Byzantine - _Byzantine_
(Independent, 2013)
by: Aly Hassab El Naby (8 out of 10)
West Virginia's groovin'-thrashers Byzantine took steady and calculated steps forward on the path to metallic awesomeness from their 2004 debut _The Fundamental Component_ all the way to their third effort, 2008's awesome _Oblivion Beckons_. Then all of a sudden the band announced a split that made _Oblivion Beckons_ a rather dark and reflective parting gift from a very talented band. It was very easily their best effort at the time of its release. I'm also willing to defend its champion status until now. But luckily, after five years, the guys have decided to release another album as the band enjoys a second wind without any external pressure from a record label.

This independently released fourth album comes self-titled and comes as a strong contender to _Oblivion Beckons_. I think this is quite a statement, but this record deserves it. The opening cut "Which Light Shall Never Penetrate" is very refreshing in the sense that it proves that Byzantine are back with a bang; literally. It's a vicious cut that chugs away relentlessly with all the grooves and hooks that made Byzantine what it was five years ago. Others like "Efficacy" and "Signal Path" score very high on the headbanging scale, but if I were pressed for a favorite, I'd go for "Forged in the Heart of a Dying Star". This one further confirms my belief that this band has somehow managed to sound like a hybrid of Slayer, Meshuggah and Lamb of God yet still sound original. Seems weird, doesn't it?

Well, think about it. On many occasions, the riffs sound very thick and plodding while the drums behind them are methodically pounded for maximum heaviness. On various other instances, the tempos race viciously while the drums churn away with machine-like precision. The main riff on "Forged In the Heart Of a Dying Star" is what I mean when I say Lamb of God. Tell me that riff doesn't remind you of Mark Morton's wizardry! "Caldera" and "Pathogen", which are very straightforward and combine some of Byzantine's heaviest riffing, are two pretty good examples of this admirable level of musical virtuosity. Guitar solos also get to be in the spotlight for some time. The solos on "Which Light Shall Never Penetrate", "Efficacy" and "Pathogen" are more examples of the fine degree of skill on offer here.

The forty-four minute run time was the only thing that disappointed me about _Byzantine_, but that really is a minor issue. While I still prefer _Oblivion Beckons_ for its sentimental value and great memories, I feel compelled to tip my proverbial hat in the direction of these West Virginians for releasing a solid and honest metal album in _Byzantine_. It combines creative riffing, adroit drumming and an overall progressive feel that is hard to come by a lot. It is safe to say that with an album as dynamic and intelligent as this one, Byzantine came back from a hiatus with sharper blades and a hunger for the stage. Now go see them at a festival in a town nearby while I settle for headbanging alone in a car while stuck in Cairo's traffic.


(article published 31/3/2013)

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