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Byzantine - "Oblivion Beckons" (CD)

Byzantine - "Oblivion Beckons" CD cover image

"Oblivion Beckons" track listing:

1. Absolute Horizon
2. Nadir
3. Oblivion Beckons
4. The Gift of Discernment
5. Expansion and Collapse
6. Catalyst
7. Pattern Recognition
8. Renovatio
9. Centurion
10. Receiving End of Murder
11. All Hail The End Times
12. Deep End of Nothing
13. A Residual Haunting

Reviewed by on February 16, 2008

"the best album I’ve heard in a long time"

Imagine the intricate complexities of Meshuggah colliding head-on with the full-fledged groove of Pantera. Throw a little Machine Head into the fray, and wash it all down with some Nevermore-like progressiveness. Sounds good, huh? Well, there’s no need to imagine it any longer; Byzantine’s latest (and last) is the perfect example of such beautiful chaos. Essentially thrash metal, “Oblivion Beckons” offers a soundscape which grows from the ground up, building on extreme metal, technically enhanced, outfitted with inconspicuous metalcore stylings, and layered with progressive tapestries. Pulsing riffs sit comfortably and seamlessly next to electrifying lead-solos and body-crushing breakdowns, and all are interspersed with moments of serene, cascading melody. Don’t worry--I’m drooling, too.

I simply don’t know where to begin telling you how unfathomably good this record is. It’s complex and catchy, which is very difficult to pull off let alone pull off well. It’s unpredictable, with the riffs twisting in a way you really didn’t expect them to, and then all of a sudden the song becomes a tranquil, tingling flow of soft atmosphere. The vocals are very diverse; everything from screams to growls to clean singing is given due course, and all done impeccably. Perhaps this is not comparable to the best of any particular style, but it is still unfaultable considering the large variation of the vocalist’s styles. I can’t even complain about the lyrics, which I am often wont to do! Even though this album is very much guitar-lead, I have nothing less than praise for the drummer, who has done an astounding job behind the kit.

There is something very balanced about “Oblivion Beckons” – the thundering heaviness alongside the melodic escapades, the growls and croons, the order and the improvisation, and technicality alongside progressive elements. Every time I listen to it, and that’s at least three times a day, I find myself really getting into every single second of it. Afterwards, though, I always find that it has ended a few minutes before I become aware that the album is over and the music has stopped. Maybe I just have a short attention span, but either way, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the feeling.

The first track, “Absolute Horizon,” is sheer pounding brilliance right from the outset. “The Gift of Discernment” really brings the band’s prog tendencies to the forefront, and is followed by the hard-hitting “Expansion and Collapse,” which attempts to pulverize the listener into submission. “Pattern Recognition” is my favourite piece of the album, and crashes with unerring grace through change and change again. An instrumental interlude, “Renovatio,” provides a nice breather, as well as a huge enhancement to the atmosphere of “Oblivion Beckons.” Here, the melody flows until brief invasions of chaos become gradually more and more frantic, finally overpowering the listener, all peacefulness lost to the insistent and urging brutality.

The production is as crisp as a Meshuggah album, very clear and undistorted, which works brilliantly, for Meshuggah. With Byzantine offering a palate of sounds from groove to technical to progressive, the mix somehow loses that gritty feel so definably “metal.” The music is heavy, no doubt; it has plenty of chuggin' riffs. But that harsh, grating sense doesn't come through, and this is a let down. As a result, for the seasoned metalhead, “Oblivion Beckons” may grind as heavy, but too clean, without enough coarse recklessness. Nothing wrong with being clean, concise, cutting, and clear, but don't forget that metal is traditionally a dirty business. Those rough edges are the soul of metal; the character. Though obviously metal, Byzantine have subdued that character.

“Oblivion Beckons” is not perfect; there’s room for improvement—If Byzantine were still a band, at least—but at the same time, it just works so incredibly well, it feels right, it has something, some certain peculiarity that makes me forget everything else except just how good it really is. Truth is, “Oblivion Beckons” is the best album I’ve heard in a long time.

Highs: A perfect mix of nurtured technicality, progressive embracings and pulsing grooves

Lows: The production could be a little less concentrated; needs character.

Bottom line: If we buy enough copies, maybe Byzantine will regroup... Please?

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)