Byzantine - The Cicada Tree review

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Band: Byzantine
Album: The Cicada Tree
Release date: July 2017

01. New Ways To Bear Witness
02. Vile Maxim
03. Map Of The Creator
04. Dead As Autumn Leaves
05. Trapjaw
06. The Subjugated
07. Incremental
08. The Cicada Tree
09. Verses Of Violence
10. Moving In Stereo
11. Servitude

Rome wasn't built in a day.

Byzantine is a name that has long floated around in the underground metal scene, often one that will catch people's ear but cause little more than a casual recollection of having once heard their name at the very least, with little reason to delve further. 2017's The Cicada Tree is the band's sixth release and first on the Metal Blade label, one that should finally match name recognition with the stamp of quality a label of this calibre can offer a band, offering a good reason for fans to take a finally take a punt.

Byzantine's hodge-podge sound amalgamates groove, thrash and progressive tendencies into one melting pot that makes sense of these varied inspirations. Taking the route of delivering tracks that offer up a combination of one or two of these sounds alongside tracks that host all three, you end up with a varied listening experience to say the least. It does cause some issues in terms of pacing, with some tracks that are more subdued being slotted next to faster and heavier tracks, causing the tracks to bump into each other in uncomfortable transitions (that fade away once the track gets going).

When the band are on their game, however, they show themselves strong hands at offering up a buffet of metal that will appeal to listeners. From the opening groove/thrash one-two of "New Ways To Bear Witness" and "Vile Maxim" to the more progressive "Dead As Autumn Leaves" and "Moving In Stereo", Byzantine are not short on quality.
Lead by guitarist/vocalist Ojeda, the band are able to balance heaviness with progressive ambitions in a manner that doesn't cast them as 'a progressive band playing groove' or regurgitating Dark Angel's Time Does Not Heal, instead having an identity of their own. Ojeda and Henderson combine well on the guitars and don't rely on tropes from any of the genres to dog whistle fans, instead offering riffs and guitar interplay sections that stand on their own merits.

This, however, doesn't extend to the whole band, with drummer Bowles relying on the double bass too much, leaving him to sound like he is taking shortcuts rather than forging his own identity; although, to give him the benefit of the doubt, tracks like "Trapjaw" do push him into that corner whilst the rest of the band appear to have more freedom.

Perhaps the biggest issue with The Cicada Tree is that it some tracks are overlong for their own good while also being a halfway house for fans of each constituent genre. Take "Verses In Violence" as an example; its nine-minute run time runs the gamut of each genre but never goes far enough in offering something compelling for each fan to sink their teeth into, and the track falls apart in its attempt to do so. While there are undoubtedly fans whose tastes can overlap like a Venn diagram, the resulting combination won't be as appealing to them either, with tracks like "Incremental" being an odd-sounding mix of progressive groove.

The Cicada Tree will likely be a marmite album for those who give it a go, with moments where what the band offer make total and compelling sense ("Map Of The Creator" is a solid gem) and others that seem like Lego bricks forced into Duplo blocks. Byzantine still haven't gathered enough momentum to break through onto a bigger stage but make no mistake, the band is still moving forward and aren't dead in the water either.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 7
Songwriting: 6
Originality: 7
Production: 7


Written on 08.01.2021 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.

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