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Blue Oyster Cult: Secret Treaties - Album Of The Week Club review

Secret Treaties was the third album by Blue Oyster Cult, and the one where they really figured out what it was they did: darkness, perversion, and sonic eccentricity

Blue Oyster Cult - Secret Treaties
(Image: © Sony Music)
Blue Oyster Cult - Secret Treaties

Blue Oyster Cult - Secret Treaties

(Image credit: Sony Music)

Career of Evil
Subhumn
Dominance and Submission
ME 262
Cagey Cretins
Harvester of Eyes
Flaming Telepaths
Astronomy

Melody Maker critics voted Blue Oyster Cult’s third LP, Secret Treaties, the best rock album of 1974. Among its devotees were future members of The Clash, who would later hire its producer, Sandy Pearlman. 

The combination of speed-freak delusion and 1950s B-movie nostalgia lock horns here, cemented by the sound of a band really stretching into the heavier end of their considerably broad spectrum.

This is perhaps the most British-influenced of all BOC's albums: you can hear Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies vying for space, pushing out the riffs for Career Of EvilDominance And SubmissionAstronomy and Flaming Telepaths

Inevitably, there’s also the unmistakable whiff of S&M, a subconscious theme for so much of the band’s best work. And the dark humour seeps through.

Fantasy metal with spray-on perversions, its highlight is perhaps Dominance And Submission, a prime chunk of proto-punk featuring a snotty riff over which frontman Eric Bloom sings about hearing The Beatles on a car radio while a brother and sister are embroiled in some unspecified, but clearly questionable act in the back seat. 

You didn’t get such perversion from Nazareth or Uriah Heep.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in April 1974

  • Ragged Old Flag - Johnny Cash
  • Second Helping - Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Big Fun - Miles Davis
  • Bridge of Sighs - Robin Trower
  • Standing on the Verge of Getting It On - Funkadelic
  • Okie - J.J. Cale
  • Exotic Birds and Fruit - Procol Harum
  • Hamburger Concerto - Focus
  • Houston (I'm Comin' to See You) - Glen Campbell
  • Positive Vibrations - Ten Years After
  • Road Food - The Guess Who
  • Sweet - Sweet Fanny Adams
  • Unconditionally Guaranteed - Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band

What they said...

"It's a breathless rock monolith that is all dark delight and sinister pleasure. While the Cult went on to well-deserved commercial success with Agents of Fortune an album later, the freaky inspiration that was offered on their debut, and brought to shine like a black jewel on Tyranny And Mutation, was fully articulated as visionary on Secret Treaties." (AllMusic)

"Loosen up and fergit all that intellectual’n’conceptual stuff behind it and just plunge right in, because all these unrevealed and non-non-sequitur lyrics they cook up pretending to be all heady sci-fi metaphysical stuff to outweigh their combined IQ are a nighttime soundtrack for driving around in circles stoned in a big black car through the urban dead of night." (Head Heritage)

"It’s dark, esoteric and also a bit of a hoot. It’s an album of parodic garage-rock horror reminiscent of Alice Cooper’s Killer, full of psychedelic monster mashes like Career Of Evil, the oddly cute Cagey Cretins and the seismic, psychotic Harvester Of Eyes. And those aren’t even the best tracks." (Heavy Metal Overload)

What you said...

Mark Burd: I can’t believe I’ve made it over 40 years of my life without ever hearing this album or someone introducing it to me as a seminal hard rock album. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know it existed until this week. That’s why I love this club - I get to hear things that I inexplicably haven’t.

I’ve only spun a couple Blue Öyster Cult albums before - their debut and their most recent release from 2020, neither which knocked my socks off. I have to imagine that this, their third album, has to be somewhere in the peak of their creative crescendo. I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

I haven’t been able to stop listening to Secret Treaties since I started. This is the type of album you want to find when you’re mining for undiscovered gems. It’s a fun, smart, and catchy hard rock album with a smooth flow that never loses its focus or power. It’s a short eight-song opus where every melody, riff, and rhythm seems to mesh cohesively as if the songs were composed specifically to fit together.

One of the most impressive feats of this one is how well it holds up. One can never know what fads will manifest decades later, but it feels like the riffs these guys threw together fit in with the rock styles from the ‘90s up to today. You have to wonder how many artists picked up this album and said, “that. I’m going to do that with my guitar.” If not many, you’d never know.

I will go back and give the entire BÖC collection a better listen as a result of this album. Even if their others don’t compare, Secret Treaties will always be one I return to when I want good ol’ fashioned rock'n'roll that’s fast and catchy. What a true gem. Great grooves, great solos, great drumming, great song structure, great album flow that’s not too long or too short and no droning fillers; I will give this album a perfect 10/10 score.

Marco LG:
Incarnation of the devourer of time
Coming down from the stars
They are approaching
*

We first meet a criminal mind discussing a career of evil, then we board a German bomber ripe with “heavy metal fruit” and we conclude the journey meeting evil itself, the nexus of the crisis and the origin of storms, Desdinova, the devourer of time. The oyster boys are swimming now, we hear them chatter on the tide… the death-like creatures!

The genius of the best albums by Blue Öyster Cult is in the narrative, the ability to strike immense fear even when the music sounds essentially like a boogie ride. The best story telling is like that, Dr Who has been striking fear the world over by telling of the eternal war between a police box and an army of litter bins. But Blue Öyster Cult tell the story from the point of view of the Daleks. Or to put it another way, if this was Conan Doyle’s world they would be telling Moriarty’s story, with the added twist of making Moriarty an evil and omniscient alien. An almighty being capable to subjugate the human race, creating a cult following the likes of which Sauron would be envious of.

The best albums by Blue Öyster Cult I was saying, of which Secret Treaties is probably the chief example, closely followed by Fire Of Unknown Origin and Cultösaurus Erectus, are those albums where the narrative is so scary our brain refuses to process it. They achieve this by marrying music and lyrics of course, but the magic happens without the need of complex visuals or very heavy music. Just the symbol of Chronos and a bunch of riffs, and of course the magic soloing of Buck Dharma, one of the most underrated guitarist ever to grace this planet.

No other heavy metal band is capable of such greatness. Alice Cooper became the master of shock, but without the gimmicks onstage his music never scared anyone. Behemoth released probably one of the best heavy metal albums of the past decade (The Satanist) but not a single song in there is capable of scaring in the same way as Secret Treaties. Maybe Voivod, with their interstellar concept, go somewhat close to recreating the same type of vibe. But in the end no, I fear Desdinova a lot more than the awakening story told by Voivod in their last album.

In conclusion: Secret Treaties is the greatest album ever made. They are approaching!

* Lyrics from Subhuman’s Towns Merciless Obliteration by Braindamage, an Italian technical thrash metal band. For the past thirty years, Andrea Signorelli, the leader and lyricist, has been telling the story of the Braindamage, very human nemesis of the almighty (it could be Desdinova or it could be God, or both, who knows?).

Paul Hutchings: I went to see BOC when I was 15 at St David's Hall in Cardiff in 1985. They bored me rigid. My tastes were a lot more focused on the feisty thrash metal that was breaking through at that time. Roll forward 35 years and I've seen BOC several times since and they've always kept me totally captivated. I've explored their catalogue, purchased many old vinyl gems and listen to them regularly. Secret Treaties is about as good as it gets. Not a duff track amongst the songs and finishing with Flaming Telepaths and Astronomy was just inspired. This will get a 9 from me.

Alex Hayes: Blue Oyster Cult. What a revelation this band have been over the last 12 months. And to think, just this time last year, when it came to BOC, I was only really familiar with the ubiquitous (Don't Fear) The Reaper, Godzilla and Burnin' For You from radio.

No doubt like many other members of the Club, I wouldn't like to pin an exact number on how many rock albums I've heard down the years. I would say it is very likely a four digit number though. That first lockdown period last year unexpectedly gave me ample more time to feed my hobby of listening to classic rock music, so I used that opportunity to finally take the deep dive into the BOC discography that I'd been meaning to do for so many years.

Doing so triggered both that awesome buzz that you sometimes get when you find yourself immersed in such a rich and engrossing body of work for the first time, and also that sense of 'Where the hell have these guys been all my life?'. I was impressed in other words.

Just when I thought I'd pretty much heard all the great music of my life, the classic rock era then goes and serves up the delights of both BOC themselves and albums like Secret Treaties, Agents Of Fortune and Spectres. Seriously, that age of music could almost be likened to a diamond mine that never, ever runs dry.

Secret Treaties is an early highlight from the band. Their third album, it also quickly became a personal favourite. These eight superb, and frankly, slightly unsettling, tracks went a long way towards establishing the cult of, well, the Cult, and I can absolutely see why. It's an album that really needs to be heard first hand. There's an air of menace to these songs that just reading a review could never do justice. I strongly recommend checking the album out to see for yourself. You know an album is great when it saves its best song for last, in this case the haunting, yet captivating, Astronomy.

Such was the media hype, you'd think AC/DC were the only group to release a high quality new album during 2020. Not so. Amongst others, BOC also made a recording comeback with the very strong The Symbol Remains, their first studio album in nearly two decades. It's well worth checking out. Had to mention that.

In less than a year, Secret Treaties has elevated itself into being one of my favourite albums of 1974, the year of my birth. Highly, highly recommended. In the name of Les Invisibles, where the hell HAVE these guys been all my life?

David Cichocki: Only owning a blues collection of BOC's I found somewhere, I've always fallen between loving the long version of Don't Fear The Reaper and remembering how bad Donington '81 was for them. Is this what proto metal sounds like? Secret Treaties hasn't changed my Monster Of Rock '81 opinion I'm afraid

Drew Martin: I think it’s more Doors and the Dead meets the MC5 for America’s answer to Sabbath but Lemmy openly cops to the fact that he borrowed the umlauts from BOC. Red And Black on Tyranny And Mutation is really the humble beginnings of speed metal. Patti Smith is all over the opening track here. The sound had evolved on this record and Astronomy is just brilliant.

Paul Capener: A throw back to my youth. A fabulous album (I always consider this one of a pair with Tyranny), BOC really hit their stride with this album, writing, playing and singing shared and at its height for me. When you talk about BOC I always go back to this. A timeless classic.

James Cain: Secret Treaties is a strong album, considered by many Blue Oyster Cult aficionados to be their finest half hour, although other fans (and those not entirely indoctrinated into the Cult) prefer the recalculated, slick but still otherworldly metal of 1981’s Fire Of Unknown Origin. I would contend that there’s also the first two parts of the unofficial “black and white” trilogy; the occult atmosphere of their eponymous debut and the monstrous, blitzkrieging proto-metal follow up, Tyranny And Mutation.

As with most of their records, it is really obvious that the arch and absurd lyrical content of Secret Treaties is unlike any other rock band, ever. Even Patti Smith, who provides the lyrics and theme of the opening track Career Of Evil, relishes in the pervasively macabre and arcane nature of the band, as well as their vivid streak of humour buried amongst the smoke. Does anyone really have a clue what “I plot your rubric scarab... I'd like your blue eyed horseshoe, I'd like your emerald horny toad” means, or if it is just an example of the band’s general obscurantism? The Maldoror-inspired ‘chant’ features a propulsive, malignant riff that is doubled by a carnivalesque organ that provides the eerie, supernatual feeling present in much of their music.

Other highlights include the truly extraordinary ME 262, with its Luftwaffe pilot as doomed star narrative, bomber plane sound effects and bizarre imagery of enemy English planes as “heavy metal fruit”, as well as Dominance And Submission, a wilfully warped tale of multi dimensional time travel filled with squalling feedback and pummelling riffs. The energy of this cut clearly inspired Australian garage punks Radio Birdman, who named their debut album after the repeated lyric ‘radios appear’.

Astronomy serves as the finale, a soaring, atmospheric epic that only has the “Darth Vader meets the Byrds ambience” of Don’t Fear The Reaper as its rival in the Oyster Boys’ repertoire.

On the whole, Secret Treaties is a remarkable record, for a band with so many albums that feature only flashes of demented brilliance, every track is noticeably strong and there is a variance of material not seen on its predecessor. As a fan of the band, I would rate this highly both as a great hard rock/proto-metal album as well as a good entry point into a band who are an acquired taste to say the least.

Mike Canoe: Secret Treaties is a thoroughly satisfying and fully realised album by one of the most fascinating hard rock bands of the 20th century.

In Blue Oyster Cult, nobody in the classic lineup (basically their first decade) had just one job. All five musicians were also songwriters. All five occasionally sang lead and/or contributed background vocals. Allen Lanier, the one least likely to take a turn at the mic, played rhythm guitar, keyboards, and made delightfully weird noises on synthesisers that weren't pretending to be another instrument.

But the band also had a knack for outside collaboration, working with a mystical cabal of lyricists made up of poets, sci fi writers, rock critics, and headed up by chief mystic and band manager, Sandy Pearlman. The proverb, "too many cooks spoil the broth," did not apply to Blue Oyster Cult.

All these ingredients, to further torture my cooking metaphor, are in the mix for Secret Treaties. Not quite yet punk priestess Patti Smith contributes lyrics to rollicking opening track and BOC's statement of purpose, Career Of Evil. Pearlman, the primary lyricist here, informs the lounge jazz of Subhuman with lovingly Lovecraftian lyrics and tightly winds another knotty conspiracy in Dominance And Submission.

But it's not like the band was skulking around with their hands in their pockets while the lyrics were being crafted. The music is just as strong and complements the lyrics perfectly.

What caught me by surprise this time around was the realisation that Secret Treaties is a major showcase for Eric Bloom. Sure, he was technically the lead singer but in a band with three other strong vocalists (Sorry, Allen!) that didn't always mean much. Here he sings lead on all but Dominance And Submission, and, honestly, to me, drummer Albert Bouchard sounds like a more unhinged Eric Bloom.

I never really thought of Bloom as a great singer. He's not as warm as Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, soon to become the "radio voice" of the band. He doesn't really do spectacular vocal acrobatics. But he's incredibly relatable, whether it's as the eager villain in the making on Career Of Evil, a beleaguered German WWII pilot in ME 262, the abandoned friend bearing witness to weirdness in Subhuman, or the embittered alchemist of Flaming Telepaths. Bloom is so perfect here, that I never realised until reading the album's Wikipedia entry that Roeser doesn't sing lead on any song. It's a testament to Bloom that I never even missed him.

And, then there's Astronomy, a majestic synergy of everything that is Blue Oyster Cult: cryptic but compelling lyrics, complex but engaging music, and an incredible vocal performance. I still catch my breath every time Bloom closes with the repeated soaring choruses of "Astronomy... a star." The most incredible song from a band that's pretty damn good at writing incredible songs.

Like the best picks do, Secret Treaties not only stood up to repeated listening this week but had me reexamining other BOC gems in their expansive discography. A week spent listening to Blue Oyster Cult is a week well spent.

Uli Hassinger: I've been a BOC fan since when I was 12, saw them first live in 81, and this one I always evaluated their definite best. To me it belongs to the 100 best rock albums ever.

Their first three albums (the black and white series) are my favourite stage of their work. They definitely created their own style. You can tell after a few notes that it's BOC. They especially have that underlying touch of gloom and darkness which makes them unique.

There is no weak song on the album. The catchy Career Of Evil, the chilled Subhuman, the straight forward rocker ME262 with the musical implementation of attacking bombers, the brilliant Harvester Of Sorrow. But the climax of the album are the last two songs. Flaming Telepath is a beautiful song with a catchy melody carried by remarkable keyboard sound. And Astronomy is just an epic rock hymn which makes it hard to understand why BOC is frequently reduced to Don't Fear The Reaper. This song is a rock monument and should be much more appreciated for its outstanding songwriting (the frequently changes of pace) and the classy guitar solos.

Scoring this album is easy. 10/10.

Lee Jones: An album I really wanted to love but was quite disappointed by. It was ranked amongst the Kerrang!'s top albums back in 1988 and constantly mentioned by KI journalists as one of the best early metal albums. I don't know what they were listening to, cause this was really average stuff. There's a few highpoints - Dominance And Submission has a good riff, Flaming Telepaths has a nice melody and keyboard solo; but the rest? Meh! Even the mystical stuff is suspect. You initially think you're listening to some pretty cosmic lyrics but further investigation reveals its just mumbo-jumbo. 'Destinova'? It's just an invented word. Meaningless guff.

Bill Griffin: BOC are an enigma to me; capable of some really great material and also of mediocrity. With the exception of a few songs, the first three albums are mired in it. I can't really say it's the songs though; they sound great live. That leaves the production. On this record, the only song to rise above it is Astronomy but even it sounds so much better live (Some Enchanted Evening) than it does here. (On a side note, what is Eric Bloom's "stun guitar?") It wasn't until they hooked up with Martin Birch for Cultosaurus Erectus that I enjoyed the production on one of the studio albums.

Gary Claydon: Secret Treaties was my introduction to BOC way back then. I'd never heard of them but, attracted by the album cover, I got the guy in the local record shop to play a couple of tracks and I was hooked. Not long after, they released Agents of Fortune and thanks to a certain track BOC became a lot more well known. Still, for a few months at least, I was able to regale people with "yeah, I'm into Blue Oyster Cult, you've probably never heard of them" in a smart-arsed teenage way.

'Thinking man's heavy metal' ? I've always thought that, in the sphere of heavy rock and metal, any band whose main lyrical content isn't "fast cars and fast women, hard drinkin', hard fightin' & good lovin'" usually gets tagged with that or a similar description. It's pretty meaningless really. In any case, BOC's lyrics on their early albums aren't really deeply meaningful. They are often impenetrable, nonsensical even and I'm cool with that. I don't think you're meant to understand them half the time, that's part of the fun with BOC. I've long suspected that a lot of the material was written with tongues firmly in cheeks. To me, BOC are a kind of musical equivalent to those 50s sci-fi b-movies that I've always loved. In parts sinister, intelligent, eccentric, corny, sometimes dull, sometimes plain daft, often dazzlingly, mesmerisingly brilliant.

Secret Treaties is a very good album. But not a great one. Is it the best of the 'black & white albums' ? I think so. It's the most rounded of the three, the one where the ideas and the sound truly came together. In my personal ranking of the BOC canon it would be joint top with Agents Of Fortune and Cultosaurus Erectus. Highlights? There are plenty. The cryptic but utterly engrossing brilliance of Astronomy, the swinging opener Career Of Evil, the proto prog-metal of Flaming Telepaths, the sinister Harvester Of Eyes and, above all, that guitar solo on Dominance And Submission. So what do I think stops this from being a truly great album? The middle two tracks. ME 262 is a fairly unremarkable boogie with only the lyrics giving it any added interest and Cagey Cretins is just dull to my ears.

By sheer coincidence, I'd already decided, before this week's album was revealed, that it was time I gave the BOC catalogue a listen, simply because I haven't done so in a while and, as always, it's been a real pleasure. At this very moment I'm on the Hot Rails To Hell. What a great band.

Chris Downie: The term 'thinking man's Heavy Metal' has been applied to a host of bands, ranging from Rush to Queensryche and Dream Theater, all of whom have enjoyed sustained worldwide success, but one band equally deserving of the accolade is Blue Oyster Cult. A band with a propensity for the eccentric, without crossing over into the pretentious, they steadily forged their own sound over a series of well-executed hard rock albums, with a few prog-rock elements thrown in for good measure.

While the band enjoyed multimillion selling successes from the late 70s until the mid-80s - and continue to be a popular live draw to this day (culminating in the release of a commendable new album), there has always been a vibe attached to BOC akin to a cult band, despite being name-dropped by countless others who trailed in their wake. Despite their brief dalliances with a more commercial classic rock vibe in the 80s (from which they soon returned to what they do best) this aura has only contributed to their considerable legacy.

In the wider context of their career, Secret Treaties could be pigeonholed as their crucial third album, one that saw them widen their audience via collaborations with Patti Smith, while offering mini epics such as Astronomy (which was of course famously covered by Metallica and was one of the highlights of their 1998 Garage Inc. covers double album).

Many will lament the dated production, which puts it firmly in 70s classic rock territory akin to UFO, Uriah Heep and their ilk. Others will point to the fact the band would go on to make more successful (and arguably far better) albums than this, not least with the brilliant follow-up Agents Of Fortune, but Secret Treaties is rightly seen as the archetypal transitional album which took them to the next level, both musically and commercially. 8.5/10.

John Edgar: In the 1970's I would read BOC articles in Circus magazine and I had read the reviews of the first three albums, yet I had never heard a note of their music. I never knew anyone that owned any of their stuff. At the time they were pretty much unknown in my area. 

Then, one night just a few weeks before Agents was released, I went on a night time backroads cruise with some friends. The driver was playing the Secret Treaties 8-Track tape. I could not believe the quality of boogie I was experiencing, and the lyrics... the lyrics. The whole affair was completely original sounding and quirky beyond belief. Of course, when Agents released a couple of weeks later I pounced on it immediately. 

About a year later I had the local record store order me a vinyl copy of Secret Treaties. I vividly remember taking it home, unwrapping it and admiring the craftsmanship of the parchment style heavy vellum paper that was used to make the LP cover. The paper was textured, non-glossy and the cover art looked amazing printed on the high quality slightly aged looking paper. I dropped it on the turntable, put on the head phones and soaked it in. 

Along with the quality of the music I was also impressed with the fact the there was practically no silence between the songs (this immediately brought to mind Queen's Sheer Heart Attack album). Over the years I've purchased and enjoyed everything that BOC has released, but Secret Treaties is the BOC release that I've listened to the most. It just never gets old. Please allow me to recommend the Legacy remastered CD release. You can purchase it online for less than 7 bucks... just about the same amount I spent on that LP in 1977.

Plamen Agov: Blue Oyster Cult have never found place on my music players. Now, listening to Secret Treaties album, I see that this was not an accident.

First of all, I define their work as kind of a soft rock and I see again how badly this genre dates as a whole, contrary to the real hard rock albums which keep their value on high level decade after decade.

Today, I see here seven completely unmemorable tunes, finishing with Astronomy, which is the only song worth mentioning. Blue Oyster Cult can't cope with the strong competition of those years, that's for sure.

John Davidson: BOC started off at the weird end of quirky, managed to find (brief) mainstream success and then lost their way trying to repeat the hits, before returning to their core "hard rock with oddness".

Never overtly a ‘joke’ band like The Tubes, they still have their tongues firmly in their cheeks. This may not be your standard boy fancies girl rawk or tales from the roadhouse, but it's not serious philosophy either: instead it's stoner-friendly sci-fi and horror images wrapped up in solid rock songs.

Secret Treaties finds the band on the cusp of that breakthrough, where they had almost completed assembling the elements that would take them on to incredible commercial success on Agents Of Fortune. It is, arguably, the last and most detailed sketch before they painted their masterpiece in Agents Of Fortune, and made their metaphorical move from black and white to full glorious technicolour.

This is for me then a solid journeyman piece which, despite some great riffs and solos and interesting melodies, just doesn’t quite ‘pop’ like their late 70s/early 80s work did.

What holds it back first and foremost is the production. It’s not bad, but it’s got that slightly thin 70s sound .The second is that, whereas Agents Of Fortune has plenty of oomph, Secret Treaties feels a bit more laid back.

It’s certainly more James Gang than Led Zep and for all the sci-fi elements it feels more grounded in tripped-out psychedelic rock than the blues-based heavy rock that Rush took for inspiration.

There are two or three genuine classics on the album. The opener, Career Of Evil, is dusted with Patti Smith's eloquent punk poetry. Flaming Telepaths is like a pulp sf classic brought to life in music and although Astronomy’s lyrics defy coherent understanding, it remains the standout both in music and atmosphere.

To be fair there are no clunkers (not even Cagey Cretins), but the best of the rest for me is Harvester Of Eyes.

Where BOC excels is in getting us to sing a chorus we don't understand, and perhaps don't want to understand, but which is so damned catchy we just don't care that we sound like lunatics or perverts or possibly both.

The other thing one can always rely on with BOC is their uniqueness. They never tried to emulate anyone else, and rather like Queen, or Rush or Jethro Tull, while they flirted with more commercial production and composition on various albums, they always sound like themselves . For me thats a sure sign that a band has found its voice.

Finally, after another good few listens this week Secret Treaties remains my fourth favourite of their albums behind Agents, Cultosaurus Erectus and Fire Of Unknown Origin. I'm off to visit Spectres now to see if it has improved with age. 8/10.

Final Score: 8.17⁄10 (192 votes cast, with a total score of 1569)

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