Album Reviews

Byzantine – And They Shall Take Up Serpents

(tom day) UK release date: 11 July 2005

As an extremely keen (and equally talentless) member of the ‘how did he play that riff?’ brigade, it has always frustrated me that after digesting an album’s worth of material, I should have to fork out further in order to receive some accurate documentation of my beloved band’s efforts.

Enter Byzantine with what could just be a revolution in CD enhancement. Subtly mentioned in the liner notes of the West Virginian trio’s debut full length release is the awesome declaration that the CD “contains note-for-note guitar transcriptions of all the tracks on the album”. Using some clever (free) software, if you can’t download it for free, at least you see what you’re listening to!

The debut full-length release from the West Virginia trio is, put simply, the beautiful result of honest, old school thrash coming together to pay tribute to bands like Megadeth, Slayer and Pantera. while managing to keep their production and general aural presence this side of the Millennium.

With lyrical content that flits between championing and attacking Uncle Sam, organised religion and the plight of the redneck working classes in no particular order, Byzantine defiantly have an agenda, which vocalist Oj delivers in true Phil Anselmo style.

Opener Justica sees an intricate blend of Slayer signature rhythm section matched with the best tapping solo since Dave Mustaine last wrote anything meaningful and is swiftly followed up by the full-on barrage of title track Taking Up Serpents, a song which seems intent on taking the ‘fun’ out of the fundamentalism of some American religion, all to a soundtrack that would make Dimebag Darrell raise a glass from beyond the grave.

Branching out on Jeremaid, Oj’s melodic vocal abilities are paraded atop further relentless pounding of snare and bass drum skins. None less of a head banger, a near hardcore bridge some how manages the metamorphosis into a laid back Pink Floyd-esque solo.

Red Neck War lays some haunting acoustic guitar work as groundwork for a sudden switch into a classic ’90s thrash standard, which shows why these boys share a label with new wave bands like Lamb Of God.

Temporary Temples gives a little exposure to that ever elusive conspiracy topic that M Night Shyamalan so disappointingly brought to the silver screen: crop circles. The decision as to whether the band are in awe of the unexplainable phenomena or just smoked too much of a particular crop on the day they wrote this I shall leave up to you. Which ever you pick, the overriding feeling is one of pure filler material.

Pity None and Salem Ark are strong numbers that keep the pace firmly in fifth gear and provide solos from two-thirds of the band that will leave you gasping for breath, even with the tablature to follow along.

Yes, relentless cymbal chokes and abrasive guitar thrashing may wear a little thin after the 45 minute mark, but if Byzantine continue to build on the symbiotic coupling of musical technicality and first class song assembly that their debut showcases, there could be some truly classic metal material on the way.

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Byzantine – And They Shall Take Up Serpents