It has recently been a very interesting time for fans of Blue Öyster Cult with the re-issues of the later albums and a couple of very good live sets too but these have all been the ‘hors d’oeuvres’ as we all patiently waited in anticipation and with great eagerness for something that we all thought we would never actually see – a new BÖC album.
So, the day finally has dawned and we now have the new album to revel in with its fourteen new tracks and 61-minutes of hard rock heaven in the way that only BÖC can deliver. As we all know, this is the band’s first new album in nearly twenty years since 2001’s The Curse Of The Hidden Mirror, a rather maligned record and most unfairly so in my opinion.
Probably the best place to start is with the actual line-up which is integral to this revered and truly legendary band so, in no particular order, we have Eric Bloom, Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser, Richie Castellano, Danny Miranda and Jules Radino. Importantly, this means that the power base of Bloom and Roesner remain with long time member Miranda adding further stability and with the two ‘new guys’ of Castellano and Radino still being BÖC old hands with both having joined in 2004 but the key fact is that this is their first studio album with the Long Islanders. There is also a touching cameo from Albert Bouchard as he guests, sadly only on cowbell and backing vocals, on the track That Was Me which has already been released as a single. The idea was to make an album that looked forward and not back at the earlier works because it would have been so easy to replicate the earlier works but BÖC has always been a band not content to sit on laurels and keen to push and challenge both themselves and the fan base in new directions. The safe route is the road to stagnation and BÖC has always been about new challenges, new sounds and new directions and that is one of the pure joys of the band but the core band sound has always remained and this will never change. Does this sound like BÖC? Well, of course it does because how can they have the history that they have without developing a truly distinct sound? The aim then is to create something new and fresh but still so obviously BÖC and they have done this triumphantly. Is it Spectres or Agent Of Fortune? Of course it isn’t as they are albums that have already been done but it is, effectively, the same band but reacting to the different times we live in and changes in their lives. It is called development and progress!
Musically, the album is rather varied but remains true to the band’s hard rock roots but there are still the elements of progressive rock and melodic/AOR that makes for such a thrilling musical journey. The vocals remain perfect and not a sign of the passage of time and the guitars, let’s face it this is a guitar band, are as crunching and hard hitting as ever. The lyrics, as should be expected, are intelligent, visceral and sharp and match the songs perfectly as this is a band well honed in delivering challenging yet satisfying material. BÖC is expert in knowing when they should be melodic with great tunes and pleasing hooks and exactly when to surprise with the sucker punch to the gut! Vocal duties are shared amongst the band with Bloom leading on five, Roeser on six and Castellano on three and the album sees the usual hard and heavy rockers intermingled with the more melodic AOR tracks that the band does so well.
The Symbol Remains opens with That Was Me and a great riff leads us into a terrific glowering metal track that announces that BÖC are back and back with a bang and they even manage to sneak in a mini segment that is reggae based, pure genius. Box In My Head lightens the mood being an up tempo track with something of a pop sensibility and the usual thought provoking lyrics with Tainted Blood being a real brooding, simmering rocker on which Castellano excels with his outstanding voice. Nightmare Epiphany belies its ominous title being a pleasant and very chirpy, swinging little number that is so reminiscent of ’70s/ ’80s so called yacht rock. Edge Of The World is a typical BÖC soft rock classic with a pleasing chorus and some killer guitar work that could have come from the glory years followed by the The Machine which is another radio friendly soft rocker. Train True comes as a complete surprise and sees the band trying a little southern blues boogie in true ZZ Top style and making a mighty fine job of it too. The Return Of St. Cecilia sees the band heading back into melodic rock territory with a catchy song driven by plenty of great guitar which then leads into Stand And Fight with the band reverting back to the riff driven and ominous metal that we all love so much as they again show that they do chest thumping heavy metal as good as anyone. Florida Man sees a return to soft rock with a southern blues edge with a typical Steely Dan type guitar break and then we get to the track of the album, The Alchemist which is another dark and sinister epic but now the band is in full blown progressive rock mode with a little Alice Cooper theatre thrown in for good measure. Secret Road puts us squarely back in AOR territory with a superb guitar run out and then we have There’s A Crime which sees the band flirt with gritty rock boogie with a thundering bass line and some pretty serious searing guitar. The album then closes with Fight a relatively short but hook laden ’80s sounding pop rocker and 60-minutes seem to have gone in a flash. So, there are fourteen tracks with an immense amount of variety so you do not really know what is coming next but all are delivered with style, passion and no little angst but with an abundance of panache.
The music is quirky, heavy, melodic, hints of sardonic humour and intense so, in other words, it is a typical Blue Öyster Cult and one to savour. If you had any doubts about the return of Blue Öyster Cult then you can safely file them away. The Symbol Returns is a triumphant return but then we all knew it was going to be, didn’t we?