As the third millennium got under way, heavy metal fans finally began emerging from their grunge fallout shelters and, having endured an additional period of oppression beneath the mostly horrific reign of nu metal, found some exciting new hard music alternatives before them, at last. Many were these fresh stylistic subsets rising to prominence (including metallic hardcore, neo-thrash, post-metal, and reinvigorated black and death metal scenes), but there were also a few bands too eclectic to categorize, and among the most inventive was West Virginia's aptly named Byzantine. Hailing from the small town of Chapmanville -- population of 1,211 on the year of the census and the band's founding: 2000 -- Byzantine started out as a trio comprised of vocalist/guitarist Chris Ojeda, bassist Chris Adams (both formerly involved with Morgantown-based thrashers New Family), and guitarist Tony Rohrbough, who were backed by a drum machine on their first few shows before securing the services of one Jeremy Freeman, who was replaced in short order by permanent drummer Matt Wolfe.
Several formative demos were recorded between 2000 and 2002, and the group signed an agreement with a small local production company called DK Entertainment, which went as far as financing the recording of Byzantine's would-be first album, but when they proceeded to sit on the unreleased masters for too long, the bandmembers decided to take matters into their own hands. In 2003, they self-released the six-song Broadmoor EP (named after the studio that spawned it) and were almost immediately scouted by L.A.-based Prosthetic Records, which sent them back into the studio to re-record the EP's songs, tack on four more, and thereby deliver Byzantine's official full-length debut, The Fundamental Component, released in February 2004. With its prejudice-free mix of clean and rough vocals, prog metal technicality, and hardcore aggression, the album didn't fit into any convenient metallic subgenre, and therefore made Byzantine acceptable touring mates for bands as diverse as Caliban, All That Remains, and Lamb of God (who had helped them connect with Prosthetic in the first place), while earning the band a prominent position in what was then being dubbed "the New Wave of American Heavy Metal."
Having already established an intriguing penchant for discussing historical and environmental issues relating to their Appalachian surroundings, Byzantine decided to get all biblical with the title of their sophomore album, ...And They Shall Take Up Serpents (inspired by a local preacher who liked to do just that!), which emerged in May of 2005 and was recorded as a trio following the departure of bassist Adams over the preceding winter months. His replacement, Michael Cromer, hit the road with the group immediately after the album's release, beginning with a headlining U.K. tour (clear evidence of Byzantine's growing popularity), then stateside dates with Eyehategod and Buried Inside, followed by the U.S.-roving International Extreme Music Festival (also featuring God Dethroned, Nightrage, Epoch of Unlight, and several others), before winding own the year with yet another trek dubbed Under the Underground. All of this grueling roadwork and the exposure it afforded for the band came at a bitter price, though, as guitarist Rohrbough decided he'd had enough, and had to be replaced by Eric Seevers for the last of these tours, as well as an appearance at the New England Metal Fest in April 2006 and subsequent dates with Still Remains, Agnostic Front, and, later, Kittie.
Then, Byzantine finally took a well-deserved break at year's end, but by February of 2007, Ojeda, Wolfe, Cromer, and a reinstated Rohrbough were already ensconced in the studio once again, initiating the four-month sessions for what would be their third and most adventurous album yet. In April, Prosthetic released the group's first DVD, Salvation, and then began posting a steady stream of information, cover art, and songs from the forthcoming LP, which was now officially entitled Oblivion Beckons, and whose release was abruptly postponed from that fall to early 2008. This indeed came to pass, but a mere week after the album's late-January release, Byzantine issued a statement announcing they could no longer function as a band and were therefore going their separate ways. More details were not forthcoming and only added to fan frustration over this unexpected turn of events, but when Ojeda began working on an album of classic thrash covers later that year, the reality of Byzantine's demise finally began sinking in, leaving only their influential three-album legacy to serve as some measure of consolation. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi
Aug 08 SaturdayWilmington, DE, US Mojo 13