There’s something deliciously mysterious about the prospect of a new Blue Oyster Cult album. Literally anything could happen. Here’s a band that went from psychedelic proto-art-metal to hard-core, radio-baiting AOR seemingly overnight, from playing enormodomes to headlining state fairs (and more recently drive-ins) without flinching.
They’ve gone from platinum-selling albums in the 70s to creating low-budget soundtracks for Z-grade sci-fi movies two decades later. And while all of this seems sorta flailing and maybe even a little desperate at times, they have somehow taken it all not only in their stride but also with a sense of epic adventure, like all this crazy shit was part of some grand plan.
And so we come to The Symbol Remains – a triumphant title if there ever was one – the band’s fifteenth album, and their first studio full-length one since 2001. Original keyboard player/guitarist Allen Lanier sadly passed away in 2013, and the Bouchard brothers rhythm section is long-gone, but frontmen Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma continue to steer the ship, ensuring that BOC will continue to sound like BOC.
The album opens with wall-shaking bombast. That Was Me (lyrically, BOC’s take on Sympathy For The Devil) is a total skull-cracker, setting you up for what you’d imagine is a full-on metal album. However, the reggae breakdown midway through is the first twist in an album that is jam-packed with both zigs and zags.
Box In My Head has that breezy, haunted summer vibe that reverberated through Dharma’s ’82 solo album, Nightmare Epiphany is essentially a rockabilly take on Burnin’ For You, and Florida Man – a riff on the endless insane news stories about guys in Florida fighting alligators or accidentally blowing up their outhouses – is a piano-driven power-popper with a positively yacht-rock chorus.
So, obviously, Blue Oyster Cult continue to do whatever the hell they want. But the good, and perhaps surprising, news, given how long it’s been since we’ve last heard new music from them, is that it’s all good, and in places great.
The Alchemist’s sci-fi weirdness and sinister riffage recalls the band’s ferocious Tyranny And Mutation days, Tainted Blood is an irresistible bluesy 80s power-ballad that rivals prime Whitesnake for pure overblown arena-rock excess, and Stand And Fight is ferocious, chugging power metal. In other words, there’s something for everybody on this very solid return to past glories.