Heavy rock pioneers Blue Öyster Cult have been extant in some form or other since 1967 – as long as Sentinel Daily editor Scott Adams, in fact – and in that time they’ve contributed some true classic tracks to the genre’s canon; (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, from 1976’s superb Agents of Fortune, went even further and is one of those songs that even transcends the public’s usual fear and suspicion of all things long-haired and patchouli stinking to lodge itself in the wider cultural consciousness. This is one band that surely owes it’s fans nothing.
And yet, on new album The Symbol Remains, the band’s first in almost two decades, the sense of urgency on metallic behemoths like Stand And Fight seems to point to a band that feels it still has something to prove. Consequently TSR is the most consistently listenable album the band has turned in since 1983’s The Revölution by Night, or maybe even it’s predecessor, 1981’s Fire Of Unkown Origin. Whatever the time line, this is a seriously fine record.
Stand And Fight may bring the riffs like Metallica in their prime, but, as ever on a ‘Cult classic, the breadth of style employed across the record is breathtaking. Eric Bloom tends to take care, still, of the dirtier, sleazier end of the spectrum; his vocals on There’s A Crime or opener That Was Me sounding just like the last forty years never happened; his long time sparring partner Buck Dharma adds a playful element to balance out the sturm und drang; on superb single Box In My Head his woozy delivery and pleasing guitar work sees the band heading for Jackson Browne territory, whilst the standout Nightmare Epiphany, based on a keyboard figure that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a Billie Holiday album in the fifties, sees Dharma and ‘new boy’ Richie Castellano trading licks in fearsome fashion. Castellano also contributes lead vocals to three tracks, adding a further dimension to the appeal of the band with his more straightforward hard rock vocal stylings.
The theatrical metal of The Alchemist, which features an instrumental break that remarkably sounds like something Iron Maiden might have come up with around the time of Powerslave, is primetime BÖC fodder that long term fans will find prompts them to involuntary salivation whenever it comes on, although this somewhat Pavlovian response won’t be limited purely to existing Cult members; there are truly enough good moments here to snare even the least amenable mind, and if this turns out to be Bloom and Dharma’s recorded swansong, then it’s hard to imagine them going out in greater style than this. Simply tremendous stuff.
The Symbol Remains is out now.