West Virginia natives Byzantine are back with their sixth full-length release, The Cicada Tree, out July 28th on Metal Blade Records. The band has had some notable ups and downs in their history. Forming in 2000, the band called it quits in 2008 (the day after the release of their third album), only to reform again in 2010. After a few lineup changes and reformation, the band released two albums independently and then signed with Metal Blade in 2016. The band got to work on their next album shortly thereafter on what would become The Cicada Tree.
“New Ways to Bear Witness” was the first song released from the album, and also acts as the opening track. This song sees Byzantine add a heavy dose of thrash into their mix of groove and modern metal. A breakneck pace with thundering double bass and brash, barking vocals give way to a soaring chorus and bridge that would make fans of Alter Bridge ecstatic. The song ends by returning to a groove riff that the band is quite comfortable and adept at executing.
The three singles that were released ahead of the album are the most aggressive on the record. Many of the remaining eight tracks fail to match the style or intensity of those lead singles. However, some of the best songs are among the latter group. The song “The Subjugated” is a perfect example of this. Starting out with an isolated guitar for a little over a minute, the entrance of the bass and drums coincide with a Gojira-esque riff that takes the song in a really exciting direction. The guitar tone on the song is lovely, and the vocals are alternate between classic death metal growls and soaring cleans. The riffs increase in technicality and the lead guitar passage is tasteful and bluesy.
This album has some terrific moments, and – if you’re a fan of the band or mildly progressive groove metal – there are some nuggets of gold to be unearthed. What surrounds these moments though can be inconsistent, with their inclusion being puzzling to say the least. The song “Verses of Violence” is a nine-minute track that takes a progressive approach to mixing styles at which the band excels. This song is followed by the empty and, dare I say, lazy cover of The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo.” This song is hollow from start to finish with uninspired riffs, and by far the weakest vocal performance on the album. There was no need to include this song as the final track, and should have been left on the cutting room floor. I can appreciate a good cover, but this feels noticeably out of place.
From an execution standpoint, the band can hold their own with the best of the genre. The groove metal tracks are solid, and the progressive elements are interesting and a welcome addition. However, the album’s composition as a whole feels too scattershot to cleanly hit the mark. This is by no means a bad record, but its lack of identity makes it a bit of a tough listen. With a more cohesive direction, The Cicada Tree could have joined the ranks of memorable metal releases of 2017.
Notable Tracks: “Verses of Violence”; “The Subjugated”; “Vile Maxim”
FFO: Pantera, Stone Sour, The Haunted