Divine Intervention: Chris Ojeda leads Byzantine into new era with “To Release Is To Resolve”

Photo: Courtney Bell

Charleston-based progressive groove metal band Byzantine (clockwise from bottom: Chris Ojeda, Sean Sydnor, Matt Wolfe, Brian Henderson) will release its fifth album, “To Release Is To Resolve” Saturday night at The V Club in Huntington.

Reposted (and expanded) from The Huntington Herald-Dispatch

For Byzantine fans who haven’t heard it yet, the question over the last few months has been: What will “To Release Is To Resolve,” its new record, with two new members, sound like?

“How should I put this?” singer and rhythm guitarist Chris “OJ” Ojeda responded when asked that question over the phone with his band, “All I can say is, everybody better be ready for a decibel shower, because it is comin’.”

Byzantine will release “To Release Is To Resolve,” and perform Saturday night at The V Club with opening acts Horseburner and Among The Dead.

“I’m pretty pumped about it,” Ojeda said of the new album, the band’s fifth release and second on its own Snakepit label, and funded again this time by fans. Like past releases, it has already received critical praise, from press outlets large and small, most recently Revolver Magazine.

“It’s the second time around that we get to do this kind of on our own label and on our own terms,” Ojeda noted. “We’ve got the new guys, so there’s a lot of provin’ to do. I think we’re gonna shut up some people who, uh, wanna see us fail, and we’re gonna make a lot of people happy.

“When you’ve got a group that’s put together four albums, and then you have a sudden shift in members, you feel like you’re up against the wall. With me and Matt being here for so long, it’s like, we’ve got a lot to prove on this.”

Fifteen years after starting the metal band, playing shows with a drum machine, and after the agony of keeping the band together with members spread out over the east coast, Byzantine is now based entirely out of Charleston, and moving forward with its new lineup.

“From my point of view, it was fairly seamless,” drummer Matt Wolfe said of bringing lead guitarist Brian Henderson and bassist Sean Sydnor on, replacing longtime members Tony Rohrbough and Skip Cromer. “Brian and Sean and I have been friends for a very long time, longer than I’ve been in Byzantine. So, we’re very familiar with each other on a musical level.”

Henderson said this, his second stint in Byzantine, feels more special.

“It’s a little different this time. A lot different, actually,” Henderson admitted. “The last time I felt like I was just filling in somebody’s shoes temporarily. Now that I’m a full-fledged member I feel like my fingerprint’s gonna be on what you hear. Playing this kind of music, it forces you to kind of push yourself, and play things you wouldn’t normally think yourself capable of playing.

“Especially when OJ is standing in the room with you, making you play things you can’t play, or previously couldn’t play,” Henderson said to hard group laughter.

“I think all Byzantine fans are gonna love it,” “Hendo” added of the new record. “If they don’t, they don’t, whatever. But I don’t see it as a problem or think it’s too far of a departure from their stuff in the past.”

“I’ve said it from day one, I felt like this was divine intervention,” Sydnor said. “The four people in this band are all on the same page musically. That’s the key to this music, that, whatever changes happen, it’s always gonna be Byzantine because OJ is OJ, and that means Byzantine.

“I’m beyond pumped,” Sydnor added. “This has been a dream come true. The last tour we just did, I’ve been waiting twenty-some years to do that. It’s been a dream come true and I don’t see anything but total awesomeness coming from us from here on out. I just feel totally blessed and privileged to be a part of it.”

“It was neat to get this lineup together on this record because the last record, I think me, Matt, Skip and Tony, we elevated ourselves,” Ojeda said of the band’s self-titled 2013 release. “I think it was our best record to date, and it came after a four or five year layoff.

“To come back after that, have two new members come in, write a new record and keep an identifiable sound, it’s a fuckin’ hard task, ya know? There are some bands that just can’t keep it together over four or five albums. Me and Matt have been able to put a stamp on a certain sound, a West Virginia-based groove metal, and no matter what lineup it is I think you can turn it on, and you can hear it and know it’s Byzantine.

“This new album is going to do exactly that, and then some,” OJ said. “The first song that we put out, “A Curious Lot,” I’ve done a couple interviews already and they keep asking ‘Is this what the album sounds like?’ And I have to tell them no. This song is the most up-the-pike, straight forward song, and we like to put out songs that sounds exactly different from the rest of the album, kinda to fuck with people,” Ojeda said with a laugh.

“It’s what we did on the last album. Our single was “Signal Path,” which was the weirdest song we’ve ever written. It’s fun to do that, so we did it again on this one. The rest of the songs are gonna be a complete one-eighty from “A Curious Lot,” so everyone just needs to hold on to their seats until they get all eight songs.”

“There’s just such a solid sound, that you can’t fuck with it,” Sydnor added. “We all know what to do with this music. This music, the ideas that OJ comes up with, it really stays Byzantine no matter what it sounds like tempo-wise or dynamically. We were just meant to be. That’s why I say it was divine intervention. It’s not egotistical at all. I just think it was meant to be.”

After praising engineer Jay Hannon, the “fifth member of the band,” OJ said crowdfunding albums is really the way to go for Byzantine these days.

“It’s instrumental in how we’re doing things right now,” Ojeda said. “We’ve circumnavigated the record industry, and worked our way back into it without having to sign a record deal. Anybody can get on Kickstarter, or PledgeMusic, or GoFundMe, and try to fund a project, but to actually be able to work it, and to get it out in a timely fashion, you’ve got to have some business sense. I think we’ve gathered some business sense, fifteen years into this.

“When you’re trying to do something that costs some money, you either spend your own money, or you spend other people’s money, and one of the best ways to do it is to sign investors, and that’s with any business. Who better to invest in a project than the people who love it? The fans get exactly what they want out of it, there’s no middlemen, everybody’s shareholders, and if someone has a problem with it, they can go straight to the CO’s, and we resolve everything as quickly as possible. It’s a very streamlined process to get records out, and we’ve been able to do it successfully two times in a row.”

Wolfe said what’s made Byzantine stand out among their metal peers all these years is really just them being themselves.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve gotten accomplished to this point. I think the reason we may stand out, sonically, with some fans, and people that may have never even heard us before, or are hearing us for the first time, is because we’ve always kind of stayed true to our formula, and what we like, and what we wanna write, and what we wanna play, or hear, instead of following any trends.

“I mean, we’ve been at this for going on fifteen years now, and music being the cyclical thing that it is, there’s been a lot of styles and fashions of metal that have come down the road and have since dissipated, but we’ve just kind of stayed true to what we do.”

Ojeda, with his twangy southern West Virginia accent (and ever present sense of humor) said with humility that being called a metal god by media types isn’t really accurate, maybe. The real rock stars are the other guys in the band.

“I have successfully figured out how to fool everybody in the heavy metal industry,” he said laughing. “There are a lot of people who think I may be one of the best front men, and yet, I’ve never been the best guitar player in my band. Now, I’m not even the best singer in my band because we’ve got Hendo,” he said to group laughter.

“So, it kinda keeps me grounded, when people put me on these plateaus, you know, this that or the other, and I look at the other guys in my band and they all smoke me. It’s pretty cool.”

Ojeda said that, with help from his old friends, he’s going to keep Byzantine going for the foreseeable future.

“What I’ve realized, through this whole time of breaking up, and getting back together, is that you really shouldn’t quit anything you love to do just because it’s hard. This is the hardest thing I think I’ve ever had to do, was try to be in a band, uh, and have somebody care about it. But I love it so much it doesn’t matter, you know? It’s not really that hard.

“There’s a lot of people who -- I just turned 40 -- there’s a lot of people who put age limits on it and will say ‘Well, I’m 30 I’m gonna quit,’ or ‘I’m 35, I’m gonna quit.’ I’m kinda fuckin’ done with that stuff. There’s no reason to quit something you were born to do.”

Byzantine, Horseburner, Among The Dead
WHEN: 10 p.m., Saturday, April 4
WHERE: The V Club, 741 6th Ave. (304) 781-0680
COST: $8 ADV, $10 DOS
INFO: www.vclublive.com
ONLINE: www.byzantinemetal.com

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