Released: 2017, Metal Blade Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
After a couple of self-released albums, and a near complete lineup turnover with only vocalist/guitarist Chris Ojeda remaining, over the last few years, West Virginia’s Byzantine return with their sixth album and first with Metal Blade Records. Let’s hope things go a little smoother than they did with their last label-released album.
That was 2008’s Oblivion Beckons, on Prosthetic. One day after it was issued, the band split up! And though they obviously regrouped, it’s taken nearly a decade for all the pieces to fall back into place – if indeed they have, I guess time with tell in that regard.
The Cicada Tree marks the debut of drummer Matt Bowles, and is the second for guitarist Brian “Hendo” Henderson and bassist Sean Sydnor. The new blood has injected some feistiness into the band's sound, giving its “progressive thrash” an even more-pronounced progressive air on the nine-minute sprawl of “Verses Of Violence,” “Incremental" or the tech-deathy “The Subjugated.” Fluidity and complexity are the order of the day here, and the quartet's ample chops are on full display.
At the same time, thrashier tracks like "New Ways To Bear Witness," "Vile Maxim" or “Trapjaw” are more direct, punchy and surprisingly catchy. They bristle with energy and abundant melody and take full advantage of Ojeda's versatile snarl-and-sing vocals. The curious cover of The Cars' "Moving In Stereo," though, is definitely a stretch in that regard and is way out of place here – especially as it immediately follows "Verses," the album's occasionally blast-beat infused magnum opus.
Somewhere in the middle lies “Dead As Autumn Leaves,” the title track and the Tool-like “Map Of The Creator.” They are challenging, yet compelling songs that recall Porcupine Tree or mid-period Opeth, and effectively, and seemingly effortlessly, blend epic scale and dynamics with depth and grace.
At just over an hour, The Cicada Tree is a bit overlong – and almost certainly would have been better served by concluding with the rather awesome "Verses," and nixing the naff Cars cover and the clumsy, overwrought album closer "Servitude." It's all but flawless up to that point, and shows that despite all of the recent turnover, Byzantine – as things stand now - are gelling quickly, as the band handle some rather demanding material with definite panache. Too bad Tree goes out with a whimper instead of a bang.