This album, arguably to a greater extent than Carcass, was not supposed to happen. Five years ago, West Virginia’s Byzantine was a band on the rise, spending time on the road with Lamb of God and poised to release their third album on Prosthetic. That album was Oblivion Beckons, a jaw-dropping marriage of American metal groove, Meshuggah-weight polyrhythms (djent was in its infancy and Byzantine was never about futuristic production) and short bursts of melodicism that could stand face-to-face with Soilwork’s finest hours. It was a quiet revolution, and when Byzantine broke up days after its release, only whispers of the band’s last grand gasp remained as their lore stood ready to be lost to obscurity.
That’s part of why it’s so thrilling to hear Byzantine’s Kickstarter-assisted, self-released comeback album and realize that it’s the band’s first true classic. Byzantine injected extra prog and even more memorable songwriting into its gritty formula, finally delivering on its potential and stepping fully out of the Lamb of God shadow that obscured the band’s early material. This band now sounds only like itself, and singer/guitarist Chris Ojeda puts on a clinic with both of his instruments throughout the album’s duration. It is in fact possible to shred more creatively than ever while creating perfect riffs, memorable vocal lines and surprising atmosphere, and this is Byzantine teaching us how to do it.
Yes, even if you forget Byzantine’s triumphant return and listen to the record on sheer merit, it’s undoubtedly the greatest start-to-finish metal record of this year. And after this band’s rise from the ashes, that’s the best part of all.
Cult of Luna – Vertikal (Density)
The sheer paranoia on this album makes for an epic, unforgettably heavy listen, and “Vicarious Redemption” is the best 20-minute song I’ve probably ever heard.
Watain – The Wild Hunt (Century Media)
I still think “They Rode On” is one of the ballsiest things any band recorded in 2013, instantly galvanizing their fans while still staying true to a colder, lonelier side of classic Scandinavian extremity that Watain had never touched on before. I wasn’t in a massively black metal mood this year, but this album was special.
Trivium – Vengeance Falls (Roadrunner)
Some parts of this record sound like In Waves recorded at double speed, with a few monster thrash riffs hiding in Trivium’s signature sound. Matt Heafy’s voice has finally grown into its own instrument.
Black Sabbath – 13 (Republic)
Sure it’s here more for nostalgia than anything, but the fact that Tony Iommi can still drop riffs of this scale on our heads in 2013 deserves to be celebrated.
Vattnet Viskar – Sky Swallower (Century Media)
One of the best metal debuts of this year, let alone from a black metal band. If Deafheaven is too ”unblack” for your tastes, you’ll probably love this even more.
Shining – One One One (Prosthetic)
Jorgen Munkeby’s chorus rasps on “I Won’t Forget” are still hanging somewhere over the Atlantic, and that’s not even mentioning his sax lines on this singular band’s most tightly-written album yet.
Broken Hope – Omen of Disease (Century Media)
Almost hilariously brutal, the first album from Chicago’s death metal stalwarts in 16 years had no right to be as catchy and as groovy as it is.