Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Byzantine – Oblivion Beckons

Today’s metal moment is brought to you by the letter B.

B is for Byzantine and their latest release entitled Oblivion Beckons is a bold and brilliantly balanced meal of meaty metal riffs, energy sustaining melodies, and flavorful technical prog-type garnishes. Okay . . . I’m done with the B thing. Oblivion Beckons is heavy to an extreme, yet complimented by well timed melodies and mellow musical passages. I’ve mentioned in past reviews that I love my metal best when it’s kept interesting. Kick my ass with all the aggressive groove that you can, then make a dynamic shift in tempo and mood to change things up, and I become butter on a hot biscuit. Okay . . . now I’m really done with the B thing.

“Absolute Horizons” gets your attention right off the bat as the beeps and blips of a Morse code transmission fade away and a barrage of uncompromising aggression plows into you. The vocals are as menacing as any I’ve heard in metal and the tempo is high. My initial reaction was one of trepidation, but thankfully that melted away as I began hearing some obscure guitar licks here and there. Then I began noticing some of the complexity of the riffing. Suddenly, my ears were open to a whole new world of metal madness and I turned the volume up another notch. I was sold on my latest discovery at the 3:04 mark as the guitar swells into a tasteful and classy solo over an off time rhythm. That effectively goes down as the moment that I fell in love with Byzantine.

Things only got better from there. Like “Nadir” before it, “Oblivion Beckons” opens with another devastating riff, but melts into an addictively melodious chorus. Sure, we’ve all heard aggressive riffs dramatically shift into emotional choruses, but few are captured with as much flavor as this one. Then, the band drops into an off time riff that kinda’ comes out of nowhere. Again, it works well. But, don’t think that these guys are done keeping the listeners on their toes. To add additional flavor to this off time ditty, poly-rhythms are added, which gives the sense that the tune is building once again, and then it’s as if the bottom completely drops out of the tune as the guitar solo takes us to another dimension. So, for those keeping count, five dynamic musical shifts in about a minute. Somehow these cats pulled it off and made it feel as natural as breathing. Fuckin’ awesome!

Prepare to get pummeled once again as the bludgeoning starts up on “The Gift of Discernment.” The snare rolls at the intro collapse into one the groovier riffs on the album, and as a whole, the tune is a clinic in drum work. Great double bass work, off time grooves, smooth transitions between the cymbals. Yeah . . . the drummer, Wolfe, has mad skills. The most intriguing aspect of the song is during the outro portion, the guitars go for a clean tone and meander towards oblivion in a jazzy fashion, similar to something one would hear from Stanley Jordan. Since all four members of the band are listed as guitarists, I haven’t a clue who’s whippin’ this little ditty out, so kudos to whomever.

Oblivion Beckons thrashes it’s way through 54 minutes of heady and forward thinking metal in the vein of Lamb of God, maybe not as flesh searing, but nevertheless, technically sound. Check the mellowed out break in “Pattern Recognition” as it flows into yet another searing guitar solo. The acoustic guitar work of “Renovatio” as it disintegrates into the cataclysmic “Centurion” shows the care that Byzantine use to ensure anything but a normal listening experience. “Deep End of Nothing” is the cream of the album as it opens with a jazzed out guitar riff and then explodes into a classic thrash riff. Ojeda’s vocals convey the torture, the grooves move every molecule of the body, the guitars astonish . . . quite simply, it’s text book metal that borrows from various aspects of the genre. An amalgam of beauty and beast, dark and light.

As a final highlight, check the mid section break on “A Residual Haunting,” right around the 2:15 mark. Great riff and excellent use of accents. Hot damn! That’s good stuff right there, kids.

Riddled with some brilliant guitar work, Oblivion Beckons shows that “OJ” Ojeda and Tony Rorhbough have the makings of metal’s guitar heroes of tomorrow. Unfortunately, for this to happen, it will be with other bands. You see, only a few days after the release of this disc, Byzantine decided to call it quits. Hey . . . that’s the music industry for you. We should feel blessed that they finished and released Oblivion Beckons before they went their separate ways. Regardless of the bands status, they’ve left us with a steaming slab of high quality, sub-genre defying metal. It will make the old school thrash guys reminisce about the glory days of the late ‘80’s, and will attract the newer generation of New Wave of American Heavy Metal for it’s sheer brutality. Another link in the evolution of metal? Only time will tell how this one ages, but with it’s musical diversity, it should still sound fresh and vital ten years from now. - Pope JTE

Buy Byzantine here: Oblivion Beckons

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