Metal Insider’s CMJ Showcase, which will take place on October 16 at Club Europa, will feature Nachtmystium, Byzantine, Black Anvil, Ramming Speed and Vattnet Viskar. This showcase will be Byzantine’s first New York City show since 2007, and it will be a much-deserved welcome back for one of the most underrated American metal bands of the past 10 years. In anticipation for the show, we spoke to singer/guitarist Chris Ojeda about Byzantine self-releasing their self-titled album this year and how their home state of West Virginia influences their music (as well as recalling the time he took Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe to Tudor’s Biscuit World in Charleston).
This February you released Byzantine, your first record in 5 years. Was it hard to get back in the studio together after all that time?
It took some moving and shaking. First, Tony [Rohrbough, lead guitarist] had to move back from Charlotte, NC to West Virginia. That set up him and I writing the whole album together. Once we had the whole album written, we started jamming in his dad’s old ass garage in the middle of winter. It was brutal, which is exactly how it should be. It took about 4 months of rehearsals to knock the dust off and get the new album down. I am very pleased that we got the seminal lineup back together for this album.
Through Kickstarter, you raised nearly $8,000 to help fund the self-release of Byzantine. What made you guys want to make your new album independent of a label?
We had a brief 3 year period on a record label where we released 3 albums and a DVD. We never felt right being on the label and once we decided to reform, the first thing we all had to agree on was doing this album DIY. I’ve owned my own business now for about 5 years and knew we had the know-how to get the album recorded and released on a semi-pro level. Having The Syndicate work with us was a huge help in getting this album to make waves on a national landscape.
Your single “Soul Eraser” is about rampant drug addiction in certain parts of West Virginia. How much do your roots influence your song writing, and what is your hometown of Chapmanville like?
I tend to write about WV history a lot in our songs. Whether it’s about the Hatfield & McCoy feud, the Battle of Blair Mountain, Pentecostal Snake Handling or Meth Addiction, I like to write about things I know about. These are all engrained into the fabric of our state, for better or for worse. My home town is a typical Bible belt town. 1,200 people, mostly employed in the mining industry. God, guns and sports rule. I feel blessed to come from such small upbringings because it gave me a struggle to get out. Without the struggle, how can you write good heavy metal?
What went into your Black Cap Miner side project, and is that something you’ve considered revisiting live with Byzantine?
The Black Cap Miner project took me around 5 years to complete. I recorded it 2 times and trashed the whole thing. The 3rd time I was able to get the guy who recorded the Byzantine album to help and it took off. I just basically wanted to have a documented record of my love for late 80’s thrash metal. I wanted to pay homage to the bands that got me thinking outside of the box. I was very fortunate to get some of the original members of those bands to guest on the album as well. It should be coming out late this month on Itunes and Amazon as well as having physical copies for sale at all Byzantine shows.
This month, you started playing shows with a new lead guitarist and bassist. How has that been going so far?
We have played 3 shows and they all went fantastic. We were able to find local cats that were just as talented as the original guys so we are extremely happy for that. Both of the guys are very studious, do their homework and are class acts to be around. I feel like our band has a new lease. We all like metal, football, beer and being positive. Sounds like a winner to me!
What are you most looking forward to most about our CMJ showcase?
NYC is the pulse. For a small band from WV to be invited to play in the heart of it all is a blessing. The last time we played NYC we only had 2 albums out. Now we have 4 and a lot more experience. Plus we will get to meet with friends we haven’t seen in years. It’s gonna rule!
You’ve announced only a handful of shows for this year, including our showcase. Do you have any bigger tour plans in the works?
We are not a touring band. We don’t have the connections to get on major tours and we all have children and pretty cool jobs back home as well. We like the fact that we are not overexposed. It keeps a certain mystique to the band like all underground bands should have. Granted, we would LOVE to special guest on a decent metal tour package but for now it has to be few and far between. Do not think for a second that that means we are going away any time soon. It just means we will continue to lurk in the shadows. HA!
When I think of home, I think of Tudor’s Biscuit World and mountains first. What’s your favorite thing about West Virginia?
One of my favorite things about WV is driving I-79 from Charleston to Morgantown in the fall. It’s one of the most beautiful rides. It looks like a Bob Ross painting! Happy Trees Everywhere!
Funny story about Tudor’s though… We took Randy Blythe [Lamb of God] to his first ever Tudor’s Biscuit World in Charleston, WV and he about had a heart attack he was so excited. He kept saying “There is a world here that is nothing but BISCUITS!?!?!?” He wanted a Tudor’s shirt so bad that he filled out an application to work there, hoping they would immediately hire him and give him a shirt. That was a fun breakfast!