Big Al's Metal Review

Title: And They Shall Take Up Serpents

Artist: Byzantine

Label: Prosthetic Records

A few decades ago, before the age of high-tech toys, the only means of escape for a teenager was a pair of headphones and a well-worn copy of Led Zeppelin II. Back in those days, bands took their responsibility to audiences seriously, producing large-sounding albums that sounded awesome between your ears. Epic guitar solos, mythical lyrics, and bombastic drums led sullen teenagers on a journey away from Ma and Pa and into their own world. It was this dedication to their fans that has cemented bands like Rush, Zep, Sabbath, Aerosmith, the Stones ? well you get the picture ? in the hearts of fans now far beyond their adolescent years.

Nowadays, the common argument is that bands put out watered-down music that?s safe and easily categorized by critics and industry reps alike. It?s an argument that holds true many times over. Few examples like Machine Head and lamb of god exist today, with most labels throwing their weight behind ?sure-hits? instead of developing bands tenderly. For every Mastodon there are three Third Eye Blinds.

But, there is hope. Like the aforementioned groups, dedicated musicians still exist, mostly touring just to survive and play to aficionados across the vast heartland of this country. Thankfully, some of these cats made it over to the backwoods of West Virginia, inspiring the young upstarts who founded Byzantine.

And They Shall Take Up Serpents, an homage to their snake-handling Appalachian roots, is a complex, varied album. Stretching out into standard death metal, the music has tentacles that grab hold of elements of prog and New Wave of American heavy metal. There are structural odes to Virginian brothers-in-arms lamb of god, no doubt. There are times the clean vocals remind one of Sevendust or Nevermore. There are times that the guitar solos would make Alex Liefson stop and take notice. The standard comparison to Pantera, Meshuggah, blah blah blah, is too limited and modern a comparison to place on this band. Yes, if you like those bands, you will like Byzantine. If you like challenging music, I know you will like this band.

ATSTUS is an album that is best taken as a whole rather than song by song. Instrumentally, they are greater than the sum of their parts ? many talented musicians take a while to gel as a group. This is a credit to the production as well; their style and the influences they wear on their sleeves shine through tightly. Solos are placed evenly throughout ? a lost art in my view, and the rhythm section provides a solid anchor for the guitars. As one solo takes off, bleeding into a mechanized grind into another beautiful Rush-y solo, one can?t help but think they?re holding back, as if they could just pummel the listener with their technical skills, but choose not to. Perhaps the best way to describe this album is that it casually leads the listener from one point of view to another. Not bad for a ferocious metal band.

Just like with a good Zep album, put on a pair of headphones, close your eyes and lie back. It?s worth the trip.