Blue Öyster Cult – The Symbol Remains (Frontiers Records)

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I’ve been a fan of Blue Öyster Cult about as long as I can remember. I’ve seen them live at least half a dozen times and have owned every one of their albums at some point in time. I remember interviewing Eric Bloom quite a few years back and asking if they had a new album in the works, and he said that it might not happen because there were no offers on the table and labels were more interested in just pushing the older music than putting out new stuff from classic bands. Well, times have changed, and BOC got a contract with Frontiers, and after a wait of 19 years, there is new BOC music.

Just having new music from the band would be worth celebrating, but it’s even better than that. Fan that I am, I will still say that often BOC albums are inconsistent. They’ll have a some great songs along with some that don’t quite stand out as real winners. They aren’t bad, but just seem a little like filler. Previously I would have said that Fire of Unknown Origin was their most consistent release. Their 2001 album Heaven Forbid was another that was more packed full of strong material. Well, add The Symbol Remains to the list of most consistent BOC albums. In fact, I’d say that it’s more consistent even than Heaven Forbid. I’d put it very close to the top of the list of best albums from the band, really.

One thing that I think the album does better than a lot of other BOC albums is to capture all the different sounds of the band while really upping the ante on them. The Cult have always had a very diverse sound, and perhaps that’s what leads to the inconsistency in terms of quality. They have no problem with doing occult based pieces that have a dark and mysterious tone, straight ahead rock and rollers, nearly metal tunes and ballads. This new set captures just about all of the flavors of the group’s sound (with the exception of the real balladic one). In that way, I’d say this is more representative of the group than Fire of Unknown Origin was.

There are some real highlights here. The opening That Was Me has a hard rocking classic BOC sound to it. The vampire tale turned mysterious rocker Tainted Blood might be one of the band’s five or six best tunes of all time. Stand and Fight is very much an anthemic metal stomper that’s likely to get your fits pumping in the air.  The Alchemist, with its H.P. Lovecraft based lyrics is a hard-rocking entry into the cosmic BOC catalog.  That one even includes an instrumental movement that includes jamming that’s right up there with the best of the group’s catalog. Secret Road is like the best BOC straight rocker (think Burning for You) you’ve never heard.

They stretch things out with unusual numbers like The Return of St. Cecilia that feels a bit like BOC does Southern rock, the blues based Train True and Florida Man that brings that same sort of Southern rock rebuilt as BOC element to play. The thing is, they all feel like BOC (there are some classic BOC sounds in Florida Man in particular), and they all just work so well.

I don’t really think the album has a weak song on it. Then again, that was implied when I said it was consistent. I’m not sure it’s possible for the band to have a new release become considered a classic BOC album, but this is certainly worthy of it. It’s doing really well in terms, so that’s a good sign. Whenever the world gets back to some semblance of normal, and I can see them live again, I hope some of these tunes have made their way into the live set. Pretty much everything here is worthy of inclusion in their live set. If you’ve ever liked the band, I’d recommend getting this. I’d also say that it would make a great introduction to their music. It really does capture everything that is Blue Öyster Cult in a great way. Gary Hill

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