Byzantine – Oblivion Beckons Review

originally written by Jim Brandon

…And They Shall Take Up Serpents was one of my favorite albums of 2005, and still gets fairly regular playing time to this day. One of the reasons I found the disc to be so appealing was because of the promise it showed, as well as just being flat-out rockin’ through about 75% of it, so Oblivion Beckons is truly a bittersweet little scratch on the face of metal for 2008. Sweet because Byzantine fulfill a great deal of the promise shown on their two previous releases, and of course bitter because they broke up from out of nowhere just before they dealt out the new goods.

Oblivion Beckons is an album that deserves to be played live. Huge vocal hooks, and catchy riffs with adhesive melodies are everywhere, adeptly modernizing classic thrash sounds with their own style of post-Pantera groove. It’s very cool the way Chris “OJ” Ojeda remains firmly in the middle range with both his rough growl and his melodic semi-cleans, rarely pushing things towards the extremely harsh or mellow sides. There’s also a great deal of attention being paid to the vocal patterns themselves, as OJ doesn’t simply belt out lyrics while hanging on to the music for dear life. Along with the concentration on singing details, there is also a lot more focus on coming up with good individual riff n’ harmony ideas that stick to your ribs. Two great things that go great together? I‘d call it thrashing with class.

Technically speaking, Byzantine have always been a formidable outfit, and nothing has changed in that regard. From complex signature Meshuggah-like staccato palm muting, to sky high shredding leads and eclectic melodies, there’s a lot going on without sounding hyperactive, or overly busy. “Nadir” is easily one of the best Testament tunes I haven’t heard in years, combining one hell of a main chugging riff with some understatedly dignified melodic leads. The title track rolls out a surprisingly smooth clean chorus that changes the vibe of the album quite a bit when followed by a little Fear Factory crunch, and more expressive soloing, but ends rather disappointingly in a sudden stop. If it weren’t for a somewhat interesting vocal structure and acoustic outro, “The Gift Of Discernment” would have been a rather plain space filler, but luckily “Expansion And Collapse” rejuvenates things with some mighty thrashing and forcefully gravelly vocals which shift back into further Burton Bell influenced cleans, and a pair of nice, quirky solos.

Looking at the whole picture, Byzantine seem to have constructed a record that is very strong overall, but really has no standout track on the level of “Jeremaid”. The energy levels are kept pretty high throughout, and tunes like “Pattern Recognition” feature some intriguing tone shifts between the crush and the groove, while instrumental “Renovatio” builds an effectively curious mood leading into the varied and soulful “Centurion”. “Receiving End Of Murder” throws in peculiar snarling vocals that verge on black metal, which sound even more odd considering the very Metallica-like vibe of the tune, and for a further change of pace all four members join in for rousing guitar solos during “Deep End Of Nothing”, the longest and arguably best song on the disc.

There’s so much to be heard on Oblivion Beckons that has a strong yet uncompromised commercial appeal, I can’t help but think this could have been Byzantine’s breakthrough album. The production is solid as hell, the songs are tenacious after a few good listens, it packs a punch when the aggression gets turned up, and features exceptional progressive tendencies which appreciators of fine musicianship will appreciate. Still, even though I’d consider this unforeseen swansong to be their best album to date, I can’t help but think Byzantine were capable of doing even more with their modernized thrash metal sounds than what they’ve shown here, and that their best work was still yet to come in the future. What a bite in the ass this turned out to be.

Posted by Old Guard

The retired elite of LastRites/MetalReview.

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