(In this post TheMadIsraeli reviews the debut album of Black Cap Miner, the solo project of Byzantine’s Chris Ojeda — and some notable friends.)
Respecting your elders IS important, even in metal. A lot of venerable bands had a creative spark that a lot of modern bands seem to lack. Whether this was due to them leading the first wave of something important or simply being in the right place at the right time, the sounds of legacy musicians warrant frequent revisits. It’s for the better of the music that we do this, otherwise we lose sight of who we are.
No one knows this better than Byzantine’s Chris Ojeda. Numerous conversations with the man about music, bands we love, and whether they made favorable or distasteful evolutions, have given me pretty good insight into how he thinks. Ojeda’s a man of the old school for sure. While he definitely investigates what’s on the scene in the here and now (it seems he pays far more attention than most metal musicians his age), he still has a grasp on his musical roots that verges on zealotry. As a consequence, it really makes sense that Ojeda decided to pay rich tribute to the music that made him who he is as a musician. Black Cap Miner is Ojeda’s battle cry to revisit the days of old, and The Formative Years is his testimony as to why.
Truth be told, I’m just a giddy fan boy losing my shit over the fact one of my musical idols is covering a bunch of thrash classics with his own touch. I really like the songs chosen for this album as well — classic bands, but a little off-center song choices. With songs like Testament’s “The Greenhouse Effect”, Wrathchild America’s “Climbin’ The Walls”, or Vio-lence’s “World Within A World”, it’s quite obvious Ojeda had more of an underground taste in thrash, different from the norm. I mean for fuck’s sakes, he covers Annihilator’s “Alice in Hell”, Exhorder’s “Legions of Death”, Kreator’s “People of the Lie”. These songs would make an amazing thrash mix tape, wholly apart from the quality of Chris Ojeda’s take on them.
This album is pretty much 100% Ojeda with the exception of some key guest appearances (such as James Malone of Arsis on the Kreator cover, Chris Poland on Megadeth’s “The Conjuring”, and Kyle Thomas himself on the Exhorder cover), and as a result I’m pretty sure the drum tracks were created with a drum machine. However, it’s Ojeda’s guitar performance as well as how he wraps his unique vocal style around these songs that make the album what it is. The precision and perfection on the guitar front really speaks to the fact that this music was created by someone who did this as a passion-fueled labor of love, and Ojeda brings out all of his vocal tricks from Byzantine in full force, giving all of these songs a fresh vibe.
Despite the fact that he remains pretty puritan about how he does these covers instrumentally (same tunings, no personal instrumental flourishes except maybe for the guest solos), it’s his vocals that really make the album fun to listen to. You may have jammed these songs hundreds of times, but it’s hard to argue with Ojeda’s combination of projectile snake venom and crooning Southern swagger over everything.
I fucking love this album, and I say that as someone who is usually pretty turned off by cover or tribute albums. It’s done so well, and done with such heart and attention to detail. Ojeda knows how to pay his respects, and for that he’s got my never-ending respect. Not like he didn’t anyway.
The Formative Years is available for download on Bandcamp and can be heard below.