West Virginia’s best hidden secret Byzantine have long been the underdog in the metal world. Their last album ‘To Release Is To Resolve’ along with the powerful single “The Agonies” really propelled the band out of the Appalachian Mountains and into the ears of metal heads worldwide. The band self released the album and it was well received and got tremendous airplay on Sirius XM radio. The hard hitting progressive band also snagged a record deal with powerhouse label Metal Blade. On July 28th, Byzantine will release their new album, ‘The Cicada Tree’, via Metal Blade Records. Heralded as the most underrated band from the New Wave of American Heavy Metal Movement, Byzantine has slowly gained a cult-like following after releasing 5 genre-bending albums. 16 years underground, it’s finally time for the world to hear Byzantine! To state that The Cicada Tree is ‘classic Byzantine‘ in no way implies that this is an album solely rooted in the band’s past. Certainly, all of the hallmarks that have made their sound so compelling for close to two decades are present and correct: muscular yet lithe riffs and fluid leads play against gripping, dynamic and at times unpredictable rhythms, while rich melodies and lyrics that are both involved and intelligent wind their way through every track. But, once more, the groove metal unit has continued their steady evolution – the interplay between their members organic and natural, imbuing the record’s sixty-two-minute running time with a freshness and urgency. The album title – and the song of the same name – is drawn entirely from an event the frontman experienced in his home state of West Virginia in 2016, “The Seventeen Year Cicada” cycle. “It’s a type of locust that lies dormant underground for sixteen years, only to emerge in the seventeenth year, and it then lives for three months above ground to morph, mate, give birth and die. We had a swarm of roughly 1,000 cicada in my front yard underneath a small tree. My eight-year-old daughter, my pregnant-at-the-time girlfriend and I spent the whole season catching and studying them. It was a beautiful experience.” While looking for potential album titles, Ojeda’s girlfriend playfully suggested The Cicada Tree, and while initially dismissing this as a joke he soon had an epiphany. “Byzantine was coming up on its seventeenth year of existence and, just like the cicada, we spent the last sixteen years underground. So, ‘The Cicada Tree’is a metaphor for the lifespan of Byzantine.” Byzantine’s Metal Blade debut ‘The Cicada Tree’ drops on July 28th it’s an album you don’t want to pass on.
‘The Cicada Tree’ opens up with a familiar song in “New Ways To Bear Witness” which was the first single and video from the album, filmed in the bands local venue The V Club. The song and video alike are amazing and truly shows the depth of the band as they track has an old school thrash and prog feel to it. The second track on the album is “Vile Maxim” which the band is recording a video for today (7/9) so like me they believe it is one of the stronger songs on the album by giving it a video. Likely one of the heaviest tracks on the album. In the beginning it showcases drummer Matt Bowles and bassist Sean Syndor as everything else is hushed as they lead into the song. The track is likely one of the heaviest songs and it really is a head banger. OJ’s vocals begin immensely harsh and rapid but as the song progresses we hear guitarist Hendo (aka Brian Henderson) much more melodic vocal approach kick in and create this incredible balance on the track. One of the unique things about Byzantine’s sound is the way that OJ’s and Brian Henderson’s vocals contrast. The double bass and shredding riffs give us everything we could ever ask for. Hendo gives us enough of a solo riff to make us crave more. It’s those types of moments that keep us listening craving more. “Map Of The Creator” is one of the most diverse tracks on the album by far. From the start the track is a bit more mild than its predecessors and you immediately think this is going to be the slower more melodic ballad. The right around the 2 minute mark you realize how you couldn’t have been more wrong. The vocals at that point almost take on more of a death metal vibe. Soon after these huge riffs rain down with the pounding drums by Matt Bowles backing them up. Just when you think the song is about to end they kick it in for another minute or so of complete instrumental aggression. The title track “The Cicada Tree” starts out just as I imagined. The sound is something most everyone in the south is familiar with, the chirping of cicadas. This track boasts a huge amount of groove as which is led by the greatly talented bassist Sean Syndor. Sean has a unique playing style and I believe this track really shows the depth he adds to the band’s sound. “The Cicada Tree” is one of those songs where you simply have to stop what you are doing and pay attention. OJ’s voice soars here, and in a way I really haven’t heard him sing before. In a way you can almost hear a grunge influence in his vocal approach, and regardless where the influence came from it sounds amazing. Of course you also get to get a cover of The Cars “Moving In Stereo” with Hendo singing lead as The Cars is one of his favorite bands. It’s a great take on an old school classic.
Byzantine hasn’t always had the luxury of a major label and top notch production behind them and it’s what gave their music thaw raw, true live feeling. One fear with this new album was that it would be too polished and it would take away that grit that the band had created over the years. Well there is nothing to be afraid of here. The band does have better production value but they have maintained the grit and rawness that we have all come to love through the years. ‘The Cicada Tree’ is just the beginning of Byzantine finally getting the attention they rightfully deserve.
You can pre-order the album here.