Byzantine: Back From Oblivion

Chris Ojeda, pictured during a performance at the Blue Parrot in Charleston, and his band Byzantine will perform today, Sept. 18, on the Loud and Local Stage at X-Fest, at Harris Riverfront Park.

Reposted from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Chris Ojeda is at a different stage in his life now. Talking over the phone, the singer and guitarist for Byzantine explained where he is now, compared to a few years ago.

Byzantine, the Charleston-based metal band, achieved wide critical acclaim for its progressive, melodic version of thrash, signed to a record label, toured all over the United States and Europe with big name metal bands, then, promptly dissolved after releasing its third record, “Oblivion Beckons” in January 2008.

In the years since, Ojeda became a proud parent of a little girl and started his own home improvement business.

Now, Byzantine itself is in a different stage, with a new lineup and a refocused energy as an unsigned, local band. The group finds itself headlining the “Loud and Local” second stage at X-Fest today, Sept. 18, at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington.

After Byzantine’s reunion tour of West Virginia in March, the band members promptly found themselves at a crossroads.

“It was either break up or keep going,” Ojeda said.

They kept going.

With lead guitarist Tony Rohrbough living in Charlotte, N.C., bassist Skip Cromer in Pennsylvania, and the band having learned the hard way the economics of touring and the red tape that comes with being on a record label, Byzantine and Rohrbough decided to go their separate ways.

“It was very businesslike, and kind of cold,” Ojeda said of the e-mail exchange between Rohrbough and the band. “We rarely talked because he lives in Charlotte. We had his blessing, though, so we’re going to continue with it. We’ve already caught hell about it on MySpace; some kids were tearing us apart about it. But what they don’t realize is, we’re not signed, we’re just a local band now. If we want to keep changing parts out to have a band, we’re going to.”

Enter Split Nixon guitarist Brian Henderson.

Ojeda explained how Byzantine drummer Matt Wolfe helped bring the lead guitarist for the Ashland, Ky.-based band into the fold.

“Matt told me a couple of months ago when we knew we were looking for a new lead guitar player, he said, ‘Man, every time I get around Henderson, he’s playing [Byzantine songs] ‘Justicia,’ ‘Jeremiad,’ he’s playing ‘Hatfield,’ He knows all these songs by ear. And that was a really big step because we knew it was going to be tough for someone to learn Tony Rohrbough’s parts. But with Brian knowing a lot of the rhythms and being such a wonderful guy, he was a great choice.

“Right off the bat he knew three songs from start to finish, without even practicing. It was like ‘One, two, three, four,’ right straight into it.”

Ojeda said that despite the differences in sounds and styles between Split Nixon and Byzantine, Henderson really is a perfect fit.

“We’ve always known he was a phenomenal guitar player,” he said. “A lot of people listen to Brian in Split Nixon and think ‘OK, he kills it, but can he play the fast heavy metal stuff in Byzantine?’ The answer is yes. He’s actually a tried and true metal head.”

But Ojeda had his own weight still to pull in Byzantine, enduring a “24-month heavy metal writer’s block.”

“After “Oblivion Beckons,” we kind of hung it up, and I focused on the family and the business. It just felt like I was writing crap. And I thought, ‘God, what’s wrong with me? Do I need to be signed to write heavy metal?’ Now we're writing again, but I don’t know what happened.”

While Ojeda admitted the possibility of a fourth Byzantine album exists, signing to another record label? Maybe, maybe not, he said.

“We’ve not even talked about the label thing together, but economically, it’s the best way to get your record out to people. We definitely want to do a new album on our terms. We want it to sound as good as the last couple of albums but we won’t have the same budget.

“So I don’t know if we'll sign a one-off deal with a label or just sell it out of our cars,” he said laughing.

Regardless of how or when Byzantine puts out new music, or what the critics say, Ojeda said he loves his band and its fans.

“Sometimes I take for granted that I’ve been in this band. I think, you know, everybody’s in a metal band that tours and has great fans, and then I think ‘No, they’re not,’” he said laughing.

“But I’m super thankful and blessed,” he added. “I can go to my day job and have nobody ever recognize me, then I can go to X-Fest and play in front of a couple thousand people.”

Unveiling the new Byzantine at X-Fest is something all the guys are looking forward to, Ojeda said.

“I’m super, super stoked,” he said. “I’m nervous. Actually all of us are nervous. A lot of time people expect the band headlining the second stage to blow everyone else away and sound just as good as bands on the main stage. I don’t know if we can pull that off, but we’re going to try.”

--- photo: Ian McNemar

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