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[26th February 2013]

01. Which Light Shall Never Penetrate
02. Soul Eraser
03. Efficacy
04. Forged in the Heart of a Dying Star
05. Caldera
06. Signal Path
07. Everything I Touch Bursts Into Flame
08. Posthumous
09. Pathogen

Sometimes, just the simple fact an album has been made is a minor triumph in itself. The tale of Byzantine aptly demonstrates the fickle nature of the music industry more than that of most bands, but now they have returned from a few years in the wilderness with their eponymous fourth album.

Byzantine were, to me, one of the great nearly-men of metal. Their 2004 debut release The Fundamental Component and 2005′s And They Shall Take Up Serpents showcased a band whose technical prowess was more than matched by their songwriting capability. From a personal perspective, my band of the time served as local support on a date of their 2005 UK tour, and we didn’t do nearly a good enough job of pulling the punters in to watch a nevertheless enthralling performance.

For whatever reason, the band couldn’t quite break through, even during the peak of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement. The band released their portentously named third album Oblivion Beckons in 2008, then split up within the week. Despite buying this album, I could never quite bring myself to listen to it properly, and it has sat largely unplayed on my hard drive ever since. I’m not very good with ‘bittersweet’.

So I was pleased to hear of some low-key reunion shows in 2010, albeit without guitarist Tony Rohrbough, and thrilled to subsequently hear that Tony had rejoined and new material was being written.

And what is abundantly clear, right from the start, is that Byzantine is not so much a come-back as a roar-back. Single “Soul Eraser” showcases the best of what the band have to offer – furious riffing backed up by walls of double-kick that still retain a strong sense of melody, and are precise enough to not descend into a muddy and confusing soup. The music is then topped off with vocals that sound triumphant without succumbing to cheesiness.

Elsewhere, “Efficacy” would sit comfortably next to tracks from Opeth’s Watershed. Fans of Xerath and even later-era Machine Head are likely to find much to please them here.

This album showcases a band that clearly have a rapacious hunger to make music together again, with energy levels only really dropping on “Posthumous”, which is the only track that has me reaching for the ‘skip’ button – and that is as much down to my eagerness to get to album-closing stormer “Pathogen” as anything else.

It would also be fair to say that Byzantine are not going to win any prizes for originality. There’s nothing in here that could be considered to be pushing any boundaries. And whilst I find tracks like “Soul Eraser” and “Caldera” a proper blast at the moment, I do wonder how much replay value the album is going to have in the long-term.

But that may be missing the point, or asking too much of it – what we have here is something of a masterclass in no-nonsense, unabashed metal, pure and simple. No need for any prog-djent-tech-death-core qualifiers here. And, in this time of increasing genre fragmentation, that is most refreshing.

If you are a lead guitarist, in particular, you really should give this a listen for a fine lesson in the dark art of soloing without boring the pants off any non-muso alone, and you’ll get a bonus lesson in writing tight, unfussy riffs to complement them while you’re at it.

I think practical considerations may well mean that it is unlikely that many of us will actually get to see Byzantine play in a nearby venue any time soon, especially for those of us with an inconvenient ocean between us and their native West Virginia. But, if this re-activation, kept in motion by those loyal crowd-funding fans, means that we get to hear albums like this every so often, then I don’t think we can really be disappointed.


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