is a bizarre and slightly off putting section in the middle that involves serene acoustic guitar (not the problem here), and what I see as a fairly pointless spoken portion by an unaccredited female vocalist. Although it is an intriguing technical change, it is a little out of place here. Thankfully, a typically good guitar bridge and further powerful vocals allow this track to finish on a high.
An instrumental, so it is a little difficult to rate, and as a result I am not going to add a rating to it. After all, a song without lyrics is only half a song if you know where I’m coming from. It begins as a standard acoustic strum that is actually quite refreshing after the relentless juggernaut that was the albums first half. As the track continues however, you begin to feel a Jekyll and Hyde transformation occurring as the battering drums and electric guitar sound become predominant. An interesting introduction to the next track...
At this point, we seem to come to a totally different style. Whereas the first half of this album was an all out inferno of sprawling guitar solos, frighteningly frantic drumming and complexly layered vocals, this song sees a change into tighter structuring and more clearly defined vocals. This change in direction may not be to the taste buds if you have gotten used to the previous style, but this shows how diverse and technical this band is. And of course, we have some brilliant solo guitar work. Still going strong at this point.
Receiving End of Murder
This starts with a seemingly mire subdued, chugging riff that seems reminiscent of Chimaira more than anything, but we quickly kick in to another solid addition to the tech thrash catalogue. Vocally, we seem to get a whole palate of tastes here; Mark Hunter (Chimaira) style screaming, Jesse Leach (Early Killswitch Engage) style cleanly sung bridge lyrics, and an all round more angry tone that compliments the strong musical arrangement shown here. (I know I stated that I wouldn’t use anymore comparisons, but this was a track that simply demanded it)
All Hail the End times
What happened".....after all the hard work of the previous eight tracks, we are given what I call the “Friday afternoon” song. (i.e.: rushed because everyone wants to go home). For a tech metal album, the structure is too basic by far, the guitar is , for a change, bland in the style of Later Killswitch Engage (not saying I don’t like KSE, but bring back Jesse Leach any day!!), and the lyrics are beginning to beginning to adopt the triteness seen in track one. An unfortunate anomaly of a track.
Deep end Of Nothing
Thankfully, returns to the Death style vocals are the stand out here. Unfortunately, the guitars are starting to sound like they have thrown out every trick they have in the book before the party has finished, although there are still one or two interesting little flourishes once again, plus a pretty good solo about halfway through. Still, although the death metal trappings on show here have shown another little tweak in direction that keeps things interesting, there are signs that the quality and freshness, if not the stamina of the band, is beginning to run out of steam...
A Residual Haunting
...But then, as if they sense this, the Band decide to think “Aww F**k it. Let’s go out with a Bang!” Despite taking a few seconds to get going, this quickly evolves into a beautifully skull crushing track that see’s OJ going hell for leather with the vocals, firing off every different weapon and style in his arsenal. Meanwhile, the guitar and drumming meld and crash together like two mythical behemoths duelling out over who gets the last sausage roll at the buffet table (i.e.: victory or death!). After a good three minutes of musical GBH, we are treated to a punishing breakdown that ends with a beautifully realised death metal scream from OJ and an equally shuddering final death throw from set of guitars that will probably be joining the workers union after this battering. A marvellous end to a mainly immense, but sometimes frustrating slice of Death Tech Thrash.
So, after all the usual adding up, I have come to a rating of 3.8, which all tots up to a generous sounding 4/5. However, I think that this album is one of those rare examples where the components (i.e.: songs) are better than the overall sum of their parts (i.e.: the rating of the album as a whole). This album would be up there amongst the classic ratings if weren’t so frustratingly inconsistent at times. If you need a visualisation of this, imagine a prime steak if you will. Around the edges there is some gristle, but cutting through those parts at the beginning and near the end lead to the juicy, meaty reward in the middle. (Yes, I am quite hungry as I write this, but I think it is an apt comparison). This is a band I will definitely be investing more time in when regarding future purchases.
- Some of the most awe inspiring guitar riffs since Sepultura’s Arise (just my opinion of course)
- At times brilliant vocals.....
- A very consistent and brutal middle section
The Not so Good
- the drumming is at times overshadowed by the vocal and guitar
- ...but the vocals can sometimes be a little irritating
- Frustratingly inconsistent (i.e.: perseverance is needed for the first couple of tracks)
Thank you, and Adios.