Oblivion Beckons

Charleston, West Virginia natives Byzantine are back with their third (and sadly final) album Oblivion Beckons, an impressive effort to say the least. Combining some technical flair with stout groove and bits of thrashing, Oblivion Beckons is well rounded, skillfully played and diversified without ever wandering away from the sound that they can firmly call their own.

The most notable difference a prior fan will notice is the new found vocal versatility of frontman OJ – it almost sounds as if he has an identity crisis – styles ranging from a hardcore-ish bark, death growls, black (if only found in one song), a higher end clean and a gruffer clean approach are all a part of his arsenal, which brings to mind the vocal versatility of Into Eternity (but any other comparisons pretty much end there). One might also notice more bits of melody brought into the mix while they’ve seemed to back off the Meshuggah-isms, if only a little, and have instead focused on really cohesive songwriting and thick groove – do not fear though, as Meshuggah is still very much an influence here. Outside of the vocals, the other star here is the guitar work. The riffs are mean and chock full of tech-minded groove at times, while at others it’s pure mind-numbing flash, and the solos are excellent, thought out and well constructed instead of wanked out and forgotten about.

I must admit, for an album of more a technical nature, this is damn catchy. Sometimes, it’s the little touches, or “lighter” moments that really pull you in – such as the clean guitar passage in “Pattern Recognition” or the gentle piano and clean guitar pairing at the end of “The Gift of Discernment”. Other times it could just be a really killer and head-bangable groove (“Centurion”, “Expansion and Collapse”, “Deep End of Nothing”). Maybe it’s a catchy chorus (“Absolute Horizon”, “Oblivion Beckons”); an awe inspiring solo (“Pattern Recognition”, “Catalyst”, “Deep End of Nothing”); when things become a bit thrashier (“Nadir”, “Receiving End of Murder”, “A Residual Haunting”); maybe it’s when they lock into a very Pantera-ish groove and swap it out for some Strapping Young Lad licks (“All Hail the End Times”) – there are so many little and different elements at play here that it makes my head spin and nod in approval at the same time.

Perhaps my favorite aspect is the fact that there are no less than 13 songs on Oblivion Beckons, which at first seems a bit excessive, but after just a couple listens, you realize that each song deserves to be there, devoid of filler, standing independently from one another yet still sharing a common sound with whole songs written by each individual member – to me, that’s pretty impressive and the sign of a tight-knit band.

If this truly is Byzantine’s last effort (for those not in the know, they announced their split mere days ago), then they definitely chose a high point to go out on, as Oblivion Beckons is sure to be remembered as their strongest offering. Don’t be surprised to find this album still in my top 5 at years end – a truly remarkable album.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Larry "Staylow" Owens
February 3rd, 2008


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